Brand & Culture: Opposite Sides of The Same Coin



"Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast" - Peter Drucker

This summer, as a group we decided to read Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan.  Most would consider the book to be about leadership and organizational culture - we took away from it some powerful thinking about the role and impact to brands.

Tribal Leadership is based in the belief that humans naturally (and sometimes unknowingly) congregate in tribes of 20-150 people.These tribes, and the people within them, tend to group together based on one of 5 stages:

Stage 1 Tribes most of us will never experience.  They are people grouping together purely for survival and violence is prevalent.  Prison is an example.  The motto they all share is "life sucks"

Stage 2 Tribes we have all experienced - at the DMV, at airport security, and at the Post Office. They are one step removed from violence - but not far from it - thus the phrase "going postal".  Their shared belief is that "my life sucks. Other people are doing ok, but 'the man' has got me down".

Stage 3 Tribes are the vast majority of groups and organizations - 50-60%.  The motto of their people is "I'm Great" (and by implication - "you're not").  They are characterized by highly successful executives that take credit for the results even if their people did all the work. The relationships are all hub and spoke - "you two work together but cc: me on everything.  They could be as clownish as Donald Trump or as distinguished as 3 world class surgeons in a hospital - each at the peak of their game - but competing with one another for alpha status.  A huge industry of books and self-help content exists for these tribes covering everything from Time Management to Leadership.  But at some point many people in these tribes recognize that despite their success they are unfulfilled.  And they start to wonder why.  They begin to recognize that what will make them fulfilled is something larger than themselves, their own skills.

Stage 4 Tribes are those that have the motto "We're Great" (and by implication - "they're not")  They are found in companies where everyone is on the same page, aligned by a common set of core values, and a noble cause or reason for being that is bigger than any one person.  These organizations are "self led" - people come to work each day knowing exactly what to do and why.  The relationships are mostly "triads" groups of three collaborating with others.  They possess a culture of leadership rather than management - leadership at every level, not just top down.  They are more creative, more productive, more profitable and far more fun - than their stage 3 peers and they have less politics, less turnover, less customer churn.  They look to destroy their industry competitors, and sometimes those in other industries as well.  And more often than not, they do.  They are maybe 25% of organizations in the world

Stage 5 Tribes have the motto "Life's Great".  They are the polar opposite of Stage 1 Tribes. They share all the benefits and characteristics of Stage 4 Tribes with one exception:  they're not out to destroy another company or industry. They are simply here to save humanity or make the world a better place.  They tend to be very small tribes, and exist for brief periods of time.  The teams that developed the first iPhone for example.  Or the employees of Amgen pharmaceuticals in the early 2000's who would answered the question "who is your biggest competitor" by answering "cancer'  It wasn't another employee, another company or even another industry.  Every Amgen employee woke up every day to save the world from cancer. Period.

Tribal Leadership shows how to identify the stage of any tribe just by listening to how they speak, and how to move your organization up this tribal ladder.  It explains how to unleash greatness through culture. The kind of greatness seen by Apple - who has retail employees paid $40,000 a year happily selling $2,000,000 worth of product without commission - or Zappos who built a billion dollar shoe store purely with a culture of service and almost no marketing.  It should be required reading for ANYONE in business.  And I promise you after reading it you will never look at a co-worker or company the same again.

So what does any of this have to do with brand?

Well, the lessons of Tribal Leadership made us realize that Brand and Culture are flip sides of the same coin.  Where many agencies focus on developing brand and messaging that drives the external marketing, few pay attention to how that brand and message can be used to nurture the internal culture as well.  Idea-ware has always looked to capture our clients brands in stories that resonate with customers and the media.  What Tribal Leadership made us understand is that we can apply the same messages and stories internally - not as bland, meaningless Core Values posters on the walls - but infused into recruiting programs, sales trainings, employee incentive programs, even compensation - and put into values-embedded stories and corporate folklore that every employee knows and that define for them why they come to work every day.

This is leading us to re-imagine the role of a brand and the approach of a brand agency.  This is brand as the foundation of both marketing as well as culture.  It has infused new understanding into our work and why we get up every day.  And it's going to change everything here at Idea-ware.  Stay tuned…


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