A brand is only as good as its story

Andrej Isler is the owner and creative director of the Zurich-based live communication agency Brandsoul. He talks to MK about new paradigms in marketing, Google's recipe for success and the need to take employees seriously.BY DENISE WEISFLOGMr. Isler, brand culture is the buzzword of the day in modern marketing. In classic marketing, there are many paradigms, such as target group [...].

BY DENISE WEISFLOGMr. Isler, brand culture is the buzzword of the day in modern marketing. Why is that?In classical marketing there are many paradigms like target group or positioningthat no longer correspond to the zeitgeist. In the world of social media, other values such as empathy, motivation and community have become important. Brand culture refers to the inner elements of a brand, which are shaped by the people, vision and culture of a company.What does that mean exactly?In the past, the focus in the market was mainly on the outside. It was about how you positioned yourself, which consumer target groups you wanted to address. Branding and corporate branding were always managed in terms of marketing. This has now shifted. People have realized that brands work on different levels and that the brand image per se has a function. The internal image of a brand is the key element for successful marketing and communication. How do you make this inner image visible?Through storytelling. That's the be-all and end-all. A brand is only as good as the story it tells. And it can't just be any story, it has to be based on the brand's values, the mission it has and the vision it is pursuing. It is important to include the roots of the brand and the culture behind it. The protagonists of the story are always the people and not the brand. After all, the more it is integrated and lived in the corporate culture, the better it is. Business cards or logos don't do this; they're just visualizations for a broad audience.Now this sounds very theoretical.Recently, I was with a CEO who couldn't explain why entire teams had left. He had put all his eggs in the external communication basket and invested very little in the corporate culture. When I asked him about "Why?", the vision of the company, he couldn't give me an answer. That is the crux of the matter. In what way?To inspire and retain employees, you need a strong corporate vision. But this should not be ratio-driven. If someone says they want to be the biggest player in the market, that's just an objective. But if someone declares that they want to give so and so many people access to something - the Internet, training opportunities or products that have a benefit, then that is a vision that explains the "Why?" of a company. A corporate vision is always underpinned by values that one represents. These values must be communicated to the outside world, because this is the only way to ensure that employees identify with the company and perform accordingly. This does not work through financial incentives, but through loyalty to the company.Which companies implement this particularly well?There are many examples of good brand culture. U.S. companies in particular took up the topic early on. The best-known example is Google, which has evolved from a clearly visionary but very playful start-up into a global player. Although this involved a huge culture change, Google has managed to maintain their basic DNA and vision that they had from the beginning. And they have done so at all levels. All work processes reflect the vision, the culture and the brand. What does Google do better than other companies?For years we had our studio next to Google's Swiss headquarters in the Hürlimann area of Zurich. The people who worked there were clearly recognizable as "Googlers" even from the outside. These are things that make the company strong. Google is a community that represents values that employees can identify with 100 percent. This includes the view that everyone should have the right to free access to information on the Web or that free spaces are needed for developments. The company's "Why?" is so attractive that it continually attracts new talent.Are there also Swiss companies with such a strong brand culture?There are a few - let's take Sigg. This traditional company has been around for over 100 years, has created a clear product, and has constantly developed it further. The way the company has built up the story around these drinking bottles, and coordinated sponsorship and communication with it, is a very good example of brand culture in action. Everything here is about movement. The forward movement of the brand is clearly visible from all angles.How do you achieve such a holistic picture?Brand culture is everything that is communicated. It starts with the outfit of the employees, continues with the way company employees approach people, and extends to the design of the spaces - both real and digital. All six senses are important in experiential communication. What does something look like, sound like, smell like, taste like, and feel like? The sixth sense, unconscious perception, is the component that gains relevance. It is through it that the brand is transported.What advice do you give to CEOs who want to bring their own brand to life?They should gain an understanding that what they invest in must not only have an effect on the outside, but also on the inside. Basically, you have to move away from monologue to dialog and take the people you lead seriously. The spirit of the company, the company spirit, must have an effect on the employees in such a way that a sense of belonging is created. If a company has a clear vision with strong statements and carries the culture from the inside to the outside, employees become brand ambassadors. This increases the chances of getting and keeping good people.

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