Recently we’ve been talking quite a bit about organizational culture. From differentiating culture, strategy, and engagement to examining the evolving relationship between brand and culture, clearly, we care about what unites employees within an organization’s walls. But what worth does a strong culture have outside of those walls? Should brands be paying more attention to how their culture is displayed to their customers?
Last week, I had the privilege and delight to attend Outdoor Retailer Snow Show, the largest outdoor industry expo and conference in the U.S. In addition to the hip DJs, canine mascots, happy hours, and new product demos, it was the ultimate display of organizational culture with hundreds of brands and their employees primed for interaction.
While there were countless examples of differing cultures at work, let’s examine three to dig into how culture was shared (whether consciously or not), received, and what it means for brands.
1. Patagonia: Walking Their Walk
I’ll start with Patagonia — a silver sponsor of the event and brand I admire for its commitment to culture. A brand that’s regularly outspoken about its purpose, values, and beliefs didn’t shy away from its identity at this event. From profound poetry to detailed information about their Worn Wear program, signage and content oozed love of the outdoors and a promise to combat climate change.
Beyond what I already knew about the brand, what sort of cultural cues were on display? What did those cues tell me about the inner workings of the organization? Employees repairing other brands’ items told me that Patagonia prioritizes action over vanity. Casual conversations with employees about Denver’s beer scene said that connection to community is just as valuable as products and purchases. A “Time to Vote” happy hour that mentioned no candidate or initiative told me that Patagonia appreciates individual opinions and wants more conviction behind them.
Ultimately, I walked away feeling validated in my love for the brand and encouraged that they “walk the walk” of their purpose and culture.
Patagonia: “Better Than New” Airstream
2. Sector9: Surprise Reward
Next, let’s look at Sector9, a skateboard and lifestyle brand I’d never heard of until last week. What could I possible learn about a company’s culture in ten minutes? As it turns out, quite a bit.
Sector9 stopped me in my tracks with a hospital aesthetic that looked nothing like the reclaimed wood and plaid that dominated most of the convention center floor. The ironic take on the “rebirth of skateboarding” told me that Sector9 has a sense of humor and doesn’t take themselves (or tradeshows) too seriously. When they invited me to play a neo-natal themed carnival game and hang out for a while (despite my clear lack of skateboarding experience), I recognized a culture that is welcoming and humble. It was obvious that they always set out to have fun.
While I’m too accident-prone to pick up skateboarding, Sector9’s culture made them my brand of choice…perhaps for a gift.
Sector9 – their approach to brand and booth caught our eye
To be clear, I didn’t immediately fall in love with every brand I talked to at Outdoor Retailer. Some sent cultural signals that told me I’m not the one they’re looking to attract.
3. Not-to-be-named: The Exclusives
For instance, at one of the larger booths, my colleagues and I were turned away from entering the brand’s area because of our non-buyer badges. We walked around the perimeter and considered the (extremely short) interaction. In a matter of seconds, I’d learned that this brand prioritizes exclusivity. Having a cool factor means not saying “yes” to everyone, for them. Sure, this culture might not be one that draws me in, but as we’ve discussed before, convergence is what matters most in organizational culture. If employees and leadership are aligned in this approach and it reflects their brand goals, who am I to judge?
So next time you’re at a conference, meeting a prospective customer, or having any interaction outside of your organization’s walls, remember that your culture is following you. You are constantly sending signals about your values, your behaviors, and your goals to the outside world.
Were you at Outdoor Retailer? Are you looking to strengthen your culture, for both the internal and external benefits? Has an organization’s culture made an impact on you recently? We’d love to hear about it!