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Ep.8: The Role of Culture and Values to Build an Inclusive Brand

Growing up, my parents played music from The Temptations a lot. Their music was so ingrained that it became my music.

So much so that we did a choreographed family dance to a Temptations classic at my U.S wedding.

Sonia Thompson in a long beaded wedding dress dancing a choreographed dance with her family - father, in a blue suit, mother, and two sisters.

Since having baby Luna I’ve been thinking a lot more about culture and values.

In particular, I think about the kind of culture we want to create in our home. That includes the tone we set, the kind of music we play, the foods we eat, the languages we speak, how we spend time together and engage with one another. Woven through that culture we create are the values we instill in her.

The kind that will reinforce not only the way we do things within our home and in our family — but also the kind that influence how she shows up in the world.

Those values can be as simple and fundamental as treating others with love and kindness and being present with them.

And our culture can include fun things, such as the music we play when we’re together that will eventually form the soundtrack of her childhood. My husband Jonathan is partial to hard rock, and I much prefer Bruno, Beyonce, and Motown.

The culture and values we create and nurture will have a lasting impact on Luna for sure.

The culture you create and the values you establish and live within your company will impact both your teams and your customers too.

It determines what you prioritize, how you show up, and how you engage and interact with others — including those who are different.

That’s why famed author Stephen Covey noted that

“Mission statement work is the single most important work because the decisions made there affect all other decisions.”

Whether it be through a mission statement, vision statement, values statement, or a listing of your core values or credo — you should have a core document you can use to codify your chosen values and culture for your team.

If you want to build an inclusive brand, you have to build an inclusive culture. And an inclusive culture is brought to life through your lived values. Without deeply rooted values and strong culture, anything you do from an inclusivity standpoint will be short-lived. Unlike my love for the Temps.

Your customers want to know your values too

Consumers are increasingly starting to engage in credit card activism. They are getting intentional about supporting the brands that align with their values, and not spending with those that don’t align with their beliefs.

One study showed that 71% of consumers prefer buying from brands that align with their values.

Your customers can’t know what your values are if you don’t let them know. Smart brands share their values proactively.

The other day, I went to go place an order for Chipotle and was immediately met with the option to learn more about their values when I landed on their website.

Chipotle website with an arrow pointing to "our values" in navigation

Brands also showcase their values by posts they make on social media, and by weaving it into their content.

Rachel Rodgers is the CEO of Hello Seven, a brand that’s focused on helping women become millionaires. I sometimes listen to her podcast, and from just a few episodes I’ve learned that one of her company values is equity. I heard her talk about how that value comes to life with how she engages with, supports, and compensates her team.

The idea is to be proactive about sharing your values. Not only does it help your team and your customers identify if those values are something they connect with. But it also gives your reactive messaging more weight in times of crisis – or in response to an event happening in society and culture.

If you make a decision, take an action, or issue a statement or communication in response to an event — it makes it easier for people to get on board with it if it is something they already know is a part of the way you operate.

The dangers of not choosing your culture and values

The behaviors that emerge may not be ones you like.

My beloved Luna is a toddler. And of late, she’s started throwing temper tantrums when she doesn’t get her way. Google tells me this is normal, and a sign that she is a strong-willed child, and that trait will serve her well later in life. I hope so.

10-month old Luna with pink shirt on, sitting in a high chair frowning her fce

But as of right now, the tantrums are behaviors I don’t want to be her norm. I don’t want her to grow accustomed to pitching a fit in that manner whenever she doesn’t get her way.

So to change the behavior, we are working on redirecting the behavior by instilling the values we want her to uphold and continuing to reinforce them over time. We know she’s still a baby — and we take that into account of course as we interact with her. But we know if we don’t start work on values and the associated acceptable behaviors now, it will be a lot harder to make changes once she’s older.

When you don’t choose your values and culture for your business and team, behaviors start to show up that you may not be a fan of. Behavior change is hard enough, even when people want to do it. That’s why establishing “this is the way we do things here” from the very beginning will give you the smoothest path to making your values and culture what you want them to be.

The case for baking diversity, inclusion, and belonging into your brand values

It puts it front and center for you. And it acts as your North Star for decision making.

Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced they would cease publication and licensing of six books in their catalog. In a statement, the brand noted they made the decision last year after a review of their catalog with experts and felt that “these books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.”

Dr. Suess Book - "and to think that I saw it on Mulberry street" - a blue background with clouds, and person running on a white street

This announcement adds to the list of brands that have been making changes to their brands and offerings of late, in the name of being more inclusive. Hasbro announced a rebrand of their classic brand Mr. Potato Head, to be just Potato Head, a nod to gender equality and a reframing of the “traditional” family.

And in 2020, Quaker announced they would rename their Aunt Jemima brand, due to the ugly origin story rooted in racism. Last month, it was revealed the new name is The Pearl Milling Company.

Also in 2020, Mars also decided to change the name of their Uncle Ben’s brand and imagery. The new name, Ben’s Original, is an attempt at shedding the racial stereotyping that was associated with the previous name and imagery.

