Why Joe threw himself into the volcano:

Lessons from Hollywood about branding and corporate culture.
6 min read
Corporate Culture - Think Marketing

Have you ever seen the movie “Joe Versus the Volcano,” starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan? It was a box office flop at the time, but has since become a cult classic. Though I saw it back in 1990, it has forever changed my perspective on branding and corporate culture.

The lead character, Joe Banks (Tom Hanks) works for American Panascope – Home of the Rectal Probe. He has a clerical job working for an unpleasant, demanding boss in a dreary factory. A ticker sign in the factory shows 712,765 satisfied rectal probe customers, yet it’s painfully evident that nobody working at the factory is the least bit satisfied or engaged. They are joyless, listless and chronically sick – including Meg Ryan’s character, who appears to spend more time sniffling, wiping her nose and sucking on her puffer than actually working.

In the movie, Joe is duped by an unscrupulous doctor who diagnoses him with an incurable disease. He quits his dehumanizing job, and accepts an offer to briefly “live like a king, die like a man.” But to fulfill his agreement he must willingly jump into a live volcano on the island of Waponi Woo in order to appease the volcano god.

If you have never seen the opening credits, I encourage you to watch. It’s priceless!

After seeing Joe Versus the Volcano, I promised myself I would never work for—or build—a company like this, and I committed to learning about the connection between my passion—branding, and corporate culture. Then I set forth to try and connect the dots.

Here are a few things I’ve learned since I watched Joe jump into the volcano:

Branding and corporate culture.

Gone are the days when senior leadership met behind closed doors, magically came out with a brand strategy, then threw buckets of money on advertising to tell consumers what their brand was all about.

Today we recognize that the most effective way to build your brand is to build a successful corporate culture. Get that right, and almost everything else will fall into place. Branding is not merely the experience provided to customers, but includes the experience lived by your employees.

Essentially, a brand is an idea or perception that your customers have of your organization.  It is shaped by everything they know about you, every interaction they experience, and how that makes them feel.

Corporate Culture is how an organization’s brand comes to life in the hearts, minds, interactions, and lives of its employees. An organization’s culture should be guided by the brand vision and values of your organization.

Your brand is the foundation on which you build your corporate culture, and these elements are essentially the heart and soul of your organization. Why does all this matter? Because nobody wants to work for, or for that matter with, a company with no heart and no soul. While not everyone will choose death by volcano over working for a soulless organization, good employees will be likely to look elsewhere.

This stuff is not fluff.

I have a theory that poor corporate culture literally makes people physically sick, deflates the human soul, and kills companies. As a female leader in a male dominated ad agency world, I’ve often been ridiculed for investing time on corporate culture – what many folks have called “the fluffy stuff.” Yet I stand by my conviction that it takes strong leadership and courage to ensure branding and corporate culture are synergized, and to reap the rewards of this strong relationship.

There are so many pressing things that require our attention. We focus on revenues, receivables, productivity, human resource challenges, business development, board meetings, client management, and the list goes on. The so called “fluff” gets put on a back burner and becomes something we might address when things slow down a bit. Because that mythical slowdown may never come, and there will always be competing priorities, a paradigm shift is required.

My message is simple: make it a priority to manage your company’s brand and culture. Otherwise, it may manage itself in ways that could eventually look like an unwieldy monster with tentacles that will bite you in the ass. Not a pleasant thought. It takes time, courage and patience. And sometimes your own leadership style and practices may come into question and you may have to swallow your pride, suck it up and adjust. But the return on investment is high.

If you’re not clear about your brand and your values, take time to engage your organization’s people in these discussions – from senior leaders to frontline staff. Get them involved in defining or evolving the brand, and formulating what needs to happen to live the brand with passion and conviction. You’ll be surprised to learn that most of the time, they have the answers that may have been eluding you and keeping you awake at night. And often, the answers come from the most unlikely sources. Empower employees and they will create, own, and sustain the culture that is required to grow your brand.

What progressive companies know.

While strategic marketing activities such as advertising, PR, Social media, and other channels remain essential, progressive companies know their people are their greatest marketing asset. A company cannot care about its customers without first caring for its people – the face of the organization.

Traditionally, Marketing and Human Resources have acted as distinct silos, but forward thinking organizations are realizing that it’s important to not only consider a candidate’s abilities when hiring, but whether they reflect your brand and your values. Progressive companies are recognizing the connection between brand and culture, and are merging their HR and Marketing teams with the goal of strengthening connections between brand, culture, employee and customer loyalty, and ultimately the bottom line.

The benefits of connecting employees with your brand.

The benefits of connecting employees with your brand values are considerable. It gives them a reason to come to work, beyond simply putting in time until the next pay day. When employees clearly understand the brand and how to live it, it improves loyalty and retention. They work collaboratively and effectively to achieve the vision, and fuel the corporate culture. Engaged employees become invaluable supporters for recruitment, support marketing by reinforcing campaign messages, and follow through by creating strongly aligned customer experiences that support the brand.

When employees are disconnected from the brand, the result can be internal confusion, and sometimes cynicism toward management. This is just one of the tentacles of that monster I mentioned earlier.

Corporate culture checklist:

Here are some quick, helpful questions to determine how progressive your company is in connecting your brand with your corporate culture.

  • Does our company have a clearly defined brand?
  • Do our employees understand the brand? And are they invested?
  • Is our brand reflected in our interactions with each other? With customers? Where are we excelling? Where are we failing?
  • Is it time to engage employees in brand discussions to evaluate if a brand evolution or adjustment is required?
  • Are our HR and Marketing teams closely aligned to address branding, marketing, and HR issues?
  • Are new employees getting brand and corporate culture information and training?
  • Are our employees in general happy? If not, could it be related to corporate culture issues?

If you find yourself answering “no” to many of these questions, it may be worth exploring how you can strengthen the relationship between your brand and corporate culture moving forward. Now if only you knew an experienced business leader who’s passionate about helping organizations establish a thriving corporate culture…

If you’d like to learn a little more about the relationship between branding and corporate culture, and how it can revitalize your customer experience through higher employee engagement, don’t hesitate to call me. I’ll walk you through some of the avenues you can explore to enhance this relationship, and help you make your employees your greatest brand asset.