Forging your brand culture

[This is the second of two posts on brand culture by regular brandgym blogger Prasad Narasimham, who runs our Asian business based in Bangalore, India. He was previously CMO of Virgin Mobile in India, so knows a bit about service brands.]

In last week's blog, here, we discussed how crucial it is for service brands to define & create a strong brand culture. This ensures that the way of going to market externally and the ways of thinking and behaving internally are aligned around the core values of the brand.

But the key question facing most brands is "how to do this". There is a lot of theory out there, but little by way of a practical roadmap for the culture journey. Here, we distill our experience in coaching for this journey into 4 simple steps.

1. Sweat the small stuff!

Simple things well done, and repeated time & again, are at the very heart of a great brand experience. Employees need to be clear on the ‘must haves’ in the service, based on a very clear process map. The comfortable predictability of these simple things well delivered encourages customers to come back again & again, building brand & business. While these still are what we call brilliant basics, they are the foundation for a great experience. If they are missing, the entire effort comes crashing down.

2. Behaviours for briliant basics

Culture is about beliefs, values & behaviour, and how they play out in the company. But of these, only behaviour is visible to the world outside. So, even as we work outwards from values, we are keenly focused on what behaviours demonstrate the values best.

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To make this more tangible, we go further and define ‘Signature Gestures’. These are observable behaviours that are invested with distinctive meaning or emotion. We interrogate these gestures to check that they  are  ‘videographable’. If they can be seen, they can be replicated. And repeated Signature Gestures create the distinctive memory structure that allows customers to recognize service brands and choose them over competition. 

For example, working with a boutique holiday advisor called Panache we first created a customer journey map to capture the brilliant basics and service standards. We then developed Signature Gestures, including:

  • Multiple face-to-face conversations to ascertain unspoken needs of clients
  • Administering a travel profiling tool
  • Scheduling ‘mystery days’ with an X-factor: itinerary of one day designed by Panache without revealing to the client

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3. Sprinkling magic dust

The Signature Gestures are now ready to be sprinkled with the magic dust of remarkability. Customers notice remarkable brand experiences, and rave about them. Such experiences reduce the reliance on expensive advertising. 

For the ‘mystery days’, we got great new insights into the customer by speaking to his/her partner, kids and  friends. We used these insights to create some unique experiences that would delight customers in the most unexpected ways (e.g. getting onstage at a jazz night or meeting your favourite author). 

4. Measure, reward & reinvent 

What gets measured gets done. Employees need to know that they will be rewarded on how consistently they demonstrate the Signature Gestures. So brands need to ensure that such demonstration gets measured, as also its customer impact.

Measurement & reward are necessary, but not sufficient. To keep the experience fresh, brands will also need to periodically reinvent the Signature Gestures, infusing the freshness & unpredictability that can excite customers. 


Quoting Robert Stevens, “What you do is your function, how you do it is your reputation.” We can create wow brand experiences by systematically working through 4 simple steps along with brand teams, and creating the enthusiasm to ‘live’ the brand culture.