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Capturing, Branding, and Celebrating Internal Culture

Articulating an internal culture brand for your employees is no easy feat, but there are a few steps you can take to make it a lot more effective. Most importantly, it is critical to do the deep work of clarifying your values and the supporting stories and behaviors to ensure that your cultural brand is meaningful,substantive and embodied from the inside out.

As I write this, the leadership team of our new client, Daystar, is unveiling the culmination of a year’s hard work with their employees.

Run by three brothers, Daystar is a fast-growing managed IT services provider. The Bamford family sees their people and company culture as their key strategic advantage, and they have invested heavily in making sure that their culture is ready to continue to scale in a healthy and sustainable way as the company grows.

To do this, they have worked for more than a year with our friends at the Legacy Center to dig into their existing organizational culture and better articulate and operationalize the values and behaviors that make Daystar so successful. They have undertaken deep work to understand how the company’s leaders show up day-to-day and how they can continue to develop their internal culture.

When they came to Six-Point, the team at Daystar was focused, energized, and… also at a loss.

The Bamfords knew that if this deep internal culture work stayed siloed at the leadership level, it was doomed. But like most teams, their people aren’t naturally excited about “company culture.” Their passions ran more toward gaming, graphic novels, and science fiction. So how do you get a team of Marvel fanatics excited about company values?

Daystar had previously experienced challenges with getting external creative teams to understand their business, internal culture, and vision. Everything always seemed “almost” there, but no one had ever quite nailed it on their external brand, and the challenge of bringing their culture to life seemed infinitely more difficult.

They came to our first intake session skeptical and even almost apologetic about the challenge they were giving us. That is, until they started talking about their people, culture, and values. Then they radiated confidence and excitement.

About six weeks later, we got the following email from Anne, Daystar’s director of communications:

“I just wanted to voice how much we have enjoyed working with you and your team. Your creativity astounded us and your ability to capture the Daystar team and visualize the essence of what our clumsy words were trying to relay was no small feat indeed. On top of that, you also managed the project so efficiently even with our tight turnaround. We appreciate you all very much!”

So how did we get from the overwhelm and skepticism to a rollout that I know is going great right now? And how could you do the same?

Here are the key ingredients:

  1. Dig deeply, with guidance. Communicating a company culture and distilling it into messages and visuals is impossible if you haven’t already dug deep. You need not only the right words that capture your values, but also the ability to clearly articulate the stories and the behaviors that make them real. Working with a culture consultant involves processes that make you peel back the layers and challenge your team; to really get this piece right is critical. We love the measurable, data-driven method of the Legacy Center because it takes something fuzzy like culture, and makes it concrete and tangible. They came to us clear and aligned about what they were trying to communicate, and also had a deep understanding of the people (their employees and prospective employees) who they needed to communicate with. That is well over half the battle.
  2. Trust the process. At the outset of the Daystar project, we had a conversation about how for a growing company, the “right” cultural brand articulation has a bit of aspiration to it. You aren’t looking for the perfect wedding dress. You are looking for a suit for a pre-teen that needs to be a size too big, because in six months, he will have shot up an inch or two. There is an acknowledgment and expectation that the cultural brand articulation might feel a little uncomfortable at first, but that the company and team would quickly settle into the new positioning, and see how it is aligned not just with the present, but with their exciting future as well.
  3. Work together to identify issues and fears, and get to their root cause. When something in the process wasn’t quite right, or the team was feeling apprehensive, we stopped and dug into that concern. What tools did we have or need to solve it? Which was a “real” solution vs. a temporary band-aid? Sometimes the solution was creative, sometimes it was clarification, or communication… but none of us ignored any gut feelings when we felt something wasn’t quite right. This is extremely important, because the leadership team’s confidence in and enthusiasm for the cultural brand of the organization becomes contagious. And any fear, uncertainty, or doubt that they have will also spread.

With these guidelines, you can supercharge your employer brand in a way that will increase your ability to attract and retain top talent, maintain the cultural intangibles that provide value to your customers, and accelerate your growth.

The worker shortage: how to attract great people

The Great Resignation and current worker shortage may seem like a roadblock to getting great talent, but if your company has a strong culture and values, you may actually have a great opportunity. By clarifying your focus, aligning your values with what your employees value, and communicating it clearly, you can attract people who are looking for what your company already does well.

A word of warning: if you have a toxic culture, floods of backchannel internal communication, and values that drive self-interest, you can stop reading now. Nothing in this article will help you address worker shortage until you attend to those deeper issues.

All businesses are feeling it right now. The worker shortage. The Great Resignation. In the last dozen conversations I’ve had with family businesses, it is the same refrain: “We don’t lack opportunity. We lack people.”

Or, more specifically, the right people.

