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   ARTICLE   |   From Scotsman Guide Residential Edition   |   October 2017

Building Brand Equity Through Culture

Fostering core values is more important than creating a strong image

r_2017-10_lucido_spotThere is a reason Don Draper, the advertising executive on cable TV’s Mad Men, spent his career chasing Coca-Cola. It is because the name embodies more than just a refreshing beverage. Coke exudes a mentality, a lifestyle, the pursuit of happiness. It’s a pursuit that resonates with employers, employees and buyers alike.

Today, there is a resurgence of discourse around the ideology behind brand equity — what it is, how to build it, and the power it yields within and upon an organization and those it serves. Is the brand merely a personification of a company’s image? Or is it a direct reflection of its culture and core values?

It has been debated whether the old brand model — which advocated the creation of an external brand image to influence consumers — is a thing of the past, versus the newer model where a company’s core values and behaviors replace the external brand image, and carve depth into the company and its content. In other words, is looking good no longer enough? Do actions speak louder than images?

Embracing brand culture

To compete in today’s fast-paced mortgage landscape, mortgage companies must encompass this cultural shift and rebuild themselves from the inside out. Some call this new model “brand culture,” because it has the potential to transform companies into valued and trusted brands. But where does the culture come into play?

Culture is not something that happens overnight. It’s not instantaneous, like the Big Bang Theory, as authors Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson would say. It is something that is earned over time through actions and behaviors from the top down. This is why many new startup mortgage companies don’t have one. Culture is not the company picnic, Christmas party, tickets to the game or the foosball table in the break room. Rather, it is a series of principles and behaviors practiced over time throughout the entire organization.

Companies with a clear mission statement and core values, congruent both internally and externally, seem to fare better when it comes to developing overall brand equity. Furthermore, employees who are encouraged to monitor and analyze the company’s engagement with borrowers, vendors and employees — how people behave “within the walls” — have a better sense of how they are performing and if they are in alignment with their mission statement and core values.

Conveying a set of core values that resonates with like-minded individuals becomes imperative to creating a unified curve.

Company culture is becoming an essential tool for attracting talent, according to Forbes. “Culture is something a lot of great companies are using to lure great talent, and it’s working,” Forbes staff writer Kathryn Dill said. Glassdoor even indicated that company culture is one of the top-five factors people consider when weighing a job offer. Salary is still the No. 1 reason, but the importance of company culture is growing rapidly. 

Cultivating company culture

Creating a business culture isn’t completed by simply writing a flowery mission statement. The behaviors you demonstrate become your culture. New companies don’t have a culture because it isn’t something you can create overnight. Instant cultures are artificial, like a fresh coat of paint. Organic cultures are like patina — the green coloring of weathered bronze — which becomes part of the structure through age and exposure, and is fostered through consistent behaviors.

If you inspire people to share ideas and experiences, for example, then sharing will become a part of your culture. If you foster trust among your coworkers, then trust will be an integral part of the culture. If you demonstrate that you truly care about your customers, then care will become your culture.

Studies have shown that employees typically model the behaviors of their leaders, like children watching their parents. In other words, if each tier — but primarily the top tier — remains in alignment with core values and consistently demonstrates this through actions and behaviors, the organization will ultimately cultivate a unified company culture and, furthermore, a sense of solidarity and stability within the structure of the corporation itself.

In the end, employee actions and behaviors ultimately define their personal brand, which then contributes to the overall perception of the company they represent. The mortgage business has many boots on the ground interacting with clients and borrowers every day. Loan originators, especially, should know that customer service is key.

Building a trusted relationship with borrowers and Realtors is vital, especially when helping them facilitate one of the most important decisions and transactions in their lifetime. Moreover, being accountable and accessible every step of the way through the entire loan process is what cultivates both loyalty and trust.

Finally, employers who outsource to find talent should consider pulling from within instead. Rather than trying to hire “rock stars” for every position or job opening, companies should focus on creating a rock-star environment at all levels that brings out the most potential in every employee.

Managers need to engage and inspire their employees by coaching them. A company that shows a level of trust and responsibility for employees fosters a sense of engagement and agency, allowing each individual to express themselves freely and perform their best work. Be honest and authentic in how you treat both employees and borrowers, and they will trust in you.

Evaluating a company’s culture

Today it seems that mortgage companies are like gas stations: There is one on every corner — sometimes more than one. Each one showcases its trusted brand and advertises its unique selling proposition, whether that’s lower prices (rates), better grades of gasoline (loan programs), or superior service. There is something for everyone.

Most mortgage companies pitch great pricing, lower rates, better products and service, which is important when communicating with broker partners and prospective borrowers. But when it comes to the dynamics of recruiting and retention, mortgage companies can find themselves in a quagmire.

Hiring good employees and keeping them engaged for the long haul can be like swimming upstream to spawn. Let’s face it, there is a high rate of attrition in this industry because of job hoppers. Now more than ever, the culture proposition becomes important.

Conveying a set of core values that resonates with like-minded individuals becomes imperative to creating a unified culture that will stand the test of time. Most job hoppers are looking for a place to call home — a place where they fit in. When looking at a company’s culture, savvy prospects will ask themselves the following questions:

  1. How long has the company been in business? 
  2. Has the company invested time to develop a culture? 
  3. What behaviors do employees exhibit?
  4. Do these behaviors align with the company’s stated values?
  5. Does the brand message embody who they are as a company? 
  6. Does the company’s mindset align with my core values?

• • •

It has been said that culture is the loudest thing happening in an organization. It is in the face of each employee, resounding in their ears like a megaphone. If it is going to be loud, however, it better echo principles and ideas that motivate each and every individual engaged with the company. Furthermore, that message should resonate in such a way that its vibrations can be felt in everything the company does, guiding their brand and actions as they progress and evolve over time — like seeing the ripples in a bottle of Coca-Cola.

(Note: The author would like to acknowledge the invaluable help of Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson in the revisions to this article.)


 


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