A new article from Bulldog Reporter Smart Brands Are Harnessing Culture to Create Growth By Investing in Cultural Value Initiatives finds that 71% of brand marketers say, “They seek to contribute to culture and deliver something of value to consumers beyond their products and services.” While tying a brand to larger cultural elements certainly makes brands seem timely and relevant, many brands may be overlooking something right within their own walls that can help their brands mean more.
In our first installment on culture, Brand Advocacy: It Starts From The Inside, we addressed the significance of internal brand advocacy that translates into sustainable outward-facing brand experiences. It’s a modern truism of branding that before any brand can make consumers fall in love with them, companies must focus their efforts toward their first stakeholder – the internal audience – to really make the most of the brand. Further, it’s the alignment of three core elements – brand, place and culture – that ultimately define the brand experience for customers.
From a practical standpoint, what does a cultural program look like? In Brand Immersion, initiatives are focused around a refresh, rebrand and rename. “During these types of projects, it’s especially important to get team members on-board with the ‘why’ behind the changes,” according to Rebecca Doepke, Adrenaline’s Director of Culture. In Retail Experience Staff Immersion, culture efforts emphasize new staff roles within the new space, like with modern bank branches. Answering today’s expectations for efficient spaces where multiple activities take place, banks are deploying the Universal Banker, which completely transforms the staffing function. Doepke says, “How quickly employees embrace the branch environment and the new relationship banker position will determine the future success of the branch and the brand.”
In our second installment Culture Leadership Helps Brands Mean More, we examined the dynamic nature of culture for brands and how to unleash its potency within organizations, mainly through cultural leadership. Through our process, we’ve come to understand that culture for any organization really begins at the top. “Leaders must communicate vision, mission and expectation with clear eyes and strong hearts. The values of any organization are articulated by strong leaders who are ultimately the enablers and creators of a brand’s culture,” according to Heather Milliman, Adrenaline’s VP, Account Executive. Our goal in these sessions is to develop a framework where leadership skills are nurtured and built in a sustainable manner that encourages learned strategies with enhanced confidence.
Taking all of these best brand practices and applying them to real life scenarios, two of our clients epitomize the transformational power and possibility of embracing culture within their institutions. We Florida Financial partnered with us for a rebranding exercise because of a merger that also resulted in a new name. To ensure success externally, organizations must first look inside to employees as potent brand advocates. In We Florida Financial’s case, the organization had to win over an entirely new employee base resulting from the merger. Because of this reality, the initial Brand Immersion program quickly evolved into an onboarding program. Their ‘why’ migrated from there is a new brand to “This is your brand. You’re working here.” This movement took place in large part because the credit union recognized that understanding the brand and their expertise was important to both communicate and empower within new hires.
For the culture program, we worked with We Florida Financial to develop a strategy that extended beyond onboarding. For the organization, this strategy incorporated learnings around the customer journey map, acronyms employed across the financial industry and implementing communication best practices. For each staffer, employee buy-in starts from the beginning. “Teaching employees about our culture begins their first day on the job. New hires receive a 90-day journey map so they know their path and how they will grow into their new position. Part of their journey is a half day of culture training designed to teach new hires how we expect them to interact with members, how to say ‘yes,’ and how to articulate the unique benefits of being a member of We Florida Financial” explains Jennifer Burns, We Florida Financial’s Chief Marketing Officer.
The journey maps for the organization represent the foundational elements for the employee’s development over the course of three months, including learning experiences that will occur both in-person and virtually. The first three days focus on the introduction to We Florida Financial and job training skills. The following one to three months include training in the virtual realm, with topics that include: career development, regulatory and compliance basics for credit unions, fair service for all, preventing identity theft, and using tools like Outlook. Hands-on topics over the next one to three months include: product knowledge and training, living the We Florida Financial brand and elevating customer service. Through this type of training, communication and resources, We Florida Financial shows its commitment to its employees, facilitating a successful rebrand launch.
How does a brand like We Florida Financial measure that success, though? For many institutions, gauging how effective an ongoing culture program is can be particularly difficult. Often, benchmarking is completed through observed qualitative measures. “We’ve learned that culture is not a vague or intangible idea that can’t be defined. You can define it; you can demonstrate what it looks like, sounds like and feels like. By setting aside a few hours to regularly talk with employees about our culture and show them how to display it in their day-to-day member interactions, we’ve seen employee confidence and problem resolution skills improve. Employees feel empowered, and as a result they are more engaged on the job” according to Jennifer Burns.