The problem is, when a qualified workforce seems so hard to come by, holding out for just the right fit seems like a luxury from a bygone age.

But like in all challenges, there is an opportunity here for businesses who have been doing hard work on their culture, operations, vision, and values over the years.

It is time to make all of that investment, all of the blood, sweat, and (likely literal) tears pay off.

As I often repeat, your brand is your reputation. You can’t control it, but you can influence it. And in the case of employer branding, the process of influencing it is the same as for a customer-facing brand.

Step 1: Get clear on your focus, and make sure you are solving the right problems in the right order.

I often hear many companies asking the same question: what platform should I be using to attract the right people? Indeed.com? LinkedIn? Zip Recruiter? But it is the wrong question. Or, at least, a question that can’t be answered without raising a number of other questions. (It is comparable to that other question I hear every day: Should we be on TikTok?)

You need to get clear on your audience, your goals, your media, and your message. It may sound basic, but in my experience, these basics are rarely applied to recruiting and employer branding. Our team at Six-Point Creative specializes in providing family-owned businesses with this clarity. If you’re feeling unsure where to start, schedule a discovery call with us to get unstuck.

Some questions to ask that will quickly clarify your focus:

  • What does success look like? What would you be seeing, hearing, and feeling if you had an employer brand that was attracting the right people?
  • Who are you trying to attract? Think about the people in your own organization who are successful, and also what you are trying to accomplish that might require different skills and experience.
  • Where have we seen success attracting great people in the past? Look for patterns in what has worked.
  • Where have we made recruitment mistakes or wasted time and money? Learning from the past can make sure you don’t repeat it.

In our clarity exercise with a client recently, we dug into their recruitment efforts addressing the worker shortage and realized that referrals from employees have been by far their most successful hires, both in terms of skills and cultural alignment. Employees hired out of a slim pool of online candidates have been hit or miss at best. But the number of employee referrals they have been getting has been trending downward over the years.

This line of inquiry surfaced a new initiative: Get the number of employee referrals up.

It gave them laser-like focus on the next steps, and stimulated a lot of creative thinking as to how to get those numbers up: employee referral contests, best place to work awards, reviewing the referral bonus structure, an internal recognition and communication plan, referral templates and training, and more.

If this client had jumped to the solution before digging deeper, they could have wasted more time and money advertising on the already saturated job boards that they knew already would produce only mediocre results.

Step 2: Understand how to align your company values to what your potential employees value.

I know this may sound like a lot of vague nonsense, but this is truly the biggest opportunity staring family businesses in the face right now.

Quit rates right now are at an all-time high, contributing to this large worker shortage. In August 2021, a new record of 2.9% was set, meaning 4.3 million workers quit their jobs. This is the highest rate since quit rates started being tracked in 2000 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, when the quit rate was 2.4% or 3.25 million workers.

Why is this Great Resignation happening? Both because people’s values and attitudes have shifted over the past two years, and they now have the ability to do something about it.

Money and perks are no longer the only factors driving employment decisions. Like many things, COVID didn’t create this change, but it did accelerate the worker shortage and amplify it. Flexibility, growth potential, family time, and enjoying one’s colleagues are now front and center, and thanks to pandemic-relief checks, a rent moratorium, and student-loan forgiveness, people have more freedom to quit jobs that they hate and find something else. As Derek Thompson, author of Hit Makers, said: “This level of quitting is really an expression of optimism that says, we can do better.”

So how can you position your company as that better option?

Branding is the alignment of your product’s value to what your customers value. In this case, the career potential and working environment are your product. You need to know what your ideal potential employees value, understand what your company offers in terms of value, and look for connections between the two. Then you need to communicate that overlap in a way that makes the prospective employee the hero, not your company.

I have seen a number of companies take the first part really seriously — they articulate what their internal values are, and what they expect from employees. This is like a marketing campaign that talks all about the product or service from the point of view of the engineers or experts. It might work if the category is not very crowded, but we are in a different level of competition. Now you need to reach that next level of marketing, where you are talking about your business from the “customer’s” point of view. How does it fit into their lives? How does it speak to their hopes or aspirations? How does it connect to their personal values?

One of our manufacturing clients had a slew of retirements of long-tenured employees, and for the first time found themselves with a majority of employees who are under 35, and who are excellent workers with a lot of promise. We are interviewing and surveying these employees to hear what they are looking for in their job, and are going to turn these conversations into both some internal training and retention initiatives as well as an external campaign to attract even more new young talent.

Side note: If you are rolling your eyes at this, you aren’t alone. Yes, it would be nice if providing a steady paycheck was enough, but it isn’t. Not if you want to be a high-performing company with staying power. Is it good enough to provide a mediocre product these days? Of course not. Your competitor would eat your lunch. And in this case, the job is your product.

Step 3: Communicate the heck out of your value, and how it connects with your audience.