All these changes underscore the reality that inclusive marketing is the future of marketing. Smart brands are making updates to the way they show up, in an effort to embrace the future rather than fight it.

In their statement, the brand noted key criteria that influenced their decision to pull the books:

“Dr. Seuss Enterprises celebrates reading and also our mission of supporting all children and families with messages of hope, inspiration, inclusion, and friendship.”

Inclusion is a part of their core values. And when evaluating the content of the books, they were able to lean into that value as a means to evaluate whether the content measured up to their standard.

Of course, values can change and evolve over time. They do for people, and they can for brands, and teams.

If it isn’t there already, consider adding diversity, inclusion, and or belonging into your brand values in some way. It will give it sufficient prominence to its importance throughout your organization.

As a result, it will signal that inclusive is “how we do things,” rather than a tag- on, project, or initiative that seems more like a one-off or afterthought in your marketing and leadership efforts.

Why smart brands go to extreme lengths to protect their values

In 2018, Netflix let go of its communications chief for “his descriptive use of
the N-word on at least two occasions at work,” according to an internal memo sent by CEO Reed Hastings. The former employee had been with the company for

more than six years.

Also around that time, ABC canceled their hit reboot of the show, Roseanne, after Roseanne Barr made a ‘racist joke’ on Twitter about former presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett. And also a few years ago, investors asked Uber’s co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick to step down after a series of scandals and reports of toxic company culture.

Your company culture has a major impact on the health of your company.

Business is about belonging. And when your company culture is toxic, unhealthy, or just willy nilly, it will be difficult for your team to do their best work individually, operate as a high-performing team, or consistently deliver remarkable experiences to your customers.

The forceful actions Netflix, Disney (ABC’s parent company), and eventually Uber took to sever relationships with key people within their companies demonstrate not only that company culture is important enough to be prioritized and protected, but that it also heavily influenced by people in top positions.

Sam Murray is the managing director at OneDigital, an employee benefits company. She has spent years counseling, coaching, and training executives, particularly after they have behaved badly. She told me what she’s observed about how leadership behavior impacts company culture:

“If you don’t deal with the core beliefs of the people at the top it’s just going to trickle down…[these companies] had policies, they trained people, but the people at the top are the ones that are the most guilty of that behavior and people see that.

Employees recognize inauthentic behavior, and so then pretty soon nobody’s behaving correctly, even though the policy is written. Everyone signs their documents that they are trained, but once you allow it at the highest level it eventually becomes a virus in the company.”

Sam Murray, managing director at OneDigital

To build and nurture a company culture that is healthy and serves as a source of competitive advantage for you, make sure you and other leaders within your organization lead by example. Here are three high level steps to do it.

1. Declare your mission, vision, and values

The memo Reed Hastings sent at Netflix explained that he fired the communications chief because his behavior “showed unacceptably low racial awareness and sensitivity and is not in line with our values as a company.”

To get your team to embody the values of your company, be deliberate about declaring those values and making sure everyone on your team knows what they are and what they look like in practice.

Document your values. Communicate them to everyone on the team often. And then consistently celebrate team members who embody those values, so all are aware of what good looks like.

2. Seize teachable moments

We’re all human. As such, there will be plenty of times when we
make mistakes. But with the right mindset, mistakes are really just opportunities for us to learn. And as a leader, those learnings should translate into teachable moments that help everyone in your company grow.

Let’s go back to the Hastings memo, wherein the Netflix chief admits he missed a teachable moment after the communication chief’s first use of the N-word:

“As I reflect on this, at this first incident, I should have done more to use it as a learning moment for everyone at Netflix about how painful and ugly that word is, and that it should not be used. I realize that my privilege has made me intellectualize or otherwise minimize race issues like this. I need to set a better example by learning and listening more so I can be the leader we need.”

3. Don’t tolerate behavior that violates your values

Once your team is clear on your values, and you’ve corrected behavior that isn’t aligned with those values, you’ve got to take action to preserve them. As in the case of the companies previously mentioned, that may mean separating

people from the company.

Early in my corporate career, a senior leader apologized to me after a company leader in another division had made racially insensitive comments. Nothing happened to the offender. And because no action was taken, I didn’t feel like I belonged at the company.

I was in a much junior position than the person who’d made the inappropriate comments, and remember feeling like the company wasn’t really serious about stamping out bad behavior if it came from someone with an “important enough role.” Eventually, I left the company.

Work to create a safe space within your company, so everyone on the team feels valued and like they belong. That may mean having difficult conversations or making tough decisions. But protecting and nurturing a thriving culture is worth it.

A while back I was on a call with a client, who mentioned that “relentless self-improvement” was one of their core values. That’s why we were chatting. Her team was eager to learn more about inclusive marketing so they could do it better in their everyday.

Their value of self-improvement drove their behavior to continuously seek ways to be better.

By incorporating inclusion into your values, you’ll instill behaviors that enable you to continuously seek ways to be inclusive.

The best time to make inclusion a part of your values and culture was when you first started your business or leading your team. The next best time is today. Go for it.

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