Is brand culture relevant for SMEs?
- 21 October 2016
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Brand culture is not just a concept for large organisations – it is both important and feasible for SMEs to create their own.
In a world of tactical digital campaigns and real-time results, SME marketers can find themselves under such short-term pressure that it becomes easy to neglect brand culture. We can start to think of it as something only relevant to large corporates with vast internal marketing teams, monolithic brand values carved in stone, and global reputations forged over many decades. Yet brand culture can play an equally important role in the success of SMEs.
For example, look at media agency the7stars. Founded only a decade ago, it now bills £182m per year and picked up the Agency of the Year award from Campaign. For co-founder Jenny Biggam, the role played by brand culture in attracting and retaining the best people has been pivotal to this success.
“The employee-customer relationship is the most important aspect of any company, so both must feel as though they belong to something bigger than ‘a bit of business’,” she says. “After all, those relationships can last for a long time so they need to be embedded in a positive brand culture.”
The agency achieves this firstly by eliminating what it describes as pointless hierarchies and job titles. It makes its business plan and results available to all team members. They also get equal profit share, regardless of supposed seniority, and enjoy unlimited holidays. The result is that, in the past year, not a single person left to go to another agency, and this is reflected in similarly strong client retention.
Further, as more and more start-ups embrace the virtual team model, so brand culture will play an ever more critical role. JourneyHR provides HR consultancy to the creative industries. Aliya Vigor-Robertson, co-founder, says: “Because we don’t have any physical office space, all our staff work remotely, making it difficult for managers to determine visually how the team is feeling. So communication is crucial to creating a strong and happy internal culture for our business.”
For Natalie Spearing, marketing director at resourcing experts BPS World, brand culture is about something even more fundamental. “Brand culture is about belief in a common vision and alignment of company values,” she says. “It’s what you stand for, it’s what you belong to and it’s what you are all passionate about. If a company has a shared belief, then you all travel in the same direction, you pull together to get there – and you fight harder to stay there.”
She believes that there are several key steps on the path towards building a strong and effective brand culture. “Firstly, you set out a vision,” she says. “This needs to set an aspiration for your business, but be something that is ultimately achievable. Next, you create a mission that is more practical and goal orientated. Your values lead you to the behaviours you need to put in place in your business to achieve your mission. From there you must embed your brand and culture into your interview process, nurture brand ambassadors, and roll out a programme to communicate your brand culture.”
Platform for growth
Finally, Barbara Soltysinska, CEO and founder of technology platform Indahash, argues that brand culture is especially important for SMEs as it lays the foundations for a firm to scale up. “SMEs working in highly dynamic surroundings, who want to scale quickly and adapt to new trends and situations, can’t rely on rules and procedures,” she says. “You need to replace these with brand culture.”
She continues: “If this culture comes from employees working together to develop a shared culture, it becomes something they can stand behind. This provides a flexible model to drive the company in the same direction, keeping people focused on the same business goals, but in a way that doesn't limit creativity. It must enable people to work around problems and find the solution that works, rather than sticking rigidly to procedures.”
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