“We’ve learned that culture is not a vague or intangible idea that can’t be defined. You can define it; you can demonstrate what it looks like, sounds like and feels like”
From our perspective on benchmarking success, we assess the effectiveness of these culture programs through feedback and check-ins with key culture leaders within the organization. Following the program, each client receives a feedback survey, which enables the client to measure whether the program achieved their goals. It also allows for reflection on organizational transformation and continual learning opportunities for themselves and their staffs. This feedback survey is also provided to the staff involved in the Culture Immersion programs. We include questions like these to evaluate a program’s success and translate insights into future culture programs:
From these surveys, we are able to integrate continual learning into our own strategic approaches, as well. Feedback allows us to really customize each program to a client’s particular challenges and needs. According to Rebecca Doepke, “When it comes to developing culture, it’s important to identify classifications of employees – what the needs are, what the gaps are – complete an analysis, customize and deliver content with a cohesive and aligned strategy. It’s all of these elements that ultimately portray success for our programs.” She goes on to say, “A lot of clients don’t have the talent in-house to develop and evaluate all of the intersecting aspects that go into a culture program. There is power in having an outside person evaluate elements and deliver a program, someone with a more objective, third-party point-of-view to look at all of the parts and pieces and then ably weave together the larger whole.”
In the case of Origin Bank, this community bank had a well-established culture program in place when Adrenaline was engaged to support their efforts in conjunction with their rebrand. Their needs were different than We Florida Financial’s in that they have three distinct markets and within those markets exists distinct regions. Having such a large and diverse physical footprint results in some particular geographical challenges when developing a culture program. Origin not only needed Brand Immersion, but also a Leadership program to empower executives within each market and region to champion the brand experience on the local level. Following a comprehensive kickoff strategy session, we undertook a capsule needs assessment to determine what the requirements were, where the gaps were and what the challenges were with their staff via their distinct geography.
Ryan Kilpatrick, Director of Culture Strategies for Origin Bank, says “We understood that the success of the brand launch depended heavily upon how well our employees embraced the new brand, understood the meaning and were prepared to answer questions from our customers and community. The challenge we faced as a company was training all 700+ employees across three different markets. To meet that challenge, Adrenaline created a plan for us called ‘Brand Certification’ taking our managers through a Brand Immersion program, which in return really empowered them to go back to their markets and then facilitate the culture training with all the employees over the course of two weeks.” Success with an organization like Origin requires an army of leaders to be engaged and invested in delivering cohesive brand messaging and meaning, with actionable training across a dispersed landscape.
With the Brand Immersion program, Origin developed a deep commitment to culture training as an ongoing priority, just as We Florida Financial has. “The saying we live by is ‘to be the keeper of the culture’ and that means that each employee takes personal responsibility for the customer experience and their interaction with the brand. We have designated culture trainings and periodic culture celebrations to keep our employees motivated and regularly reinforce our values,” explains Kilpatrick. Through these practices, Origin has not only built a thriving culture within their own four walls, but also created a culture of communication within their communities. Further reinforcement comes through an employee handbook that acts as a resource guide to strengthen and solidify brand principles and philosophies on a continuing basis.
Origin’s success comes from its commitment to embrace and enhance the culture within its organization and provide continuing resources to keep culture squarely in sights of every employee. Kilpatrick says, “It was clear that our employees were re-energized by the brand training and found it to be very rewarding. We were excited by the level of buy-in from them.” The value of these programs for the bank originated because staff were open to understanding why changes were occurring and accountable for taking that information, translating and transforming brand meaning for their customers and communities. The ability for employees to confidently and clearly engage in dialogue around the new brand and then live the brand every day is a testament to the promise and potential of culture for every brand.
“Embracing culture means the brand is dedicated to engaging with their employees, their brand and their service to create an environment that really lets a brand’s principles and values thrive and grow every day”
“It’s so inspiring to work with clients who really understand the importance of having a strong culture within an organization. Embracing culture means the brand is dedicated to engaging with their employees, their brand and their service to create an environment that really lets a brand’s principles and values thrive and grow every day,” explains Doepke. Both We Florida Financial and Origin Bank have bought-in to the idea of culture and integrated the time, resources and support to create thriving culture programs. The result is an engaged team who build the culture daily with each and every staff and customer interaction. After all, culture is indeed the house that brand built, day-by-day and brick-by-brick.