Fusion by Denise Lee Yohn

By: Denise Lee Yohn




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Have you ever wondered what’s behind the success of some of the world’s most iconic brands? How they manage to resonate so deeply with consumers, maintain market dominance, and top the “best places to work” lists? Fusion reveals some of the magic behind these organizations by detailing the unique ways that they marry their brand and their corporate culture. This is “fusion” – tying your external brand and internal culture together so tightly that they cannot be unwound. This is crucial for anyone who desires relevance in today’s competitive landscape. Data shows that companies that have fused their brand and culture perform better than those that have not, enjoying better financial results, higher customer approvals, and improved employee satisfaction.

We’ll show you case studies from Nike, Netflix, FedEx, LinkedIn, Amazon, Ford, Volkswagen, and many others. Learn how they leverage the foundations of brand and culture fusion – finding an overarching purpose and core values – to achieve competitive advantage. Get insight into the causes and effects of their incredible turnarounds and fantastic downfalls, all rooted in their success or failure to fuse brand and culture. We’ll reveal the concrete ways they achieved this, from re-thinking core operations and organizational design, to intentional design of employee experience, corporate rituals, routines, and more.



This book summary details a multitude of case studies that demonstrate the power of brand-culture fusion. Nike’s strong sense of purpose permeates their culture and brand and serves as the foundation for their success and market dominance in the sports apparel arena. Netflix experienced a dramatic turnaround due to returning to their core values and aligning their actions with their mission. FedEx, Amazon, and LinkedIn all have strong values that help unify complex corporations amid merger and acquisition activity. Case studies from Ford and Volkswagen reveal the outsize of impact of CEO leadership on internal culture. And, stories from Adobe, Airbnb, Salesforce, MGM Resorts, and Patagonia all demonstrate the various tactical efforts that can lead organizations closer to both brand-culture fusion and bottom line success at the same time.

Fusing brand and culture

“Today, many leaders are starting to recognize what astute ones have known all along: culture and brand are…the biggest drivers of the hard results they must produce every day.”

Why it matters

When brand and culture are in sync with one another, the organization creates a seamless picture for both customers and employees. The company’s external image is in harmony with the experience of working for and working with that company. As a result, everything runs more smoothly and successfully.

Global business leaders such as GE’s former CEO Jack Welch, founder of Virgin Group Richard Branson, and Southwest Airline’s Herb Kelleher all expound the virtues of fusing brand and culture. A short list of the benefits include the following: “stronger financial performance,” higher margins, less employee “turnover,” more talented and engaged employees, and happier customers who stick with you for the long term due to the value and “authenticity” of your brand. In addition, once brand and culture are successfully fused, it becomes an incredible asset and “competitive advantage” for a company. In building their brand and culture, they have created something of “intangible value,” something that sets them apart from competitors who can’t copy or offer their distinct brand and culture.

One example of a company that ignored the alignment of brand and culture to their detriment was Uber. Uber was the epitome of startup success until a former employee, a female engineer, detailed her experiences at the company in a public blog post. While Uber’s brand stood for a “populist ethos” and “progressive character,” the woman whose claims of sexual harassment were repeatedly ignored and minimized by Uber’s HR department revealed the true “discriminatory, primitive, and predatory behavior” that was a large part of Uber’s internal culture.

How to achieve brand and culture fusion

The excuses are endless for deprioritizing culture change efforts. However, there is no “right” culture to pursue, so if you think your particular corporate culture is an outlier that can’t be “fixed,” think again. Take Amazon, for example. Their innovative, fast-paced, competitive brand is reflected internally in a corporate culture that cause burnout for the average “9 to 5-er.” Rather than modifying the culture to make employees more comfortable, however, Amazon’s leadership supports the culture because it aligns with their brand and therefore makes sense to the customer. Another “culture fallacy” is that human resources executives are the only ones responsible for internal culture. If changes are to be successful, however, they must live and breathe in the C-suite and resonate on a much deeper level than changes to HR policies.

The remainder of this book summary will detail the specific steps that organizations have taken to reach brand-culture fusion. The first step is defining what some of the core elements mean for your organization: purpose, values, brand, and culture. Writing the “overarching purpose” and naming the “core values” can help point the way to the most appropriate brand category for the organization.

Then, there are five main types of activities to pursue to align brand with culture, and we’ll detail an actual case study for each: 1) operations and organizational change, 2) employee experience, 3) rituals and artifacts, and 4) employee brand engagement, and 5) brand-building from the inside out.

Laying the groundwork

“To make brand-culture fusion happen, you must articulate a single overarching purpose and one set of core values to drive, align, and guide everything your company does internally and externally.”

