9 Branding & Culture Disconnects

It irritates us to no end when something doesn’t live up to the hype, doesn’t it?

Our mouths begin to salivate when we see a commercial for a pizza joint on TV, right? We see a pizza cutter run across the diameter of a piping-hot pizza, dividing it up for the ravenous people waiting to devour every delicious, cheesy slice. As our TV actor slides the utensil underneath a slice of pizza, we get downright envious. We wish that Random TV Actor was about to serve us that delightful piece of pie. (You Chicago folks know that means pizza–the rest of you probably wonder how the aforementioned pizza got switched out for granny’s apple pie.)

As Random TV Actor lifts the utensil, weighed down with what appears to be a massive, cheese and pepperoni-laden culinary masterpiece, one of two things happens. We either (1) get hungrier than we were twelve seconds ago, or (2) suddenly feel pangs of hunger that we hadn’t felt just moments before.

As Random TV Actor reaches across the table to serve an eagerly waiting person, we reach for our phones or laptops, surrendering to the ever-mounting visual onslaught that was designed to induce this very behavior on our part. We submit an order. We want what we just saw.

Time passes, and we hear the doorbell ring. Leaping from our couch, we rush toward the door, ready to receive and consume what will probably be the tastiest pizza ever. We frantically sign the receipt, tipping the delivery driver just enough that we won’t feel guilty about it, and then we carry our pizza toward the table like it’s some fragile piece of art.

We place it on the table as family or friends gather around, anticipating the feast. Almost drooling with excitement, we lift the lid to expose a cheese and pepperoni-laden pizza wonderland very similar to what we had seen on TV.

Only, it’s not. I mean, don’t get me wrong–the basic elements are there. There’s a pizza. It has a crust, tomato-ish sauce, mostly melted cheese and a few randomly-placed pepperoni pieces; but it’s barely a shadow of what you saw on TV just 45 minutes before. There’s a brief moment of silence as everyone’s at least a tad let down, and then you dig in and divvy up the pizza. You eat it, and it’s fine, but it’s nowhere near the cornucopia of pizza awesomeness you thought it was going to be based on that commercial. A flash of anger at Random TV Actor comes and goes, and you resign yourself to the fact that this is just how these things happen sometimes.

This sort of thing happens a lot of different ways in organizations, doesn’t it? There are these…disconnects…between who or what organizations say they are and what folks–employees or consumers–encounter. There’s a gap between the experience organizations claim they’re going to provide and the experience that people might actually get. I seem to notice this a lot in the areas of branding and culture, which makes sense since the two are–or at least should be–interrelated; but disconnects can happen in almost any area, really.

Here are a few possibilities that came to mind as I was thinking about this:

1. There’s a disconnect between what your website says you’re like and what people actually experience when they walk through your doors.

2. There’s a disconnect between the atmosphere promised on the Careers page of your website and what employees actually experience on a daily basis.

3. There’s a disconnect between the core values that are touted and the core values that are lived.

4. There’s a disconnect between the results the organization says it wants and the things employees are held accountable against.

5. There’s a disconnect between the “amazing” customer service you say you offer and the good–but not actually amazing–service folks get.

6. There’s a disconnect between what the recruiter tells applicants working for your organization is like and what it’s actually like.

7. There’s a disconnect when you say you want ideas but then make it nearly impossible for people to execute for whatever reason.

8. There’s a disconnect when you say organizational trust is a big deal, but the atmosphere on your teams is anything but trusting.

9. There’s a disconnect when you say you want work to be fun but aren’t intentional and purposeful about creating that environment.

That’s just a few of the several that could have been listed here. What other disconnects can you think of? What do you do to combat them?

11 thoughts on “9 Branding & Culture Disconnects

  • You pose a very interesting question.

    As more and more people jump on the social media bandwagon, these disconnects will increase. And I think it is mainly due to the fact that we are hidden behind our computer screens. This removes the barrier provided by people’s .

    My friends and family always tell me that I am a little too honest when I deal with others. I, for one, don’t believe in promising something and delivering something else. And it has paid off that way.

    Thank you for this article, Matt!

  • As we engage our customers in multi-channel methods (embedding twitter hashtags in commercial spots, QR codes in print ads, hotlinks in banner ads) we imply (or the consumer infers) we want their input and direction on products and services. We certainly welcome some of the thoughts. But I contend that many ideas offered are impractical, unprofitable, inane or fantasy. We must be cautious in that if we cannot explain why their idea will not be used or if we simply ignore them we create an environment of frustration and disappoint. Social media can be detrimental to some relationships if consumers feel “outside the brand.”

    • That’s a great point. It’s kind of that whole “Don’t-ask-me-for-feedback-if-you-don’t-actually-want-it-thing.” Managers (myself included) are guilty of this sometimes.

      But it does, as you said, become an issue of navigating that tension between getting feedback, using that feedback, and communicating with the folks that offer and are offering the feedback.

  • Excellent points, especially about employees’ experience. Too often, senior executives miss the connection between their espoused values and the actual culture they’ve established by their actions. As managers, we should hold ourselves accountable for creating an environment that is supportive, encouraging and empowering – only then do we unleash the full creative potential in our teams.

    • My favorite part of your comment was where you said that it’s on us to “hold ourselves accountable for creating an environment that is supportive, encouraging, and empowering…” It’s so true. We can’t wait for someone else to do it–we’ve got to take ownership of our teams and make it happen.

  • Great piece. Suspect disconnects are the result of brand still being seen as a marketing device (something that makes promises) rather than as a delivery platform (something that keeps promises).

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