In CultureTalk

Remember the Emmy Award winning reality show – Queer Eye for the Straight Guy?

First airing on Bravo in 2003, the “Fab Five” would apply their skills and wit to perform a makeover on a straight guy. They could probably turn Homer Simpson into Don Juan by revamping his wardrobe, redecorating his home and offering advice on grooming, lifestyle and food.

But often the newly refined gents were challenged to maintain their sophisticated living. And viewers knew it was just a matter of time before they returned to the couch, beer-in-hand, to watch sports in their sweats while dirty dishes piled up in the sink.

So it is with some brand initiatives. You bring in an agency, direct them to “make us look good” and let them have their way with polish and shine. But the paint you put on a brand’s surface starts to crack when it’s put out in the marketplace. You are left with the same problem as the straight guy – you can’t live up to the promise.

To build a brand with staying power, you must walk your talk.

Brand guru Susan Waldman interviewed Robert Richman, a Zappos’ cultural strategist. Her insights into Zappos infamous culture, brand and financial success were recounted in the Washington Post:

  • Everything the market experiences about you is a result of your culture.

  • Your culture is experienced as a feeling.

  • The key to building a culture is recognizing what you value.

Zappos is built on the value of happiness in a culture of “WOW service.” Because employees are hired and trained around that mission, it’s one they can deliver again and again. According to Waldman, “Zappos has even mastered connecting happy people with performance indicators.” Talk about living your brand.

The Culture-Brand Connection

Consider a less renowned, but highly successful trucking company in the Midwest, Nussbaum Transportation. They’ve built a culture-based brand that’s helped them persevere, adapt and grow through decades of market cycles.

“We focus on doing things right, knowing profits will follow,” says company president Brent Nussbaum, “Often that ideal challenges us to find new and better ways of doing business. So we’ve created a culture where every contribution counts.”

Today, their integrity continues to move the company forward. They’re getting industry-wide attention for innovations in every aspect of their business; innovations that are organically grown and making a measurable impact on their success:

  • Rather than quoting a rate to a prospect, Nussbaum will look at their entire production and delivery system, recommending ways they can enhance shipping efficiencies and minimize costs;
  • Employees are even working with equipment manufacturers to reinvent trailers. They launched the X-Duty – an adaptable-style trailer that does the work of two different trailers, resulting in significant savings for customers.
  • The HR team totally revamped the Driver Performance Management system, tying bonuses to measurable data that is ultimately linked to the company’s profitability. Results of the new program are shifting long-held industry perceptions.

In a company where employees are encouraged to explore innovative ideas, the Nussbaum brand tagline – setting new ideas in motion – fits like a glove. It’s a culture-based brand that engages employees, increases driver retention and builds customer loyalty.

If it quacks like a duck, it must be a duck

In branding, you must actually BE the image you portray so that every encounter with a prospect or customer creates an honest and consistent experience.

It may sound scary at first, but as you begin bringing your brand out of the closet you’ll find that authenticity is magnetic. Start with what’s true at the deepest level and a creative team will make your public face reflect you, even as it shines.

The bottom line is this: keep it real. Real brands produce real results.

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