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What to Do When Your Brand Stops Working

by Jeremy Nulik

If only we could get in a time machine and go back twenty years. I think that is what my friend was thinking. We had been talking about her role as a marketer for a Midwest-based financial firm. The conversation was about some of the difficulty the organization was facing with its brand. For so long, the brand position had worked. The company had steady growth, and then it stopped working. Or, at least that is what it seemed.


After a couple of strategically valuable acquisitions, her organization was facing challenges that were volatile and complex. The complexity involved issues with the humans from the acquired firms. As much as the mechanics of the acquisitions made sense, the acquired locations suffered: no growth, low morale, high turnover.

Twenty years ago, she would have solved this problem with communications — just tell employees and the world how awesome you are and leverage those communications with advertising.

But my friend knew that we do not live in the world of twenty years ago. And now there is an increased visibility into organizations. That means that a lack of employee alignment and poor customer experiences are more quickly made known to the world – and they are leveraged far more than any manufactured brand communications.

In short: Everyone can see all your insides. Your brand is no longer managing perception rooted in clever communications. Your brand is a natural outcome of your culture. The change you hope to create on your outsides has to start with your insides.

The deepest challenge my friend faced is that even that understanding is not enough. The elements of culture exist at a level that is not easily visible. So the best way she could access them, in their truest forms, is through stories. From ancient Greeks to present-day hip-hop, we are beings driven to seek and understand the complexities of our lives through stories.

My friend realized that her job as a leader was to create an environment in which people (the beings that she counted on to deliver the brand promise) have the space, time and tools needed to tell stories – to each other and to outside audiences as well.

Maybe you are at the crossroads she was facing, or maybe you are feeling like your brand is stuck. Either way, here are the steps she followed:

Step One: Craft behavior statements
Using the abstract values as a framework, begin to create story-based behavior statements. Example: “Do Good,” becomes “Do the next right thing.” This can be accomplished by interrogating employees using the abstract values and asking them when those values are present. What does it look like? Who was involved? You will begin to get stories that have behaviors instead of invisible intentions.

Step Two: Exchange of stories internally
Create a way for humans in your organization to share stories based on the behavior statements. Since behaviors can be observed, you can begin the process of making connections between day-in-day-out work and its significance to the brand and strategic direction of your organizations.

Step Three: Ritualize the telling of stories
To make the process long-lasting, you can use two devices humans understand – rituals and symbols. Make intentional time for people to gather and share behavior-statement-based stories. And you can even badge or recognize the best storytellers or exemplars of your values. This turns mundane meetings into ceremonies recognizing individuals or teams. Let them recognize one another for winning behaviors.

Jeremy Nulik (jeremy@bigwidesky.com) is evangelist prime at bigwidesky, a human business consultancy, in St. Louis, Mo.

Submitted 83 days ago
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