948% growth and counting

put culture at the centre of your branding

The Professor of Clinical Marketing at NYU, and one of the world’s leading experts on branding, recently predicted that 10 years from now there will only be two categories of brand – luxury and retail. He is predicting the end of branding as we know it. That said, as at October 2018, there is still considerable merit in building a strong brand – whether it be a personal brand, a product brand, or a corporate brand.
But how do you build the optimal brand? This is the fourth of 5 thoughts addressing this question.In the three years leading up to its sale of Zappos to Amazon in 2009, the business grew by 948%. Zappos was launched in 1999 and was sold to Amazon for US$1.2 billion just 10 years later. It is, today, the world’s largest shoe retailer. It is, by any measure, an extraordinary business run by extraordinary people.Commenting on Zappo’s staggering success, CEO, Tony Hsieh said, “Our number one priority is company culture. Our whole belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff like delivering great customer service or building a long-term enduring brand will just happen naturally on its own”.

In a nutshell, Hsieh suggests:

‘Get the organisational culture right, then everything else will fall into place’.
The point is that all great brands are built on a great culture. Again, we consider Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Facebook and Google – among the world’s most successful brands. Each of these businesses has had their brand, and the culture that delivers the brand, front and centre since day one.

The brand defines the culture, and the culture delivers the brand. It is the people, specifically staff members, that deliver a truly great brand – not advertising agencies and marketing managers.
Brand and culture lie on a continuum. The branding strategy defines the brand and how it is to be created. The brand determines the type of people required to develop the culture.

The culture brings the brand to life and makes it more than a hollow promise. The culture, once established, gives credibility to the external communication. The brand and the culture can then be monitored and fine-tuned as required.

The implications of the culture-brand continuum include:

  • The optimal brand must be defined before the brand can be brought to life.
  • The culture needed to bring the brand to life must be addressed before communication.
  • The external communication of the brand must not occur until the culture is established.
  • The culture may be all that is needed to communicate the brand.

Defining the brand is the essential starting point. It begins with an understanding of the target market as the basis upon which to make strategic decisions.A brand does not exist until it is brought to life. It is the culture that brings the brand to life, and a failure to create the culture before communicating the brand will lead to disappointed customers. This fact was brought home to Richard Umbers, recently departed CEO of Myer. No one could suggest that the culture of Myer supports its advertising and brand messaging. As a consequence, sales continue to decline.

External communication begins with delivery of the optimal culture, and, as demonstrated by Zara, if the culture is strong enough, advertising may not be necessary. If advertising is still necessary, at least the culture will support the brand and reduce the cost of advertising.


Use the brand to define the culture, and then use the culture to deliver the brand.

Brand and culture are inextricably linked. However, advertising and brand are far more tenuously linked. You can have a great brand without advertising (Zara with 1400 stores has no advertising budget), but you cannot have an optimal or sustainable brand without an optimal culture (just ask Myer which despite its advertising budget has a dreadful brand largely because it has a dreadful culture).

Put the facts ahead of gut feelings, habit, and guesswork.


Entrepreneur, Personal Design, Google, Branding, Visual Capitalist, Lindstrom, The Guardian, Zappos.com , Forbes

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