Overarching purpose

Nike – Inspiration and innovation for every athlete

The story of Nike’s success as chronicled in Shoe Dog begins with one man, founder Phil Knight, and his obsession with a purpose he felt so passionate about that he would not give up his dream, no matter the cost. He says “I believed that if people got out and ran a few miles every day, the world would be a better place, and I believed these shoes were better to run in.” Eventually, this deep faith in his company’s purpose led Nike to be one of the world’s most iconic and popular sports brands. And today, Nike’s purpose remains the same, though articulated slightly differently: “Bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” This “mission” or purpose ties closely to their external slogan “Just Do It.” Nike’s purpose runs deeply in the organization and is a case example that reveals how, once you accurately pinpoint your organization’s purpose, it can unlock incredible value.

As their purpose is so widely accepted and adopted within the organization, it can serve as a unifying touchpoint in a variety of scenarios. Prominent Nike shoe designer Tinker Hatfield describes how the purpose of inspiration and innovation impacts his work, “…We’re asking ourselves all the time: What can we do to improve what we’ve done in the past?” The purpose permeates other, more mundane business operations at Nike as well. Knight explained once how they pursue innovation in all areas of the business such as advertising: “We need a way of making sure people hear our message through all the clutter…that means innovative advertising.” Nike chief learning officer Andre Martin also articulates how he embodies the mission in his work of bringing education and learning opportunities to Nike employees, saying he strives to, “unleash human potential…so everyone in the organization can do more work that matters.” Lastly, Nike’s purpose is leveraged in more creative ways as well. Amidst the 2016 crises of race and concerns of police violence, Nike CEO Mark Parker spoke out about the issues in a letter to employees. “To serve every athlete individually and completely, across hundreds of countries where we do business, we need teams that reflect the diversity of our consumers and a culture of inclusivity that respects the communities in which we live and work.” An overarching purpose, accurately identified and clearly articulated, can grow, sustain, and propel your organization forward, as it has done for Nike.

Putting the purpose into words

Some best in class examples of “purpose” or “mission” statements reveal that although these statements may be referred to as a company’s “higher” purpose, they don’t have to be socially minded to be effective. Let’s take a few examples.

  • Amazon – “To become Earth’s most customer-centric company.”

  • Facebook – “To make the world more open and connected.”

  • Ford – “Build a car for the great multitude.”

  • Johnson & Johnson – “Caring for the world, one person at a time.”

  • Squarespace – “Giving voice to ideas.”

  • Starbucks – “To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.”

  • Zappos – “To deliver happiness to the world.”

So how does one go about defining the purpose for their organization? A couple quick tactics for putting yours into words are the following:

  • Pretend that tomorrow, someone will flip a switch and your organization will be gone. What will be missed? What does your company offer to the world that will no longer exist?

  • Ask the “Five Whys,” as described in the book Built to Last. Start with a general statement about what your company does or makes and begin asking “why.” Do this five times, or until you feel you’ve articulated your greater purpose.

  • Use storytelling. Describe to a friend how a customer’s life is different, now that he or she has begun using your products or services.

You’ll know you’ve hit the mark when your statement is both “focused” and “flexible.” It should both direct employees towards a specific vision while also allowing flexibility for adaptation as they see fit. This is crucial, as “The real opportunity doesn’t lie in articulating what is allowed…but what is possible.”

Core values

If the purpose is the “why,” then the core values of an organization is the “how.” Core values are “the essential and enduring principles and priorities that prescribe the desired mindset and behavior of everyone who works at your company.” These can easily become bland and prosaic. For example, 90% of company value statements “reference ethical behavior or use the word ‘integrity.’” 88% include “commitment to customers,” and 76% say “teamwork” and “trust” are important. So how does one articulate values in words that are unique and memorable? First, it’s important to distinguish between “core values” and “category values.” Category values are values that any company in a given industry would logically have. For example, “all fast food restaurants must embody the values of speed and convenience.” Instead, think more deeply about how it is you hope for your employees to go about their work, and “use a style of voice that uniquely represents your organization.” Examples include:

  • WD-40 Company – “We value creating positive lasting memories in all of our relationships” and “We value making it better than it is today.”

  • Google – “Focus on the user and all else will follow,” “You can be serious without a suit,” and “Great just isn’t good enough.”

  • Illumina – “We are open – physically and philosophically.”

Netflix – “Reed Hastings stopped listening”

To underscore the importance of remaining true to one’s core values, it is helpful to analyze the case of Netflix, and how they bounced back after a 2011 slump that came as a result of making decisions out of step with their values.

In 2010, Netflix shares were booming. The next year, however, they lost nearly a million customers and their stock price fell 77% over a four month time period. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings had recently decided to eliminate the offering that allowed customers to both stream videos and rent physical DVDs from Netflix. Instead, he wanted to offer those subscriptions independent of one another, and raise the price for both. Customers could not contain their anger, especially in light of the fact that Netflix had recently published a “manifesto” as a testament to Netflix’s culture. Among their core values outlined in the manifesto, Netflix underscored the importance of “communications” and “listening” – “’You listen well, instead of reacting fast, so you can better understand.’”

Hastings was lambasted for failing to listen and making a rash decision without fully understanding his customers’ opinions on the topic. A CNET article on the topic made this perfectly clear, beginning by saying that…



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