Your Brand Strategy Needs an Org Design Strategy

How to build an organization that backs your brand promise, inside and out

We know the pandemic has caused great upheaval and uncertainty for businesses, but it has just as often served as an accelerant for trends that were already shaping our competitive landscape. Among the most important truisms that have only become truer: For brands to stand out, they need to take a stand. Consumers are four times more likely to purchase from a purpose-driven brand, and four and a half times more likely to recommend it to others, according to a recent global survey.

Organization design is not often thought of as a critical tool for driving consumer engagement. But the kind of authenticity demanded by consumers and employees alike means more businesses will have to pull this practice out of the remote corners of HR and make it a core component of their brand strategy. Marketers and brand managers will increasingly have to think of themselves as org designers as well.

Here are three tips for thinking about org design that even the least HR literate among us can use as a starting point.

Listen to your people as you would your consumers.

One of the biggest mistakes we see in org design efforts is that they are too often focused on narrow goals, such as immediate cost-cutting and efficiency. Ultimately, an org chart is just a structure on a slide if the people who make up the boxes and lines don't connect with its underlying purpose. Like a good brand strategy, sound org design has to start with a clear vision about what you stand for, what's most important to your organization, and why your consumers and employees alike should care.

Treat your employees as you would consumers, using focus groups, digital ethnographies and other listening tools to understand what motivates them and how they connect to your brand. When an insurtech startup wanted us to help them restructure, they were surprised when we started by talking to some of their frontline employees. Doing this deep listening helped us design around a shared vision that made the effort a rallying moment for the company as it neared IPO, rather than a cause for anxiety.

Define your central organizing principles.

Once you've articulated a vision for your organization design, you need a set of guardrails that connects that abstract idea to the specific details of your org structure and processes. The next step is to create organizing principles—roughly three to five—that serve as filters for every design decision.

We worked with an apparel brand to develop a purpose that would put consumers at the heart of their business. Realizing their org structure had become an instant relic of a more product-driven organization, they decided to do a redesign, and embraced consumer-centricity as one of their core principles. The principle led them to turn their CMO into a chief customer officer, overseeing product and marketing together under one umbrella.

Good strategy is about focusing on the few things that matter; organizing principles help you drive that level of laser focus into everything you do.

Design new rituals that reinforce your brand story and values.

Every organization has rituals that shape the rhythms and routines of everyday work. Moments from all-hands meetings down to team check-ins are opportunities to realign people around your brand vision, reinforce norms and expectations, and shape your culture day to day.

Google's leaders wanted to maintain the culture of a startup, even as the company grew to over 100,000 employees. To do this, they embraced OKRs (objectives and key results), a goal-setting system that encourages people to focus their work around a few, challenging, flexible objectives that are revisited every quarter. The quarterly OKR all-hands meeting has become a ritual that reinforces the entrepreneurial vision of its founders, galvanizing a large organization to push beyond the limits of the possible today to achieve an ambitious vision for the future.

In your own organization, identify one or two rituals that have an outsize impact on your culture, whether it be a regular meeting, a form of recognition, or another moment that shapes behaviors and norms. Experiment with small changes—for example, if your goal is to become more innovative as a brand, try starting team meetings with a warm-up brainstorming exercise. Tinker until you get the results you want and scale what works.

At a moment where authenticity is more important than ever, brand strategy requires an org design strategy to close the gap between what you say and what you do. Listening to your people, aligning them around a few principles, and defining rituals that shape everyday behavior are three crucial steps toward ensuring you live your brand purpose inside and out.

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Derek Newberry
Derek Newberry is organization and culture design strategy lead at co:collective.

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