By Mariagrazia Deangelis, Managing Director at Landor & Fitch Dubai
With the backdrop of a global pandemic, it’s been a time of forced change and uncertainty. We’ve all experienced a fundamental change to work as we knew it. This time has also served as a pressure gauge for an organisation’s culture. How connected, satisfied, encouraged and happy do people feel at work? How are the company values coming through? Right now, companies have a golden opportunity to view this time as a catalyst for positive change in working culture. To build back better. And this can be done most effectively and most impactfully through the power of brand.
So where do business leaders start?
The first opportunity we see to build back better relates to Purpose. Brand purpose is essential to every single business. It is the one constant – the heart of a brand’s identity, and its original offer to the world.
Companies must now pay attention to the human and emotional face of business, and how this can be expressed through a unique brand purpose and values. We recently looked at how Unicorns (companies with a valuation of $1bn or more) achieve success. One of the most impactful Founder quotes from the study was: ‘Culture is your brand. It’s who you are and what you value.’
Purpose is an important driver of belonging, especially in times of crisis when teams are disconnected. It also drives growth, and brands in the MENA region are running with this opportunity: Anghami was started in 2011 as a music streaming app, and has since grown to 21 million monthly active users. The brand-driven culture of this entrepreneurial VC-backed business has no doubt informed its flexibility and remarkable success.
How companies act and adjust their people management and planning has never been so crucial – not just during this time, but also looking to the future.
The complexity of the demographics, working models and company structures in this region serve a very new and exciting canvas to test and trial new approaches. The key will be reviewing how to best do this in a bespoke way, informed by your brand values, to foster a strong culture in the long-term.
The pandemic has forced many people to meditate on their life and how they are living it. Those working for brands that align with their values have an amplified affinity and fresh motivation for the work they do. This in turn will enhance business performance; if there are happy and inspired teams working with your customers, the engagement will be much more meaningful.
Ultimately, your people are your biggest brand fans. Apply the same amount of thinking to your employee experience as you do for your customer experience. Create employee personas or profiles to understand employee needs, instead of treating them as a singular group of people. It will help cater to them on a practical level and help make communications and wellbeing support more intuitive rather than reactive.
Nearly every business is rethinking the value of their workspaces in response to virtual, flexi and hybrid working patterns becoming the norm.
At a recent Marketing Society Dubai roundtable, we gathered with thought leaders to discuss the future of work. One of our talking points was how the workspace could evolve to become a flagship for the brand. An experience designed to meet working needs, but to also increase the connection to the brand and colleagues.
Looked at through the lens of your brand’s purpose, the office can become an experience zone; a space to stimulate teams and differentiate from the competition. A thought leader pointed to the potential this has for retracting and retaining talent: "I want them to say they really enjoy working from home, but they love going to the office."
The Microsoft APAC HQ in Singapore elevates Microsoft’s mission: to empower every person and organisation on the planet to achieve more. Spanning six floors and catering for 1,400 people, the office blends physical and digital worlds to provide a safe, productive and inclusive place to work. Features include AI-enabled cameras allowing friction-free access to different zones, a communal dining area, as well as huddle rooms and open, collaborative team spaces.
Workspaces are the transformational assets that bring your organisational culture to life and the experience platforms unique to your brand can feature not just in the physical space, but in the online space too.
The intangible nature of brand culture and the fact that it lives partly in the world of Marketing and partly in the world of HR means it’s easy for it to fall between the cracks, especially during a crisis. But therein lies the opportunity: what if new partnerships between departments like HR and Marketing were formed, to build back a better culture together. We know that the best innovation comes from diverse input, so what better time to partner up and champion a brand-led working culture?
Of course, this won’t be the solution for all. In some companies, HR do not drive the culture discussion. Size and scale is a big factor across various company types: whether they are global corporates, category-specific or local businesses. But there is always a leadership team, and they are the most important partner. They are the internal brand ambassadors, who can affect change and encourage belonging through a commitment to clear and constant communications.
As we found out when we interviewed the Unicorn companies, including vehicle for hire company Careem, communication is the standout trait of good leadership. Leading by living the brand vision will build engagement with the wider workforce, strengthen culture and importantly: get everyone onboard the journey to success.
Opinions in this piece belong to the author