Modeling and nurturing brand culture
Culture as an invaluable, long-term brand driver, Part 3
This is part 3 of the mini series on modern brand tools. Catch up on part 1 here and part 2 here.
Only a decade ago, culture was something synonymous with society at large or occasionally used in highly specialized HR or management settings. Fast forward to 2022 and its not only a buzzword, it has penetrated brand on multiples levels.
We know it as pop culture, niche culture, brand culture, corporate culture or cultural footprint. One thing all this has in common: Culture is elusive and unexplainable.
When taking the brand perspective, as we are doing in this mini series, culture is something that is always there, even if not consciously designed or nurtured.
What constitutes culture?
Culture is the values, beliefs, customs, goals, behaviors and other products of human work and thought considered as a unit, especially with regard to a particular time or social group.
So culture unites a group of individuals and has a lot to do with behaving a certain way, thinking and believing certain things. That does not necessarily have to be rooted in nationality, religion or political beliefs.
Today we recognize that a single individual can be part of numerous cultures simply for the fact that individuals are complex and multi-faceted. Individuals also evolve, grow and change in a very fluid, unpredictable way.
Another tricky thing about culture is that it is hard to grasp when you’re part of it because for you, you are just behaving in a natural way.
Furthermore, it is influenced both consciously and unconsciously by the environment it takes place in. For example, there’s a reason corporate or even pop culture can feel different across locations, departments or times (i.e. pre- vs post-pandemic). Immediate society, national beliefs and economic context have an impact on groups, their opinions and beliefs, and behavior.
A group’s culture is made up of three layers: Identity, expression, and contribution and context. Each layer is necessary for different reasons.
This is where a group’s values and guiding beliefs are anchored. Why does an individual identify with this culture? What unifies the group in a meaningful way? In a corporate setting, identity is fueled by brand values and general attitude. Because this core is not subject to constant change, goals can be defined here, but only if they are long-term and of a visionary nature.
Behavior, norms and customs are all common forms of cultural expression. But also the act of evaluating something as good or bad, positive or negative. Corporate cultures differ in how they express themselves within the organizations, between seniority levels, or outside the company with partners, vendors and clients. Feedback culture and hierarchical command culture are just two ends of a spectrum when it comes to corporate cultural expression. How culture is expressed may evolve with time.
Most would stop here, seeing culture as something to be designed and purposefully instituted. But in order to fully understand culture, we can’t regard it as a disconnected theorem.
Contribution and Context
Culture becomes valuable outside of its own group when it contributes to the greater whole. When seen in context with the environment it takes place in, it’s the group’s actions, collaboration and economic, social or political contribution that determine if said culture is a brand or social driver — either positive or negative.
Like everything that is of a theoretical nature, culture without contribution (action) and context (environment) is just a muse without an artist or an idea without use.
Picture this: If culture had a very distinct signature, its identity would define if the whole name is legible or resembles a scribble, and expression would be the type of pen being used. But the paper or surface would be context.
We’re now familiar with the layers of culture. So what makes it a valuable brand tool and how to navigate it all?
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