4 Ways Financial Institutions Can Build a Brand-Driven Internal Culture

One of your top priorities in 2014 should be to build and maintain a brand-driven culture, much like Oregon-based Umpqua Bank has done. They’ve been recognized as #1 on the list of 100 best companies to work for and made Fortune magazine’s national list of 100 best employers the seventh year in a row. They were recently cited as the most admired financial services company in Oregon for the ninth consecutive year.

“The culture is extremely strong and practiced on a daily basis,” writes one former employee on glassdoor.com, an employer review website. “This is not a company that just says they have a culture, they live it. If you are not a team player, don’t want to come to work to have fun, and don’t want to love the people you work with, this is not the place for you. You cannot hide at your desk and expect to get through the day.”

Ray Davis, Umpqua’s President & CEO, says employees) are “empowered to identify a need, make a decision and take action.”

“Our culture is critical to the success of this model and our value proposition, and we consider it our most valuable asset,” Davis said in one of Umpqua’s annual report. He knows that brand and culture has to be cultivated from the top down and the bottom up.


One of Umpqua Bank’s signature “retail store” branches.

Davis has quarterly internal conference calls where associates can both listen and participate in problem solving. He holds associate town hall meetings in their various regions and uses associate focus groups to generate engagement. They have innovative employee recognition programs and work to create an atmosphere of fun and enthusiasm. For instance each day starts with a mandatory “motivational moment,” like a game of marshmallow dodge ball.

They are clearly doing something right. Umpqua is fast becoming the largest community bank in the Western United States.

But you’re not Umpqua Bank. So how do you build your own brand driven culture? Here are four things for CMOs to consider.

Read More: 5 Things HR Must Do to Build Your Brand

Step 1: Be a Culture Champion

I’m often asked about whose job it is to oversee an organization’s culture. The short answer: it is everyone’s job! But the realistic answer is that someone has to lead and manage a brand-driven culture. CMOs are uniquely positioned to fulfill that role. CMOs are already responsible for the brand. They know the attributes of brand, and they can help the C-suite connect those to everyday behaviors that will create the desired customer experience.

When Umpqua finalizes its acquisition of Sterling Financial, it will have nearly 400 branches in four states, yet their culture emphasizes the service and community engagement consumers expect to find at a small community bank, so they need to work hard internally to support that perception. Make sure you are helping HR to train to the behaviors that link to your brand; and suggest ways for your senior executives to routinely support employee’s new brand-based activities.

2: Identify the Disconnects

You may think you have a strong, brand-based culture already. I wish I had a dollar for every CMO that points to “excellent customer service” as evidence of their healthy brand and strong culture. Even those that have active onboarding and training programs often fail to deliver a consistent brand experience and overlook the behaviors that either add to- or detract from the desired brand attributes.

Do you say you are innovative, but lack a culture that cultivates innovation? Do you say you excel at listening to your customers, yet tellers are driven by sales and processes that constrain their ability to listen? Does your leadership believe you stand for one thing, while employees believe it’s something else? Examine your culture for where the disconnects exist between your brand promises and your culture. Do a survey. Hold focus groups. Engage all of your employees. Look for- and correct those disconnects, because they are directly responsible for creating an overall experience that confuses consumers.

And yes, sometimes those disconnects might be due to certain individual personalities. Our industry has changed a lot in 20 years and sometimes the behaviors of your longest-term employees are those that are the most difficult to change. When addressing those personnel disconnects between brand and culture, you’re not likely to convert everyone, at least not all at once. Concentrate on those employees who have the widest circles of influence — the one’s whose new behaviors will ripple through your organization.

Read More: The Power of Brand Management

3: Build it Into Your Work Plan

Many CMOs build amazingly detailed marketing plans that ensure timely execution of external marketing activities, yet forget to allow for sufficient time for internal branding work. Remember the words of Zappos.com’s Tony Hsieh: “Your company’s culture and your company’s brand are really just two sides of the same coin.” You are judged and evaluated based on the success of your marketing/branding activities, so you cannot treat your internal culture building activities as “optional” — you must build it into your plan.


Umpqua Bank employees know how to have fun — it’s part of the bank’s core brand.

4: Hire for Culture Fit (or Culture Change), Train for Skill

There are any number of employee candidates that will have the technological skills you seek, but if they don’t match your desired brand driven culture, they will not fit and probably disengage. A recent Gallup survey revealed that only 29% of employees in the US or Canada are actively engaged in their company, and disengaged employees cost an estimated $300 billion a year in lost productivity to the U.S. economy. Hire for culture fit, train for skill.

Bottom Line: In today’s climate with compressed margins, industry consolidation, increased technology investments and the constant challenge of customer churn, you can give your organization a sustainable, competitive advantage by building a brand-driven culture. Align your business strategy, your brand and your culture with market conditions and consumers’ needs and you’ll find success.

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