'Celebrating Yesterday, Embracing Tomorrow' Building a brand identity from the inside out

By Bridget Woods, Fireglow

A brand is in the essence of everything a company does. Although it is nurtured and managed by the marketing department, its successful representation depends on every facet of the entire organisation. As markets become more competitive and customers more demanding, companies have to secure long-term relationships with consumers that will fuel their business growth. Great brands not only capture our imagination with their advertising - they deliver on the dream with every moment of our interaction with the organisation. Great brands therefore have employees that "live" the brand values.

Brand values should in essence be no different to the values of the organisation, and the brand mantra, no different to the vision of the organisation. Internally and externally they may be expressed differently but they should be mutually reinforcing and stem from the same core organisational purpose. In articulating values, co-creating a vision and developing a brand identity, a delicate synergistic process needs to unfold, one in which both the targeted market and every person in the organisation plays a role. What emerges becomes the silver thread of the organisation, weaving a consistency between promise and delivery and providing direction and clarifying expectations for customers, employees and other organisational stakeholders.

When Adrian Enthoven took over as CEO of Spier in 2002 he had the task of both honouring his father’s visionary legacy and making its future destiny his own. Under his father’s 10 year custodianship, Spier had emerged from damp overgrown courtyards, dilapidated historic buildings and soggy ground into one of the most frequented and scenically beautiful tourist destinations in South Africa, producing award winning wines and partnering a burgeoning family of associated enterprises attracted to Spier by its ecological and community ethic.

Spier was poised at a critical juncture when Adrian, his board and executive team members paused to reshape and define the Spier brand identity that would carry it successfully into the future. With a strong commitment to sustainable practice and his determination to celebrate the rich and diverse heritage of the Cape and Africa, Adrian began to lead a process of co-creating a vision for the future. There was no doubt that this vision, identity and supporting values should be significantly shaped by everyone within the ambit of the Spier community. Fireglow was invited by Adrian to design and facilitate ways of engaging everyone at Spier in this process.

Appreciative Inquiry

There was no more perfect a way of doing this than by using the principles and approach of a new and exciting development in organisational transformation, Appreciative Inquiry. AI is unique in several different respects. Firstly it deliberately engages everyone in seeking out all that is generative and life-enriching within the working community: great products, positive emotions, well-defined procedures, caring relationships, disciplined budgeting… all part of the ‘positive core’ or set of core competencies that defines and differentiates the system. Secondly it invites people to search for possibilities embedded in this organisational wellspring – possibilities that would lead to the creation of the kind of compelling organisation they would most like to work for and in. And thirdly it ensures that every voice is heard through the use of a carefully constructed set of provocative and appreciative questions that might ask ‘what do you most value about your work, your working community, your customer…’ and ‘what is this organisation’s calling, the greatest contribution it can make to the world?’, releasing stories of the organisation at its most effective and inspiring. Out of this energising organisational learning come the innovative ways in which to build on the identified strengths and operationalise the desired future.

The Process

Spier began by conducting a series of ‘brand architecture’ workshops in which each business unit or associate of Spier drafted a view of their own target market, differentiators, brand personality and values, features, benefits and essence. These were reviewed by a core team who looked for common themes to begin the work of developing an overarching ‘mother’ brand. As the conference drew near, the team completed the work of defining the overarching Spier brand personality and values. These were to become the topics for inquiry and the focus of the interviews.

On the 12th August 2003 over 400 Spier employees and associates gathered to engage in a two day conference entitled ‘Celebrating Yesterday, Embracing Tomorrow’. In mixed circles of ten, each led by one of the thirty five trained Appreciative Inquiry Spier facilitators, the process began with each person conducting an hour and a half long interview with one other person. Questions led to an exploration of where and when each value has been demonstrated and observed in action; when it has been or is at its most effective. Then the inquiry shifted to exploring how each value might be ‘lived’ more fully; when and where it might be weaved more thoroughly into the day-to-day practice of the organisation

Sample interview question focused on one of the brand values:

African Heritage

‘The past is a rich resource from which we can draw for the future’ Nelson Mandel

We value our African heritage. A history that goes back to when the hills and valleys were formed, fire and wind created our fynbos, wild animals roamed the valleys and early stone age humans took shelter at Slangkop. We embrace all our ancestors that have walked this land; the San, the Cochoqua tribe of the Khoi, Simon van der Stel and his free burghers, the slaves from Africa and the East….and the richly diverse culture and language they brought with them that patterns our culture today.

  • What for you, has been one of the most inspiring ways that the Spier community has embraced its heritage and made it an important part of the experience in and around Spier?
  • 1.2 In what other important ways could we value and share our rich history with others?

The brand personality traits of purpose, warmth, generosity, vibrancy and creativity were again found to be alive and well in the organisation, with awards and stories centred around each before participants were invited to ‘imagine the brand as a person or creature with all the desired personality traits in obvious abundance’ and to then create this creature out of modelling clay! Rich learning and shared understanding was facilitated by the storytelling and art while relationships were forged across boundaries of function, hierarchy, culture, and generation.

Another inquiry of a more personal nature was offered; an inquiry into the values, talents, contributions and dreams of each person in the room and how these might find a home within the Spier community and vision. The more powerful the alignment between personal and organisational destiny, the more passionate and engaged we became.

The outcomes

The outcomes of the 2 day conference were

  • high levels of positive energy
  • an appreciation for the diversity and rich heritage of the Spier community
  • a shared understanding of the ways in which the brand values and personality have been shaped and are in many ways, already ‘in action’,
  • a vision of the ideal Spier community in which the brand is instantly recognisable and powerfully experienced the impact of this vision on guests, customers and all of Spier’s stakeholders,
  • a strong sense of belonging to a purposeful and supportive working community

What has and will follow the conference is as important as the conference itself. The final shaping of the brand ‘mantra’ had yet to emerge. A core team comprising human resource, marketing, and executive team members began to dialogue around the themes relating to Spier’s core contribution that had emerged during the conference and how these could translate into a 3 -5 word mantra that would serve to guide any decisions, strategic or operational, in terms of what was ‘on-brand’ or ‘off-brand’. Clearly there also needs to be a clear alignment with the brand values and personality. This brand essence or mantra is close to being finalised. When it is finalised it will become part of a succinct pocket guide for every employee, the byline for every internal communiqué, the guide for every induction and training course, the focus for every performance evaluation, the format for every customer survey, the final benchmark for every policy and procedure and of course the heart of the PR and marketing strategy.

The intention behind the design of this organisational intervention was to provide a powerful space for collective construction of, and commitment to, a brand identity that fitted with that which is deeply valued and desired by those who work in the organisation. The process takes cognisance of the crucial role played by employees in the power of the brand, attempting to bridge the traditional chasm between company values (which are generally human resource driven) and brand values (which are generally communicated externally to customers) and create positive alignment.

The bottom line is that adopting a brand driven approach to business, from the inside out, fosters the sort of customer loyalty that ultimately translates into increased profitability - and a sustainable competitive advantage.