For the longest time, business owners saw their brand as being the company's logo, the corporate colours, a slogan, or tag line perhaps. Then it became more than that; the way the company operated was seen as being part of the brand. Companies became known for exceptional customer service, or for being green, ethical, charitable—a company's corporate culture was integral to, and indelibly linked to the brand.
Today, your culture is your brand. Your corporate culture has become outward facing, rather than a matter of internal philosophy. In part, social media has increased transparency to the point that companies can keep no secrets. If a company treats its staff poorly, that will be exposed and becomes part of how customers see and relate to the brand.
We live in a world of increasing divisiveness. There is so much "them and us" in politics and day-to-day life, that it's getting to the point where many consumers are becoming uncomfortable dealing with companies that don't treat people decently, who are not ethical, who are not acting in a sustainable way across all fronts—who are not inclusive.
In fact, we are seeing increasing numbers of companies telling the story of their ethical internal culture in captivating ways. Ways that support the health, wellbeing and growth of their employees and the world at large. Whether that's a fast food chain funding employees' education costs or working towards the creation of a fully recyclable and compostable coffee cup.
Sometimes, flaws can expose our corporate culture which in turn can detrimentally affect our outward, public-facing brand. Such was the case earlier this year when Starbucks, after an unfortunate incident at one of its locations, decided to close every one of its coffee shops in the U.S. for half a day for racial bias training. This was in response to consumer outrage, but also demonstrated the company's commitment to its internal ethical culture. Of course, it would have been far better for the company not to have had to fight a rearguard action, but it did allow Starbucks to show how serious it was about its internal culture.
Ask yourself, how do your customers see your company? If you don't know, try asking them. If you think none of this is relevant to you as a small-town local business, think again. If your competitor has its name on a local sports team's jersey and the owner is seen coaching little league, and you have no community presence, what does that say about your company?
If your staff moan about working for you while at work, or in social situations, what does that say about you? Are people who hear their complaints more or less likely to frequent your business? How often have you heard staff complain about working conditions when you are shopping at a retail store? How did that make you think feel about shopping there?
What can you do to build a stronger, sustainable internal corporate culture? The first thing is to develop a strong team ethic—bring your workers together in a common cause. Perhaps, adopting a charity and supporting it with donations, time, publicity might work for you. Small businesses often get behind something that has a personal connection to one of its employees.
Ask your staff what they feel strongly about and create a strategy around what they are passionate about. For instance, Bombas has donated almost 10 million pairs of socks to the homeless through its, "purchase a pair – donate a pair" program. What's really special is that the socks donated are special anti-microbial versions of their standard socks that need to be washed less often. This is something that both staff and customers can become involved with and support.
Once you have created an ethical internal corporate culture, decide how you will tell your story in a captivating way so that your customer base, and prospective market will be able to relate to it in a positive way.
Bringing your brand back to your internal culture is powerful; it brings it back to the people who are at the core of your company and you become more than a corporate brand identity. In an increasingly automated world, consumers are looking for companies they can relate to, cultures they can believe in, relate to, and trust. In short, companies that promote inclusiveness not divisiveness.