Sitting at the intersection of brand and culture |

Sitting at the intersection of brand and culture

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There's a great new blog post up this week on the Harvard Business Review blog site by Bill Taylor, founder of Fast Company magazine and author of the book Mavericks at Work, entitled Brand is Culture, Culture is Brand.

As I read the post, I couldn't help but smile, as the primary point of the article is one about which I feel strongly. From the article:

The new "power couple" inside the best companies... was an iron-clad partnership between marketing leadership and HR leadership. Your brand is your culture, your culture is your brand.

Bill goes on to describe a speech he gave recently, where a bank executive who was in the audience came up afterward "with a Cheshire cat grin" and handed him a business card. Her title? Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Marketing. Again from the article:

Forget a "partnership" between HR and marketing. At Corner Bank, the two functions report to the same executive. It's a title I'd never seen before, and I asked Jana how her fellow bankers tended to react to it. "They're usually kind of shocked," she admitted, "because at most companies the head of marketing and the head of HR have very different personalities."

I must admit if I had been at Bill's talk, I would have probably gone up and shown him my business card as well, because my title here at Red Hat is Senior Vice President of People & Brand.

This is no accident. At Red Hat we believe the culture you create internally is a powerful tool for driving brand perception externally.  As a company that grew up quickly, without the benefit of a huge advertising budget to grow our brand, Red Hat found creating a strong, distinctive culture not only an effective way to build brand, but an inexpensive way as well.

I've been in this position spanning HR and brand functions for almost two years, and the connection points between the traditional HR and brand roles have never been more clear for me. By working closely together, HR and brand professionals have a unique opportunity to mold the external perception of the brand by impacting internal practices.

A few examples:

  • Employer value proposition: What is the company "story" you use to attract the best and brightest employees to the company?
  • Hiring: How can you change the hiring process so you ensure you are recruiting and employing people who are a good fit for the brand and culture?
  • Orientation: How can you ensure employees have a common vision of what the company is trying to achieve (and can tell that story to others)?
  • Performance management: How can you set up a system that rewards those who live the brand, both internally and in their interactions with customers and partners?
  • Internal communications: How can you consistently tell and teach the story of the company through company meetings, announcements, and events?
  • Celebrations of brand and culture: How can you reinforce the brand and culture by showcasing it (we host a "We are Red Hat week" every year)?
  • Brand ambassadors: How can you identify and support the most enthusiastic proponents of the brand and culture within the employee ranks?

Do I think HR and brand need to be combined into one function in order to work well together? Of course not.

But my experience running People & Brand at Red Hat has shown me there are endless opportunities to better connect HR and brand efforts within organizations. If making an organizational change is out of the question, I'd definitely recommend getting the HR and brand groups together to look for additional opportunities to collaborate.

My belief is that a company living a common brand story internally is going to be more more effective at showing a passionate, differentiated, and consistent face to the outside world.

Bill sums it up well at the end of his post:

You can't be special, distinctive, and compelling in the marketplace unless you create something special, distinctive, and compelling in the workplace.

Have you seen the strong connections between brand and culture that we see here at Red Hat? If so please share your experiences below.




Great post! We should connect. Email me at


Bill Taylor

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In the spirit of full transparency, I work as Red Hat's brand manager and am part of DeLisa's People & Brand team.

I must admit, I was a bit skeptical when the new organization was announced two years ago. My career in brand management has always been as part of larger marketing organizations, and I wondered if a move to a department called "People & Brand" would represent a departure for me away from a more traditional marketing career path.

However, it didn't take long for me to be convinced that we are really on to something here at Red Hat. Although I think it is highly imperative for a brand team to remain highly engaged and connected with the rest of the marketing organization, I also see that we have been able to connect our brand with our culture and our associates in ways that I never saw at other companies where I've worked. And I've worked at some big-brand companies.

I hope that other organizations that are open to new & innovative ways to approach branding and their organizational structures will think about pulling their brand and HR teams closer together. I can't speak for DeLisa (though I am sure she would be, too), but I'd be happy to speak to anyone interested in learning more about the People & Brand organization here at Red Hat.

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Hi DeLisa, I found the post very interesting and would like to add a point to be discussed.

In your examples about how HR could impact on the brand recognition one of the bullets was:

Brand ambassadors: How can you identify and support the most enthusiastic proponents of the brand and culture within the employee ranks?

Well I think that when a brand, like Red Hat, is perceived to be so strongly linked to a community (open source), then it actually benefits from the culture/brand of the entire community.

I'd like to hear more about this from you, but this seems to me to be one of the reasons why many other companies like Google, Facebook or Twitter, not strictly related to the open source community, they still care to give outside an image of their brand linked to the open source ecosystem.

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