Branding, Business Culture and Inc. 5000

We recent­ly got back from the Inc. 5000 con­fer­ence in Orlan­do, Flori­da. Three days of intense insight allowed us to learn what strate­gies suc­cess­ful entre­pre­neurs used to build mul­ti-mil­lion dol­lar busi­ness­es. We learned so much that we had to share the knowl­edge. How­ev­er, it may be too long to include in one post. So, we decid­ed to include the top advice we got and include beau­ti­ful visu­als to sup­port it.

Before we dig into the valu­able lessons we learned, we want to thank Inc. Mil­i­tary Entre­pre­neurs, Natal­ie Thomas, Eric Schuren­berg, Elaine & Norm Brod­sky and all the spon­sors who made this possible!

Branding, Business Culture, and INC. 5000

The most com­mon top­ic in the con­fer­ence was need­ing clar­i­ty in your brand and hav­ing per­se­ver­ance to go through the ups and downs.


Jay Jay French, found­ing mem­ber and lead gui­tarist of Twist­ed Sis­ter, shared his years of strug­gles that led to the suc­cess of their band. No mat­ter the cir­cum­stances and the indus­try they were in, they remained true to their val­ues. They were a part of the Rock & Roll world, yet they chose to ignore the drugs part. Remain­ing true to their values/brand dur­ing 10 years of con­tin­u­al rejec­tion, their con­stant per­se­ver­ance led Twist­ed Sis­ters to fame. Dur­ing their years of rejec­tion, Jay Jay devel­oped a mind­set that allowed him to get over rejec­tion and use that process as oppor­tu­ni­ties to improve.

Take the rejec­tion as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to reflect on the path that you are on.  “Every rejec­tion has some truth to it,” said French. Remem­ber, brands evolve as they grow and look­ing for ways to improve dur­ing a rejec­tion is beneficial.

2. Business culture

Anoth­er impor­tant aspect of your brand is com­pa­ny cul­ture. No mat­ter the size of your com­pa­ny defin­ing what your cul­ture is will pro­vide a valu­able asset when hir­ing employ­ees — even how you con­duct busi­ness. “Cul­ture with­in your com­pa­ny defines who you are,” said Norm Brod­sky founder of CitiS­tor­age; part­ner at Black Gold Suites; colum­nist at Inc.; co-author of Street Smarts. Cul­ture builds up peo­ple and it allows them to feel a part of the com­pa­ny, not just an extension.

Build­ing a sol­id com­pa­ny cul­ture can take time, but here are three key areas to start with.

3. Clarity Towards Your Purpose 

It’s not just get­ting your employ­ees to under­stand it, they need to feel a part of it. Espe­cial­ly mil­len­ni­als who want to feel like their con­tri­bu­tions make a dif­fer­ence. “You also need to sim­pli­fy your mes­sage so that peo­ple can share it eas­i­ly,” said Adam Miller, Founder and CEO of Cor­ner­stone OnDemand.

4. Employee Engagement 

Get to know your employ­ees and find ways to empow­er them. Do not cre­ate so many rules. It could end up ham­per­ing your com­pa­ny and dimin­ish employ­ee interest.

5. Build Trust

Hir­ing peo­ple who seem trust wor­thy can be dif­fi­cult, but not impos­si­ble. One you have appoint­ed your leaders/specialists, estab­lish­ing trust in them is essen­tial. If you micro-man­age every­one not only does this make your employ­ees feel less val­ued, it can decrease engage­ment. Micro-man­age­ment usu­al­ly stems from sit­u­a­tions of inse­cu­ri­ty. Find ways to con­nect with your employ­ees — even your con­trac­tors. Build­ing trust out­side of the work envi­ron­ment can be ben­e­fi­cial. And look for ways to reward your employ­ees for their efforts.

6. Your Mission Supports Your Culture 

One of the most inspir­ing and suc­cess­ful exam­ples of a strong com­pa­ny cul­ture that sup­ports a mis­sion, is seen at Grav­i­ty Pay­ments. “Decide what to do for your com­pa­ny. Be part of a pur­pose. Your mis­sion is more impor­tant than pay. Every­body can afford to be nor­mal,” said Dan Price, Founder of Grav­i­ty Payments.

Their mis­sion is to help inde­pen­dent busi­ness own­ers achieve incred­i­ble suc­cess by reduc­ing the cost (and headaches) to cred­it card pro­cess­ing. When large banks/corporations pro­vid­ed cred­it card fees that were out of reach to most small busi­ness­es, Grav­i­ty stepped up to change the indus­try. They saw a need in the indus­try and firm­ly believed in giv­ing a voice to the lit­tle guy or gal!

Gravity’s mis­sion is linked to their cul­ture. Each employ­ee holds shared respon­si­bil­i­ty and every­one advo­cates to the brand’s core val­ues: cre­ative lead­er­ship, pas­sion for progress and responsibility.

After some inter­nal reflec­tion, Dan imple­ment­ed the $70,000 min­i­mum wage by reduc­ing his 1.1 mil­lion salary to the same. Peo­ple judged him — they thought it was a mar­ket­ing tac­tic. But this was derived from the val­ues his father taught him to respect — low pay­ing salaries are wrong and great work mer­its acknowl­edge­ment. His per­son­al val­ues cre­at­ed a shift inside his company’s cul­ture, not only did prof­its soar, employ­ee pro­duc­tiv­i­ty was ever-growing!

Find­ing val­ue in your employ­ees and entrust­ing them as brand ambas­sadors who share the same brand core val­ues, will attract oth­ers who feel the same — from oth­er employ­ees to con­sumers. Devel­op­ing a cul­ture and align­ing it with your brand val­ues will help you reach your ide­al clients. Remem­ber we can’t serve all, do all. Who does your com­pa­ny aim to serve?

7. Brand clarity 

Brand clar­i­ty is not just for a tar­get­ed reach. If your employ­ees, part­ners, con­trac­tors don’t believe in your mis­sion you may need to define your brand clar­i­ty. When the tough times hit, fol­low Jay Jay’s rejec­tion process and apply it to areas your brand may be lack­ing. Instead of dwelling on the neg­a­tives, use it to develop/refine a sol­id brand cul­ture. The results may sur­prise you. Wouldn’t you rather build a com­pa­ny with a strong cul­ture that yields more prof­its? Estab­lish­ing a min­i­mum wage may not be your thing, (we think its phe­nom­e­nal) instead find ways to align your com­pa­ny cul­ture to your brand.

Devel­op­ing a mem­o­rable brand goes beyond your val­ues, per­se­ver­ance and clar­i­ty. How you har­ness a visu­al rep­re­sen­ta­tion of them all is incred­i­bly impor­tant. Strate­gic design­ers aim to solve a prob­lem that could serve peo­ple. We have the abil­i­ty to human­ize the business/branding process, result­ing in an approach­able and mem­o­rable brand.

At Nicte Cre­ative Design, we believe in using design as a cat­a­lyst for pos­i­tive change. How do you envi­sion cre­at­ing a pos­i­tive change in your indus­try? We’d love to hear it! 

Oh, and if you are curi­ous to see some pho­tos of us at the Inc. 5000… enjoy!

About the Author

Nicte Cuevas, Principal of Nicte Creative Design, empowers mission-driven businesses through strategic design & branding. Nicte has applied this when working with Adobe Spark and Twitter Business, LinkedIn Learning, Dogs on Deployment and Purina, Girl Scouts, The Houston Zoo and The Contemporary Arts Museum. Her excellence in communication design & marketing has been recognized by multiple national / international awards, including a coveted feature in Graphic Design USA's People to Watch.

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