The Relationship Between Brand and Culture/Two Sides of the Same Coin

One of my favorite phrases is that life has to be lived forward, but is best understood in reverse. I spent most of my career in marketing at Chick-fil-A. I was there for 37 years, 35 of which were in the marketing department (I rotated out for two years to lead an operations team). While reflecting back on my time there, I made a discovery that I wasn’t consciously aware of while living it: the very best marketing is not about generating sales – it’s about creating a story that customers want to be part of. The greatest brands have the greatest stories. I think about Nike as an example. If I had a normal shirt on and I spent 20 cents to add a Nike swoosh to the shirt, you know what just happened to the value of that shirt? It went up by $20! Why did 20 cents worth of thread make a shirt $20 more valuable? It’s because that Nike swoosh is a symbol of a story that Nike customers want to be part of. Apple is another great example – why do people put Apple bumper stickers on their cars? People want to be affiliated with the great brands that they’re emotionally connected to. And the reason they’re emotionally connected to them is that the brand has a story that people want to be part of. In many ways, what makes a brand great is that they have the best story that attracts customers to want to be a part of it. The relationship between brand and culture is another new discovery for me. What’s interesting is that culture is like the other side of the brand coin; in many ways, great cultures are those that have a great story that employees want to be part of and they have people waiting in line to do just that. It’s a different story than the brand, but it’s two sides of the same coin. The brand is the portal through which a customer views the story and the culture is the portal through which the employee views the story. The weakest organizations have the weakest story for the customer and the weakest story for the employee. Average organizations have an average story for the customer and an average story for the employee. The great organizations have a great brand story that a customer wants to be a part of and a great culture story that an employee wants to be part of. And together, if it’s aligned and well-told, you have a Remarkable organization; one that’s fueled by the passion of your employees which becomes contagious to the passion of the customer. If you ask me which has to come first, I’d say the culture has to come first. The employees set the lid on how excited the customers will be. The customers will never be more excited about the brand than the employees are, so, in the long run, the culture becomes the lid to which the brand can rise. The more exciting the culture for the employees, the more exciting the brand for the customers. And when you ratchet up the culture, you ratchet up the possibilities for your brand! It’s fascinating to me – last year Chick-fil-A had more than 60,000 applications for 120 opportunities. People are lining up that want to be part of the culture story at Chick-fil-A. But here’s what’s more amazing: in the same year all those people lined up wanting to work for Chick-fil-A, people were also lining up wanting to do business with Chick-fil-A. Chick-fil-A is essentially in a $700,000 business sector; the average fast food company last year did $700,000 in business. Last year McDonald’s, arguably is the best in the business, did $2.5 million per store on average, or a little more than three times the average. You know what Chick-fil-A did last year? $5.5 million in 52 less days than any of our competitors! So, this culture where people are lining up to work is creating the ability for Chick-fil-A to be a $5.5 million dollar business in a $700,000 industry. That’s how far the lid has gone up on both sides of the coin, and it’s continuing to grow. My projection for 2019: Chick-fil-A is going to be well over $6 million dollars per restaurant. If they get to $6.2 million, which is a real possibility, the increase that Chick-fil-A would experience would be as much as the entire sales for their average competitor! When I think about a brand and culture and about the story that those two tell, here’s the underlying idea: what a great culture does is enable you to power your business on more than a paycheck. Paychecks are the commodity part of a business. Everywhere you go you’re going to get a paycheck, so that’s universal. But not everywhere you go are you going to be passionate about what you’re doing. Are you going to have a purpose that you believe in? Are you going to not just have a mission but be on a mission? What a great culture does is enable you to power your business on a fuel more powerful than a paycheck. Interestingly, there is a similar principle to be found on the flip side of the brand and culture coin. In my mind, what a brand does is it enables you to sell your product on something more than a commodity level. If the only thing you have to offer as a business is lowering your price, you’re competing on price which makes you a commodity. What a strong brand does is it insulates you from having to compete on price. So, normal businesses compete on price, while great brands insulate themselves from competing on price by having a purposeful brand that people are passionate about and want to do business with. Again, it’s two sides of the same coin. For a business to power itself on more than a paycheck is a strong culture. For a business to power itself on more than price is a great brand. 

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Together, we can Spark a Revolution of brands more defined by meaning than money, brands that achieve success in a manner that redefines it.

David Salyers
Founder, Spark A Revolution

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