I'm not a marketer by trade-I'm an engineer-so when Okta underwent a branding exercise last year I initially asked our marketing team, "why do I need to discuss our values, mission and founding story in order to update the images and colors on our website?" While I was skeptical at first, ultimately, the project played a critical role in helping us formalize how we articulate our vision, mission, values and behaviors. It made me realize that our brand is far more than a logo or website copy-it's every interaction someone has with our company, and it's how our employees understand and relate to each other, to our partners and to our customers.
Here are a few examples of the behaviors we defined in our branding project that bring our values-customer success, innovation, transparency and integrity-to life, and how our employees act on them everyday:
Protect the customer: Recently, when the European Court of Justice invalidated the US-EU Safe Harbor program, a major agreement between businesses in Europe and the US which allowed companies to transfer personal data from Europe to the US, we had to ensure that our customers remained protected and that they understood we were addressing the issue. Within days of the Court's order, our legal team provided an additional path allowing our customers to meet requirements under EU data protection laws and proactively offered to our customers a data processing agreement (DPA) based on the European Commission's standard contractual clauses. In the spirit of customer success, we acted quickly and proactively, solved a major legal issue, and communicated openly and transparently with our customers.
Don't bullshit people: Another behavior directly tied to our values of customer success and transparency is to tell it like it is, or as we like to say, "don't bullshit people." Often sales teams have to walk a careful line between articulating the value of products and services and not over promising something that a company cannot deliver. At one point, a major prospective customer requested that we add a specific feature to our roadmap. After consulting our product team, we told the customer that we couldn't make that promise and if we lost the deal because of it we'd have to accept that. The customer ultimately decided to work with us and we won their respect in the process.
Confront hard problems and solve them: As a company, we confront problems-whether they are flaws in the product, a difficult implementation, or an uncomfortable situation-head on and we're innovative and transparent about how we address and solve any issue. Personally, I've found as a CEO that tough conversations happen every day, and you can't wash your hands of them. It's too common for managers to evade responsibility, breaking bad news to employees by saying, "It wasn't my decision" or, "It was above my pay grade." Although those statements may be true, washing your hands of a difficult decision undermines credibility as a manager and a leader.
Think bigger: In order to stay true to our value of innovation, we encourage our employees to think bigger. We did just that with our recent customer conference. Every year we convene our partners and customers to share insights into where Okta is going and how to best enable security without sacrificing user experience in organizations. Oktane15 was our biggest conference yet-from the venue, to the keynote speakers and attendees, to the partners that joined us-and it gave our entire organization the opportunity to rally behind a single vision and push the Okta story forward.
Ultimately your brand values should be informed by and reflect the behaviors that have led your company to where it is today. Branding shouldn't feel like a corporate mandate-it should empower every member of organization to move the company vision and mission forward.