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Monday 25 March 2019

Alan O'Neill: 'Maintaining your brand DNA will help enhance your name'

It's important to achieve consistency across business so that customers will know what to expect in terms of the services offered - and also the level of professionalism they'll receive

Stock image
Stock image

Alan O'Neill

Some weeks ago, I remembered that I needed to get some nuts and bolts for a DIY job at home. Now that's a scary thought if, like me, you normally run a mile from such errands. But it wasn't as scary as the shop that I entered recently as I passed through a rural town.

The shop was like something from a time warp that had seen no capital investment in a long time. Stock was all over the place, it was not clean or tidy and I saw no evidence of modern retail principles. Even the salesperson was uninspiring and bored.

I was told that the business is almost 100 years in existence and I suspect that the store looks and runs the same today as it did back then.

Contrast that with Reddy Charlton in the case study below. It is also a 100-year-old business that has adapted itself through the generations.

The pristine office is housed in a Georgian building in Fitzwilliam Place, in Dublin. The furniture in the boardroom is classic mahogany which is watched over by a beautiful old clock on the marble mantelpiece.

On the one hand this gives a feeling of heritage and history, which is comforting.

But when you then explore the services offered by the firm and the level of professionalism in all it does, you can see how much it has changed over the years.

Yet despite all of this change, the DNA of the business - which is built on integrity, clarity and passion - hasn't changed.

So how does an organisation like this adapt so well to a changing world and still maintain its business DNA?

The core principles on which Reddy Charlton was founded have been protected through the years. Doing that may not appeal to every business as some organisations do morph over time.

But family businesses, in particular, do like to protect their name forever.

Now I'm not suggesting that every business has to have been founded in the last century in order to have its own DNA. You too have one even if you just formed your business last year.

But your challenge of achieving consistency across the business is the same. Your DNA serves as a ready reckoner for everyone in the business to measure their behaviours against. If you want consistency across the business, and especially if you want your customers to get a great experience every single time at every touch point, your brand DNA is at the root of that.


When the Canadian-Irish Weston family acquired Selfridges in 2003, the business had previously morphed through several iterations and owners in the previous 100 years. The recent ITV drama Mr Selfridge gives some sense of the drama of the era.

In the roller coaster of ups and downs over the years, it had sometimes strayed from its original DNA. But just like the high-voltage founder, the Westons also prioritise a family ethos in their businesses worldwide.

They were keen to revive some of the original Selfridge principles, yet adapt them in a commercial way to a modern world.

The key to that revival was to refresh the vision, mission and the core values for the business.

In doing that, we took time to study the archives to better understand the heritage, history and of course Harry Gordon Selfridge himself. Some of the characteristics that we refreshed include his passion for the customer, respect for others and innovation in retailing. Back in 1909, the founder had a marketing nous that put him ahead of his time. That 'showman' trait and the other characteristics set the tone for the business today.

By redefining those principles in modern language and cascading them to the whole team, it makes it the success that it is today. The refreshed vision, mission and core values all shape the culture of the business. In my view, that is why it has won the 'best department store in the world' award four times.


If your products, your processes, systems, premises and other assets are the hardware in your business, look on your culture as the software.

What good is all that hardware without a good culture? An organisation's culture is so much more powerful than we give credit to.

Every organisation regardless of size has a culture, whether it is actually defined or not. Culture impacts on every facet of the business, such as employer brand, HR disciplines, the business model, marketing, internal controls, systems and processes. In other words, it's the golden thread that weaves its way throughout and keeps the business together. How would you, your team, your suppliers and your customers, describe your culture?

Alan O’Neill, author of Premium is the New Black, is managing director of Kara Change Management, specialists in strategy, culture and people development. Go to if you’d like help with your business. Business advice questions for Alan can be sent to

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