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Your Values Are Your Brand

by Todd Kasenberg

I am not one to read biographies.  They generally don't work for me.  In my reading, which can be voracious, I find myself far more drawn to the fantastic (as in, fiction... science preferably) or to the "going to help me now" (as in business tomes). I share this because I've had the good fortune to read one really great "biography"  recently - called "Delivering Happiness" by Tony Hsieh. 

I stumbled across this book during research I was conducting into internal communications - a topic which has much preoccupied my mind of late.  And in buying it, I didn't fully realize it was a biography.

The early part of the book did what a bio does - and I quickly began to wonder whether I was out 30 bucks for something that I wasn't going to enjoy or from which I wouldn't learn.  But then - pow! - some really remarkable notions about shaping organizational cultures as part of the brand.

Tony Hsieh was the leader of Zappos, an online retailer.  He's younger than I am. His upbringing was very different from mine. In some ways, one would expect his upbringing to have created ample "in the box" thinking - it sounds like he could have turned out very respectful of the "box".  But Tony's free spirited thinking has led him to some remarkable accomplishments and enabled him to make significant contributions to branding, even if that wasn't fully his intent.

He tells of how he encouraged all of his fellow employees at Zappos to contribute their thoughts to a Corporate Culture Book.  How often is the identification of corporate culture a top-down exercise?  Or a neglected exercise?  And yet his concept - about a book of culture - led at least this reader into a deeper understanding of brand. Tony essentially encourages us, in his biography, to understand that your culture and your values are your brand.  That your brand is more than just a logo, or a tagline.  That in every case, your internal values will speak clearly to the external world... and put to the test any logos, wordmarks, taglines or other marketing mishmash you may have invented.

Why is this so? Because relationships strongly colour our perception.  When you share with me vibrant logos and clever taglines, I might expect creativity. When your website shows me lots of rich images of happy, smiling or busy people, I might expect warmth. And when I don't hear from you for two weeks after an inquiry, or I reach the automated telephone attendant from hell, I experience that cognitive dissonance about your brand that provokes the moment of reflection. If the "people experience" - how your people collectively think and act - isn't consistent with your imagery, my gut twitches.  And when my gut twitches, I might just walk.

So - it starts with your values and culture. Which starts with your people. Your values are your brand. Just ask your gut.


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