Culture creates your real brand story
Fergus Stoddart
This is a post by Fergus Stoddart
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Building a brand in today’s world of content overload is a very different challenge from brand building in the past.

Gone are the days where those in charge of selling a product would get together in a room and decide what their product or service would look like, ask their ad agency to develop the positioning statement and creative, and then invest a lot of money on telling people about it through media.

In those times, it was a case of ‘spend more money and your brand will strengthen’. It didn’t really matter what was happening behind the doors of the ivory towers of a business, as customers rarely got a view of the real company behind the brand. The people, the culture, the values and the reasons why you might want to buy from that company or do business with its people were not so important.

How things have changed.

We now live in a transparent world where, like it or not, companies are being exposed at all levels. Customer service, employee engagement, product performance and the retail experience is open and shareable, and the more that companies attempt to shield us from the truth, the more damage they can do to their reputation.

The truth is that brands have moved so far from being just about the product or service. They are now about a holistic experience with that brand in every dimension: as a customer, an employee, a supplier or any other stakeholder. Good advertising or marketing can only get you so far.

The best way to develop a sustainable brand in today's world is to share your real story, and you can only do that effectively if your culture is right. Culture is your brand; if you get that spot on, then your products and services will likely follow in line.

When developing a content marketing strategy for our clients we first focus on understanding the vision, values and culture of their company. To connect with their customers we need to tell a genuine and believable brand story, and to do that we need to understand the higher purpose of their business. We look beyond the product benefit and financial goals to recognise the emotions and passions that underpin their business.

We need to clearly understand the proof points, or reality, behind their product statements and brand values. Customers, meanwhile, need to see a clear demonstration that these values are more than lip service; they must be embedded into the cultural fabric of the company.

In today’s connected world, no amount of storytelling will resonate with customers without that grounding. Credibility is easily broken, as the truth is just one click away.

It’s at this stage that a complete rethink of strategy is often needed. How can a brand demonstrate that it values its customers and is prepared to invest in that relationship? What utility can a company provide, above and beyond every day products and services? How can it prove that it believes and acts on what it says it believes in?

Only once a clear commitment to a company's values has been established can the storytelling begin.

Culture and storytelling go hand in hand, but they get even more entwined when you place faith in the hands of your whole team to represent your brand online.

More and more companies are empowering their staff to interact with customers, regardless of their role. Social media channels are opening up and conversations are flowing seamlessly between brands and consumers both on and offline.

This level of trust and transparency is only possible when the company culture is right.

This type of empowerment provides enormous opportunities:

  1. You can reduce the burden on the customer service team
  2. You can expose more staff to what the customers really want and engage them in the wider business effort
  3. You demonstrate to customers that you are real

As an agency, we face the same challenges. Our industry has spent years living behind the veneer of the fancy reception, the awards cupboard and the creativity and sizzle of the ECD; scratching beneath the surface to ask whether some projects are truly effective could see many come unstuck.

The way to success is to build a unique and powerful culture, and apply consistent proof points that get baked into the way you do things. This is our focus for 2015.

Gone are the days of hiding behind your marketing. Now, in the age of content marketing, the culture, the story, and the brand are one.