Lessons in branding: culture eats strategy for breakfast

“Culture,” as Peter Drucker once said, “eats strategy for breakfast.”

Featured in July/August Harvard Business Review is the article Cultural Change That Sticks, written by Booz & Co. execs Jon Katzenback, Ilona Steffen, and Caroline Kronley.

Leading with a story of Aetna’s (not so unique) struggles in the early 2000’s, they point to the fact that “it takes years to alter how people think, feel, and behave, and even then the differences may not be meaningful. When that’s the case, an organization with an old, powerful culture can devolve into disaster.”

Through their research, they found that almost every organization that attained peak performance – including Four Seasons, Apple, Micrpsoft and Southwest Airlines – got there by applying these five principles. And they all viewed culture as a competitive advantage and an accelerator of change.

These principles are:

1. Match strategy and culture…as culture trumps strategy every time
2. Focus on a few critical shifts in behavior…change is hard, so you need to choose your battles
3. Honor the strengths of your existing culture…so major change feels more like a shared evolution vs. a top-down imposition
4. Integrate formal and informal interventions…reaching people at an emotional level and tapping rational self-interest
5. Measure and monitor cultural evolution…to identify backsliding, correct course where needed, and demonstrate tangible evidence of improvement

Helping clients to create new energy from the inside-out is important and fulfilling work. But for real change to take hold, not only inside but for customers and partners, it must be genuine to the organization. Starting with its culture.


Eric Brody

Eric Brody is President of Trajectory, launched in 1999, the specialist health & wellness branding and marketing agency using every moment to move customers, brands and businesses upward. Prior to Trajectory, Eric served as EVP and Management Board member at Interbrand (the world’s most influential brand consultancy). Before Interbrand, he held senior marketing positions at Beiersdorf Inc. and L’Oreal and advertising account management positions at Marschalk and Benton & Bowles.He has also taught as an adjunct professor at Seton Hall’s Graduate School of Communications and has lectured at Wharton Business School and Emory Goizueta School of Business.