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Denise Lee Yohn | The Fusion Formula: Brand + Culture = Results

Denise served as lead strategist at advertising agencies for Burger King, Land Rover, and Unilever and as the marketing leader and analyst for Jack in the Box restaurants and Spiegel catalogues. Denise went on to head Sony Electronic Inc.’s first-ever brand office, where she garnered major corporate awards as the vice president/general manager of brand and strategy. She has served clients as an independent consulting partner since 2004.


Interview by Carolina Gómez


What is Denise Lee Yohn’s, Brand Story?

The headline would probably be “I love brands.” I have always been fascinated by brands and by the influence brands have on people’s purchase decisions. I’ve always understood great brands are more than names/logos, symbols, or expressions, so my career has been a quest to understand and share how great brands are built. I’ve worked on them as a market researcher, product manager, advertising strategist, and as a brand director. And now I have the privilege of speaking to business leaders around the world and writing about brand leadership.

What is Branding for Denise Lee Yohn?

I actually don’t use the term “branding,” because the term is misleading. Branding refers to a practice that got started back when people had cattle and ranches and they needed a way to make sure that people wouldn’t steal their livestock, so they would sear a “brand” on cows as a way of signifying ownership. That’s what branding means -- and it’s insane to think that branding works as a business concept today. Brand-building is not about simply searing your logo onto everything so people know it belongs to you – it involves developing a powerful instrument that creates value for you and all your stakeholders.

Why internal branding should be a key focus for management? And why should companies care about Employee Experience to drive and engage customers?

With so many different touchpoints between your brand and the outside world, and with so many of those touchpoints intermediated by other people, AI-powered technology, and partners in your market ecosystem, internal organizational alignment, integration, and engagement with your brand is critical now more than ever. Everyone in your organization must share a clear, consistent, common understanding of your brand and how to interpret and reinforce it at every one of those touchpoints.

As for Employee Experience (EX), EX has grown in its importance to customer experience (CX) for many reasons, including because it has grown in importance to customers. As more customers look to align their purchase decisions with their values, they have become increasingly interested in about how companies engage with employees and tend to prioritize doing business with those that value their employees, treat them fairly, and prioritize their well-being.

We love your book: “Fusion” and the “Fusion Formula: Brand + Culture = Results”. Why does integrating Brand & Culture power your Brand? And why there’s a direct effect on company performance?

Fusion – the integration of your external brand identity and internal organizational culture —unleashes tremendous power and value for companies.

With brand-culture fusion, you:

• Increase the efficiency of your entire organization and the quality of your outcomes because your workforce aligned and focused.

• Improve the sustainability of your competitive advantage because it enables you to produce intangible value that is difficult to copy or undercut.

• Pass the customer test of brand authenticity and inspire trust because you are on the inside what you say you are on the outside.

• Can move your organization toward its vision more quickly, easily, and successfully, because you’ve established a singular motivation and focus for everyone in your organization.

Why leadership plays a key role in building a great employee brand culture and engagement? And what is the most important quality leaders should work on?

Leaders must embrace culture-building as a key leadership responsibility. Some leaders delegate culture-building to the Human Resources department, or think that corporate culture is out of their control because it grows organically, so they shrug off any responsibility for it. It is true that culture can’t be imposed. But leaders can and should set the conditions to cultivate a culture and deeply influence the way employees think and perform daily.

What do you think is the most common mistake companies make when it comes to Employee Culture & connecting their brand message with their internal stakeholders?

Companies need to cultivate employee brand engagement, which involves:

• Developing personal and emotional commitment to the brand. Employees should feel an emotional connection with the brand and act as brand ambassadors, actively sharing positive information about the brand with their friends, families and communities, and recommending it to them.

• Ensuring organization-wide understanding of the brand strategy. Employees need to understand who the brand’s target customers are, how the brand is positioned relative to competitors and what makes the brand unique and valuable from a customer perspective.

• Equipping day-to-day involvement with the brand. Employees should have appropriate access to tools and data about how the brand is perceived by customers and they actively nurture and reinforce the brand on a daily basis, at every touchpoint. Even those employees who don’t have direct customer contact understand and embrace their role in delivering on-brand customer experiences.

This depth and breadth of engagement is achieved through internal brand engagement experiences, internal communications campaigns, and brand tools and resources.

A lot of organizations are mainly focusing on building a great Customer Experience. But what about Employee Experience? What common mistakes do companies often make when it comes to building Employee Experience and Employee Culture?

EX requires a holistic, focused, and purposeful approach, but most companies design and manage EX as a set of discrete elements of employment, e.g., flexible work arrangements, rewards & recognition programs, wellness initiatives.

EX isn’t simply delivered – and it’s certainly not experienced -- only through isolated initiatives, programs, and benefits; it entails the entire employee day-to-day experience. EX is created through the overall company culture, in all the in-between moments, by the ways managers engage employees on a daily basis.

Furthermore, leaders should design EX to align with CX. Employees can and will only deliver experiences to customers that they experience themselves. A company cannot expect to deliver a tech-enabled, seamless, and intuitive CX, for example, if everything it does with employees is on paper, slow, and bureaucratic. But when employees experience first-hand an experience that is aligned with the desired CX, they learn how important it is, they discover what it involves, and they intuitively start contributing to it through their own actions and decisions.

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