Experts: Want to Build Your Brand? Start with Your Employees

While there’s much talk about building dot-com brands through television ads, streaming media, Superstitials, and the like, industry leaders say laying a foundation for the brand inside the company should be the first step, before the company undertakes any external marketing communications.

After all, if a company doesn’t know who it is or what it believes in, how can it ever hope to communicate its value proposition to potential customers?

No matter where in the world you enter a Yahoo office, there’s no mistaking you are in the domain of the portal giant. Every office is resplendent in the company’s signature purple and gold. Similarly, execs aim to create an environment in which the culture and values of Yahoo pervade every team, every office, and every employee.

“The personality of Jerry and David resonate through the company,” said Jerry Shereshewsky, who handles direct marketing at Yahoo, “We talk a lot about ‘drinking the Kool-Aid’.”

For Yahoo the corporate culture has always been about fun and irreverence and a delight in finding new things on the Internet.

“There was an understanding from the get-go as to who we wanted to be when we grew up,” said Shereshewsky. “There was that essence there.”

But it’s not just about creating a culture for current employees, said Judy Neuman, operating partner at venture capital firm Maveron, LLC. In her experience working with growing start-up companies, Neuman says the real danger comes when hiring new workers, especially when the hiring is done as fast and furiously as it was during the go-go gold rush days.

“It’s hard when you have people who have different values and there’s a disconnect,” said Neuman. “It’s hard to build a brand when you don’t know what your core values are.”

That essence, says Neuman, begins with the founders, and each new employee brought on board must fit into the corporate culture. Now that the growth of the sector has slowed, it may be easier to scrutinize every new hire, but the rise of mergers and acquisitions brings its own problems. Making two companies with different values mesh can be a tough job.

And when you’ve established that culture and those values, every corporate decision — from business development, to product development, to marketing — should spring from that basic core.

“There’s a strong tug of war between people who want to take us in this direction or that direction,” said Shereshewsky. “Somebody’s got to be in charge, and you have to be unbelievably ‘at one’ with your brand.”

And, the experts say, failing to make the decision that’s true to your company’s brand and values can be disastrous.

“In some ways, it’s more about unchoosing than about choosing. There’s a real discipline to it,” said Neuman. “If you say ‘yes’ to everything, you’re going to mean nothing to everyone.”

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