It’s not uncommon for CPG or FMCG brand leaders to come to us for help with an external problem such as sluggish sales, aggressive competition or disinterested retailers. However, we often find that the problem behind the problem turns out to be an internal one. Employees are disengaged from the work and disconnected from the brand’s larger mission, or perhaps there isn’t a mission at all.
Beloved & Dominant brands, the brands we help build, are grounded in a higher calling to improve people and planet, to right a wrong, to fight the good fight, to enable a big change in the world. For these highly successful companies, every decision is based on the brand’s WHY — the promises it makes and the way it keeps them.
That goes for employees, too. Brands thrive from the inside out. So the culture of shared ideology and passion you aspire to create with your most loyal buyers applies equally to your team.
Brand Strategy Work Reveals Cultural Problems
When brands can’t quite get over the hump — can’t hook an audience beyond their loyalists, can’t get into new retail channels, or can’t break through a revenue ceiling — leaders often chalk these hurdles up to strategic or tactical misfires: “Our consumer data is off” or “We’re not talking to the right people.”
When we dig into these challenges, we often find that the internal culture is in disarray. When that happens, employees can become hyper-focused on survival tactics rather than making their brand a movement. Without a movement, it’s just a company, not a brand. People don’t like to work for companies; they want to work for smart organizations that value making a difference.
It’s relatively easy to create a mission statement for your company; it’s more vital to create an actual mission for the brand. What’s the difference? A mission statement is a marketing exercise, one you’ve probably done a thousand times in your career. A true mission is the very soul of your brand, its reason for existence.
Here are 6 things a positive, mission-based internal culture can do for your brand:
1. It builds a better organization. Any company that gains momentum needs subject matter expertise, which in itself creates functional silos. Functional silos are kryptonite to culture and getting everyone on the same page. The more functional disciplines you have, the more talented people you have, the more different pages you have. Mission lowers the barriers between different areas of the business because employees see themselves as teammates serving the collective good, not as marketers vs. salespeople vs. finance people. It greases the wheels for better collaboration and information sharing.
2. It overcomes challenges. Working together toward a higher purpose keeps people rowing in the same direction when the water gets rough. They can’t let the larger movement down, so they’ll fight through, innovate, and problem solve.
3. It surfaces the best ideas. In a broken culture, employees are scared to speak up for themselves and their customers. Leaders stand above, barking orders, hoarding information, and diminishing trust. Everyone outside the C-suite becomes pessimistic about what’s possible, so they do the bare minimum and avoid rocking the boat. Keeping their heads down instead of trying new things. In a healthy culture, team members feel free to share ideas, question the status quo, and advocate for fans of the brand.
4. It facilitates decision making. When every employee embraces and works toward the same North Star, decisions become relatively easy. This internal alignment makes it easy to spot opportunities that aren’t right, identify the right kind of products to introduce, and clarifies your consumer messaging. The brand’s mission and unity around it provide a framework for decision making. Strategies are well-defined, and tactics are obvious. People may not agree with a particular decision, but they’ll support and execute on it because it’s right for the brand.
5. It becomes contagious. A powerful mission is catnip to your retail partners, and it gets your salespeople completely fired up to talk about your brand. When your marketers and comms team believe ardently in what they do, that passion and enthusiasm radiates through your advertising and social media to capture the hearts and minds of your audience.
6. It keeps the best people. Working for a company is a job. Working for a mission-driven brand is a calling. At a time when businesses are having trouble recruiting, and employees feel disaffected, a powerful mission gives them something to believe in and support. Your staff also needs to know how they fit into the system so they can meaningfully contribute to the cause.
The Intersection of Culture + Brand Strategy
Think of culture as the internal expression of your mission and brand strategy as its external expression. Both involve a clear set of promises and an agreement on the behaviors and ethics around how those promises are kept. If the brand can’t make its own world better, it can’t do that for partners or consumers.
Brand strategy can help heal a corporate culture — or amplify it. If your culture is great, it will help you move infinitely faster; if it’s broken, you can use brand strategy to build a culture that can unite the entire team.
The brand development process identifies or clarifies the WHY that elevates the brand above its competitors. And it defines the way people interact and collaborate and treat each other as colleagues. A vibrant culture is not just about having fun and creating good working relationships, it’s about joy as well. You want to go into battle with these people, you have their back and you know they have yours; you’re unafraid to take risks that advance the mission.
Ultimately, passionate employees will lead to passionate consumers. In fact, internal culture is such a determinant of a brand’s bottom-line success that we recommend it as one of the six KPIs that matter for mission-driven food, beverage, and wellness brands. Employee engagement may not be a metric you’re watching out for, but it should be.If your brand isn’t meeting expectations, it may be a culture problem, not a strategy problem. Let’s talk about it.