The exciting part of all of this is that family-owned businesses have always provided more than just a paycheck. Now it is finally that “more” that people are really looking for.

In the old model, you would need to compete with the deep pockets of larger corporate competitors. Now that people aren’t only considering wages, family businesses who can articulate just what makes them special places to work actually can have a competitive advantage.

80% of employees surveyed by Edelman value and expect wage growth, training, career growth, and work which they find interesting & fulfilling from their employer. Respondents answered you would either need to pay them a lot more (42%) or it would actually be a deal-breaker (32%) to work for a company that does not offer them.

Similarly, 74% of employees expect employers to offer a voice in key decisions and a culture that is values-driven and inclusive.

If your company offers these aspects, make sure you are talking about them in ways that are concrete and easy to understand for your prospective employees, and that your current employees can speak to them as well. And be sure to talk about the family aspects of your business. In the U.S., family businesses enjoy a 24% trust advantage over businesses in general, which is a major leg-up on the playing field right now.

We have seen a marked difference not just in the response rate but also in the candidate quality for job postings that start off speaking to what the employee is looking for and is passionate about (in plain language) vs. the traditional ads that lead with what the employer is looking for or industry jargon.

So, to recap, here is the game plan to find great talent during this worker shortage:

  1. Get clear on where your best opportunities are for attracting right-fit candidates beyond just the job posting platforms and whether or not to use a recruiter.
  2. Find connections between what your company already offers and what your right fit candidates are looking for. (Don’t be afraid to have some conversations about this with both current and potential employees.)
  3. Articulate the value connections in clear language in all job postings, website content, and internal documentation, making the prospective employee the hero. Clarity and consistency is critical.

If this sounds great, but executing it feels overwhelming or impossible with everything else you are juggling…schedule a discovery call to see if our Solve for Y process might be a fit to help you accelerate your employer-of-choice branding efforts.

Certified Women-Owned Business on Clutch

“Throughout various industries, women-owned companies provide a unique and important perspective that’s often overlooked.” stated Clutch Revenue Operations Analyst Carolyn Rider. “We want to highlight these companies for everything that they bring to the table, from their thoughtfulness to their detail-oriented mindsets.”

Six-Point Creative is a Certified Stellar Women-Owned Business on Clutch

Did you know that most family-owned businesses have more than 70% of their business dependent on a few customers or a single channel? Here at Six-Point, we are on a mission to help family-owned businesses diversify their customer base while strengthening existing customer relationships through our Solve for Y program. We combine smart brand strategy with effective communications and marketing plans to achieve 2X growth for our clients without losing the DNA that got them to where they are.

Six-Point Creative is a brand strategy agency based in Massachusetts and we are known for our smart, fast, and efficient solutions that drive growth.

Headquartered in the heart of Washington, DC., Clutch is an independent B2B platform that is dedicated to helping corporate buyers connect with the right service providers. The site is widely respected in the industry for its comprehensive market research, agency shortlists, and client review directories.

Did you know that most family-owned businesses have more than 70% of their business dependent on a few customers or a single channel? Here at Six-Point, we are on a mission to help family-owned businesses diversify their customer base while strengthening existing customer relationships through our Solve for Y program. We combine smart brand strategy with effective communications and marketing plans to achieve 2X growth for our clients without losing the DNA that got them to where they are.

Six-Point Creative is a brand strategy agency based in Massachusetts and we are known for our smart, fast, and efficient solutions that drive growth.

Headquartered in the heart of Washington, DC., Clutch is an independent B2B platform that is dedicated to helping corporate buyers connect with the right service providers. The site is widely respected in the industry for its comprehensive market research, agency shortlists, and client review directories.

Clutch has a reputable certification program that aims to highlight and help socially and economically disadvantaged firms from different industries. The esteemed certification program allows B2B agencies to self-identify their LGBTQ, veteran, and racial minority identities. We are thrilled to announce that Six-Point has been recognized by Clutch as a top-performing women-owned business.

“Throughout various industries, women-owned companies provide a unique and important perspective that’s often overlooked.” stated Clutch Revenue Operations Analyst Carolyn Rider. “We want to highlight these companies for everything that they bring to the table, from their thoughtfulness to their detail-oriented mindsets.”

We know that this honor was completely dependent on our clients’ trust and support of our team. We are honored to work for family-owned companies who trust us at critical moments in their companies’ trajectories.

“Their customer service was fantastic. They were extremely personable and down to earth, so we didn’t feel like we were talking to a different person who didn’t really care about the project. We could tell they had the passion.” — CEO, Vital Signs LLC

“They set a very clear strategy and helped us implement it. Six-Point Creative gave us the tools we needed, but they also showed us how to best use those tools. They were very encouraging and efficient in helping us get across the finish line.” — Marketing Coordinator, Dairy Company

Want to learn more about our services? Interested in learning more about how Solve for Y can help your family-owned business can double market share within 24 months?

