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Culture and Brand Building with Michele Nichols

As leaders, we read, think and talk about the importance of culture, a lot. But are we missing the opportunity to tell that story in a way that builds authenticity internally and externally? Michele Nichols from Launch. Inc. shares her insights into culture, brand building, and the importance of creating an authentic competitive advantage in a changing market.

We have taken the Q&A from this webinar for the latest episode of the #MarketingScience podcast.

You can listen, read or watch the discussion by clicking one of the links below.

Listen to Culture and Brand Building

Read Culture and Brand Building

Q: How important is it for companies to realize that controlling the single relationship from salesperson to the client is more complex now, and to have a plan to manage those communications?

There isn’t a single relationship between your salesperson and your customer; many customers have many different experiences across many channels. This change in communication strategy is a necessary and beneficial shift, as at no point would your customer have interacted with one individual who would behave in exactly the same way during every communication.

There are more parts now to think about having consistency in. It is essential to be specific in your promise of a standard of care, and engineer for it so that there is a consistent brand experience that customers come to expect and depend upon across all of your communication channels.

Q: Is it prudent to include the nurturing of a real human relationship with customers in brand building, advertising, social media posts, and other areas of marketing communications?

Absolutely. Let's take AZo, for example, because I've had many touchpoints with this company, and we're all familiar with AZo. We've seen them on social, and the person who writes the posts most likely isn’t who you speak to on the phone or by email, but there is consistency. Everybody who works there is very personable and unpretentious. This experience is how people build credibility and trust in the company. If you, Danny, or one of your colleagues tell me that you're sending something, I know that based on past experience, I will receive it today, you don't mean some time in the future.

People want to connect with the people they are working and communicating with, and they're more willing to do that on social media. So you can be very specific as a company in what you hire for, what you reward for, what kind of characteristics you value and then make great examples of your people, reward your team by highlighting them, spotlighting them in the newsletter and on social media. This showcase will reinforce your promise to the market.

Q: How can you demonstrate brand culture and business values in ways other than a page on the website or marketing taglines?

First, I'd say service, commitment, and expectations. In many market segments we work in, it is more important to do what you promise than to promise faster. If you say you'll have this in three weeks, that is more compelling than I'm going to get it to you in three days, then it turns out to be five days. You can reinforce consistency and delivery.

Second, you need to map your values to your money. You're probably doing it anyway, but it helps the company to use resources better if this is how you qualify for opportunities.

The third easy way is to create a contest internally and externally. One year we did a referral contest, and for every referral, that team got another thanksgiving basket to give to charity. They were competing against each other in the best possible way and toward a cause they believed in. That effectively motivated them in a way that was true to our company values.

Q: How can a company know when brand recognition versus product-centered marketing makes sense?

There is a balance. You should be utilizing both for a long-term opportunity and increasing loyalty to keep and grow your customer base.

Brand building can be significant for your pre-product launch when launching into a new market. Although you may not be able to talk about the new technology, you can tell the story of why, where, and what you are innovating and where you see the company going. This will build some awareness and loyalty before launching your critical announcement.

Moving to post-launch, how can we turn initial customers into loyal clients? If you're targeting and growing your customer base, more product promotions for that initial new product purchase should be considered. Regarding account growth, it's probably more appropriate to push a more branded message.

Q: What are the best practices for communicating a refreshed brand purpose externally?

To reposition in the market, start with the vision. What will these changes feel like to the customer and the employee? Use this to identify the metrics and be as specific as possible.

The percent of budgets spent on R&D and innovation compared to your competitors is a meaningful metric, which can be progressed by considering where your innovation pipeline is focused. Examine your common threads, whether that is benefiting climate change, medical research or other human impacts. If the team as a whole understand the themes the business is working toward this makes the story easier to follow, your employee’s families can understand what they do for a living and why, which is just as important.

From there you are looking at the impacts, telling your story and making an announcement to explain that story. You could make this a campaign, if there is an important conference that you can tie to the announcement it could be made more specific and event-focused around your change in the brand purpose.

Q: How can you showcase the people behind your brand, particularly the back-of-house team who may not be attending events and networking?

How-to videos are a great way to showcase some of the people doing the work. They know the products and the technologies better than anyone, and your audience can meet the team in various formats. Customers want to see the person they're working with and when they may not have had a chance to meet someone in person, getting them online can make a difference.

Broaden your thought leadership, brainstorm content ideas, and involve a more extensive pool of talent from your company.

Encouraging confidence in your team who may not be used to being interviewed or being on video requires some deliberation. If a video isn't something that suits them, that same interview could be written content. A brief Q&A on social media with their picture will still feel authentic.

Q: How can you create an environment where disagreeing amicably is encouraged, and people feel comfortable disagreeing?

Firstly, you can designate a ‘devil’s advocate,’ somebody who pushes back in a particular discussion, as pushback is valuable and will improve the end product.

Secondly, rewarding pushback by rewarding employees and sharing examples of how they pushed back for a better result encourages others in a positive way to feel comfortable doing so.

Q: When selling scientific products, there is a tendency to sell based on features, attributes, and benefits to the customer. How would you recommend a brand could change the culture to selling these based on value, and how do you define the value of a scientific product?

When working in a specific industry, sometimes it feels like you don’t have to spell things out, but it does make a message more powerful.

Why does anyone care what the spec of a product is? What is the end outcome? Considering the next three steps to ensure clarity will make your payoff much clearer.

Consider financial targets, risk reduction, and considerations of your technical buyer, scientific buyer, and the purchasing they need to get through their decision-makers. Your awareness of these factors should help you to tell a more value-focused story.

Q: What are your top three tips to unleash company culture?

One is to decide what you're not, very clearly. It's more important to determine what you're not than what you are.

The second is to take a look at your star performers. What makes them great? What are the commonalities? What do you want to build upon?

Then thirdly, let your people define the culture. I use tricks like “describe the company in three words,” and this is silly, but it works. People can articulate those kinds of questions more easily. So you're looking for themes, and then you test it to see if this is what the market values and your customer values. Then consider what you want to build on and what you want less of.

Watch Culture and Brand Building

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Posted by Rebecca Turpin

Manchester born Rebecca has a first class B.A.(Hons) in Photography from the University of Plymouth. Rebecca began her career in 2017 working as a sales and marketing assistant for a healthcare company before moving in to an agency position in 2018. She spent two years running a small agency in Salford until 2021, gaining marketing skills and invaluable experience working with clients before coming to AZoNetwork. Outside of marketing, Rebecca loves anything outdoors, the theatre and any creative activity that lets her be covered in paint.

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