Our taking-branding-apart-into-its-constituing-parts series made it to the third meetup, at IED Innovation Lab, and this time we got to speak about Culture, following on from the previous session, on Identity.

Before we dive into all the interesting ideas that came out of this bread-fuelled conversation, I encourage you to head over to Merlin’s place, and read his point of view on the relationship between identity and brand —another thoughtful and psychology-inspired piece.

Should the thoughts below wet your appetite for writing, please join the conversation. Details at the end of a shortish scroll.

The conversation this month centred around the concept of culture as a fundamental part of brands and a driver of the practice of branding. Building up from our previous conversation on identity, we approached culture as collective identity — as the expression of what holds communities together. To kickstart the evening, we had Cristina Gonzalez, business designer at Fjord in Madrid, introduce us to what culture means at Accenture’s design&innovation studio, and draw a parallel to how powerful cultures emerge in complex, global and highly competitive environments. Around the table: Elena, Lionel, Pablo, Rob, The Colossus, Alin, Lola, Joana, Miguel, Belen, Laura, Helga, and yours truly.

So here are a few ideas worth pondering upon…

Grasping culture. From the inside-out

  • Culture is what clients in our industry buy. They hire us because they want to do things the Fjord way. That’s why we don’t sell them things, we sell ways of doing things.
  • Fjord never does the same project twice, because the cultural context of each client is different.
  • Spaces can define cultures: from geographical spaces to office spaces. The space within which a group of people operate is the framework for their culture.
  • Building a strong culture has a lot to do with rituals: the more rituals the members of the community share, the stronger the culture.
  • Fjord has built over the years many many rituals— from the very small to the very large, from joining rituals, to leaving rituals — and is one of the things that give people a sense of belonging to a common culture.
  • When a culture is strong enough, you afford to bring in people from outside — even competitors — and make them part of your group (for example of sources of inspiration). You won’t feel threatened by them, because your culture is powerful enough to withstand. Weak cultures are more vulnerable to the impact of outside forces.
  • Culture is recognised through mindset. It takes a similar mindset to understand a culture. Mindset is defined by beliefs, principles, or values.
  • The reason Fjord has a strong culture is because it has strong leaders — they are in charge with getting rid of the noise and roadblocks, in order to allow people to do their jobs.

Grasping culture. From the outside-in

  • An interesting debate: is capitalism a culture or an operating system? If it’s an operating system, then the brands are the apps. If it’s a culture, then are they the rituals that tie in this culture, or the artefacts the culture has created?
  • Culture is, historically speaking, a survival tool to make societies work.
  • Yes, you can impose a culture, but it doesn’t mean it will thrive outside the space inside which you are imposing it.
  • Religion for instance, is both a culture and a dimension of all most other cultures. Perhaps because religion is also mindset.
  • Hierarchy comes from religion. So leadership, in a sense, is the reflexion of religious practices in building organisations, communities, and even brands. [If you want to understand more about this topic, add this book to your reading list]
  • In the absence of a formal religion, do our companies become our religions?

Linking brands and culture(s)

  • When we talk about brands, we need to dissociate between internal culture — started intentionally, with the purpose of keeping the organisation together — and external culture — created in the overlap of this internal culture and all the other cultures out there: those of customers or non-customers, lovers or haters.
  • Branding is sharing emotion. Culture is the expression of brands.
  • Cultures make statements about how we feel about things.
  • Culture is a dialogue. Brands build cultures when they manage to create dialogue.
  • In previous cultures we used to recruit for fit. Today culture is much more about freedom, about you joining a place that allows you to grow both yourself as well as the culture you will be part of. There is a new way of building culture that is not about industrialisation of talent (cultures treating people like machines), but about letting everyone bring themselves.

A few takeaways

  • Leaders are culture facilitators.
  • Culture is intentional, while identity is contextual.
  • Culture is both the cause and the effect of brands.
  • Culture = mindset (or a set of believes) + actions + rituals + leadership.

If these thoughts left you pondering, I’d like to invite you, dear reader, to join the conversation by writing your own answer to the ideas above. Bring in your own brand perspective — of a strategist, a designer, a marketeer, an end-user, a wild card, a lover or a hater. Publish your point of view on your company’s blog, here on Medium, in a tweet, an instagram photo, in a vlog or in whatever format you’re more comfortable with. We’re using #brandandbread to keep track of them.

Brand+Bread is a thought collective asking (and hopefully sometimes also answering) tough questions about the future of branding. It offers the time and space for conversation and knowledge exchange on the issues facing this discipline, hoping to evolve our thinking and practicing of it.

Design Strategist. I analyse stuff and have opinions about it.