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Build a Culture to Match Your Brand

An organization that embraces integrity and teamwork is no different from any other. Suppose you want to produce specific outcomes that will allow your company to differentiate from others. In that case, you need to define a unique culture that cultivates the necessary types of employee attitudes and behaviors. Companies that do this well also identify the desired brand identity and align their company culture.

If you aim for a “good” culture at your organization, you’re setting the bar too low. An organization that embraces integrity and teamwork is no different from any other. However, to produce specific outcomes that will allow you to differentiate your company, you must define a unique culture that cultivates the necessary employee attitudes and behaviors.

Building this unique culture goes beyond internal aspirations. Companies that do this well also identify the desired brand identity, which I define as how you want your organization to be perceived and experienced by customers and other external stakeholders. If your company culture is aligned and integrated with that identity, your employees are more likely to make decisions and take actions that deliver on your brand promise.

It takes work to make this culture-brand connection. You can start by considering the different brand identities and where your company fits. Brand types are categories of brands that share the same strategic approach or take similar stances to shape their competitive positioning.

Brand types differ from brand archetypes, which classify brands according to classic storytelling character types such as the Hero, the Joker, and the Sage. While brand archetypes can help create a narrative and tone of voice to use in advertising campaigns and other communications, the brand types I’m referring to here are strategic ways that brands compete and are positioned relative to each other. For example, Patagonia falls into the “conscious brand” type because it is characterized by its sustainability mission, while Apple is an “innovative brand” type, given its pursuit of new products.

Having worked on a broad range of brands for over 25 years — enterprises and small businesses, local and international, B2C and B2B, start-ups, and companies with long histories — I’ve concluded that there are only nine general brand types (see the chart below). A note on the company examples I’ve included: There is an element of subjectivity when determining the brand type that is not your own, and this is my assessment.

The 9 Types of Company Brands


Some of these brand types overlap, and some characteristics are—or should be—embraced by all brands. All brands should offer good service, for example. But a brand that falls into the service brand type prioritizes delivering high-quality customer care and service above anything else — and its strategies, operations, and, ultimately, customer value propositions are all centered around differentiating through excellent service.

Each of the nine brand types is distinguished by two main characteristics. The first one is what I call its point of reference — the standard that your brand is positioned relative to or how you want customers to understand your brand. So, for example, a disruptive brand like Richard Branson’s Virgin is about challenging the leader in every category, so the Virgin brand’s point of reference is the category leader.


The second characteristic that distinguishes a brand type is its tone and manner, which is how the brand usually behaves or expresses itself. For example, Walmart and Subway fall into the value brand type and they tend to act in down-to-earth, practical, and straightforward ways.


Brand and Core Values

Once you know the type of brand you have or want to build, the next step to aligning external and internal culture is identifying the kind of culture required to deliver on it. Different types of brands are achieved through different kinds of cultures. If you want to position your brand as disruptive, for example, then you must cultivate a culture of risk-taking so that your people are inclined to act boldly and break market conventions.

As part of this process, I recommend determining the core values you need to cultivate your desired culture. Core values — the essential and enduring principles and priorities that prescribe the desired mindset and behavior of everyone who works at your company — are the cornerstones of your culture. They reflect what's important to your organization, and if used correctly, they shape your people's attitudes and actions. If you know the core values you need to manifest your particular brand type, you can design the other aspects of your culture to align with, build on, and reinforce them.

Researchers have isolated core values that correspond to each brand type. Here are the top organizational values by brand type:


  • Disruptive brand: Competition, standing out, and risk-taking.

  • Conscious brand: Purposefulness, high commitment, and transparency.

  • Service brand: Caring, humility, and empathy.

  • Innovative brand: Inventiveness, experimentation, and continuous improvement.

  • Value brand: Accessibility, fairness, and pragmatism.

  • Performance brand: Achievement, excellence, and consistency.

  • Luxury brand: Sophistication, distinction, and status.

  • Style brand: Design, discernment, and creativity.

  • Experience brand: Entertainment, enjoyment, and originality.

It would help if you used these values as starting points for drafting your unique core values. You must make your company's core values your own and operationalize them. You should apply them to your organization by fleshing them into a complete set of core values that fit your organization and your specific brand identity. Then you'll need to define how those core values relate to behaviors and expectations unique to your organization.

Some of the best examples I've seen of this in action are companies like Salesforce, which is known for being inspiring; Southwest Airlines, fun; Starbucks, sincere. These three companies cultivated a unique organizational culture aligned with a strong brand identity.

Your company culture needs to be as distinct as your brand. You can achieve this if your culture is friendly or competitive, nurturing or analytical. And remember, there is no single right type of culture, just as there isn't one best type of brand.

Source: Harvard Business Review

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