How a branding agency can capture your unique culture
I have worked on hundreds of brand refinements over the last 15 years. And one important question that I would ask If I were you is: How can I ensure my branding agency understands my company culture? If the agency successfully gets the culture, everything else is easier (and I would argue, better). The visual identity and foundational language will reflect you and not a version of the agency’s preferences. Your culture is vibrant. Your brand should be, too.
Our entire process is designed to understand you. We use the same tools anthropologists have honed over the last century. These ethnographic methods use primarily qualitative research to understand cultures. Here are some tools that help us do our job well.
We use 10–15 different exercises in group settings to create workshops. Something special happens when team members write down an idea, post it publicly, sort it, defend it, and organize it with others. The ideas get sharper. But, we get other information. Who speaks the loudest, most often? Who defers? Who sorts and distills? We see what the group creates and how they do it. That is invaluable. Here are three examples of exercises we often use to understand what drives the culture of an organization:
- Golden Circle. Simon Sinek, Start with Why
- Core Values. Patrick Lencioni, The Advantage
- Deflection Point, ThinkWrong
Small group interviews
It is also valuable to see how someone describes an organization from their vantage. How does the customer service team view the purpose of the organization? What about the board? The sales folks? Every culture has sub-cultures. Small group interviews are a good way to get people who are comfortable with one another talking freely. Once you have the perspective of several sub-cultures, the picture looks quite different than the picture you get when doing a workshop with a leadership team. This is essential. To understand a culture, you have to understand where the friction comes from. While friction can tear an organization apart, you can also harness it as a source of energy.
There are some things people won’t say aloud that they will put in an anonymous survey. Also, many teams are too large or geographically dispersed to meet in person practically. Surveys are a great way to engage and gain insights from many people at once. Additionally, some employees are difficult to interview because they are actively engaged in the doing part of the business. They install braces on teeth, prepare and pack the product, and service the machines. Their proximity to the customer makes their perspective especially valuable.
We are in a communication business. But, sometimes, we need to shut up and open our eyes. We learn how people move through a store. How users interact with a public space. Do people laugh, frown, or express confusion? Do people gather? Why? This can have a digital component. How do you communicate visually and verbally on social media? How do people interact with you? We talk about this method the least, but it returns some of the most valuable insights. Because often, the parts of our culture that are the most compelling are the ones so integral that we don’t notice them anymore.
To fully understand your company culture, we have to understand your context. That involves the physical and digital space your people occupy. But, it is also informed by your competitors and collaborators. Our landscape research helps us understand the other companies in your space and your posture toward them. We understand the organizations you work with. And we uncover companies in totally different industries (and sometimes countries) that are working on a similar problem in a different way. These insights are the foundation of the brand strategy.
We want to help companies overcome brand barriers. The way we do it is to understand their culture and create brand assets that clarify.