Let’s talk! Send us a message. We’re genuinely excited to hear from you.

Brand Vision: Brand and Culture with Ken Meyers

If you want to build a brand vision that really lasts, having a message that lives with one person is a dangerous thing. Ken Meyers, founder of the Smartfood brand, which he sold to Frito Lay, discussed why getting other viewpoints is critical to creating an impactful message that resonates with a wider and more enduring audience.

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Ken Meyers

Meghan Lynch

Ruth Lund

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As an owner or founder, it can be difficult to let others into the vision for a brand. This brand vision is often something that is highly personal, and therefore it becomes protected and guarded against any outside influence. We have this tendency to project and overvalue our own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.

That, however, limits the potential of a brand strategy, and can even set it up for failure. As Meyers notes, we live in a world that has such transparency and interconnectivity, it makes it almost impossible to build a brand in a vacuum anymore.

Instead, there is an opportunity to feed the creative process in a positive way when we proactively gather feedback and contributions from all the other stakeholders who either are, or are going to be in the mix. This allows us to get contradictory ideas, challenge our assumptions, and think more broadly about the possibilities that exist. By shutting out any kind of challenge to our brand vision, we run the risk of falling victim to confirmation bias. We lose the creative tension that identifying multiple ways to solve problems provides.

Meyers reminds us, “That’s what the creative process in many respects is all about. And building a brand at the outset requires a tremendous amount of creativity, but it also requires insight and a willingness to believe that your idea may not be the only, or the best, or the most effective path to get where you’re trying to go.”

Connect With Customers, Brand and Culture

There is no way to create a brand to connect with customers if you don’t let other people collaborate on the vision. Doing so takes courage and vulnerability, but as Ken Meyers, founder of the Smartfood brand, and Meghan Lynch, CEO of Six-Point Creative, discussed, it leads to much stronger results.

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Ken Meyers

Meghan Lynch

Ruth Lund

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Leaders should think of their brand like a flag or a badge. A brand is a way to deliver a message that they want other people to absorb and embrace. And a big leadership lesson is that just because a message that you personally created resonates with you, it does not mean that it will resonate with others.

If the vast majority of the people a company is trying to reach don’t share a particular view because a founder or CEO stubbornly stuck to certain elements or features or messages, it can quickly become impossible to succeed, especially as you grow and scale. It may work for a short period, but it won’t be sustainable in the long term. Understanding this is especially critical for early-stage entrepreneurs (those who are young, not by age, but on the timeline of a company’s development or a brand development). It’s difficult for them to let go and engage the people who they are trying to influence. But if leaders don’t do that, then they are standing on the railroad tracks with your back to the headlight. Sooner or later, they’re going to get run over.

It takes a certain amount of vulnerability to do that too. There was a study in Helsinki, Finland in which the researchers performed brain scans of business owners and they showed them a picture of their child and they showed them a picture of their company or their logo, and the same parts of their brain lit up. So engaging other people to collaborate on your brand is literally like putting your child in the hands of somebody else and saying, “What do you think?” It’s incredibly difficult and emotional, but it’s necessary to connect with customers in order to get the insight you need to build a strong, sustainable brand.

Company Focus: Brand and Culture

When brands engage employees and customers in co-creation, how do you still maintain your company focus and keep your integrity and vision intact? Meghan Lynch, CEO of Six-Point Creative, and Ken Meyers, president of Panorama Foods, discuss the benefits and pitfalls of the human element of brand building.

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Ken Meyers

Meghan Lynch

Ruth Lund

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For decades, brands were pushed down to customers. The company had all the control, and customers were, for the most part, passive. That’s not the case anymore. Companies no longer have that amount of control. Company leadership can’t decide unilaterally what a brand is going to look like, what it’s going to stand for, what that message is going to be. Now any number of people, both internally and externally, most of whom the company doesn’t control, are going to be contributing to that process along the way.

So what can you control? This is where company focus can be an extremely helpful tool. When companies can identify who their target is in a very laser-like way, they can create relationships with people who are very symbiotic to the relationships and values and promises that that brand wants to be.

In this way, the brands are not trying to spread themselves too thin, especially early on before it’s been established. Once they begin to scale and grow, this can help to cut down on the number of people coming in and commenting on, or co-opting a brand who are not really the target audience. If people are talking about the brand but it’s not for them, then it can be easy to quickly lose control of a brand and lose control of the story that’s being told about it.

Company focus, therefore, becomes critical to building a strong brand. Many founders think of focus as losing opportunity. Instead, focus becomes a way to attract the right opportunity and get access to the right audiences who will support the vision for a brand instead of fighting against it or undermining it.