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Turn Your Brand Inside Out for Deep and Lasting Relationships with Employees and Customers

By Kevin Sweeney

Today you don’t have to look far to see big, recognizable brands that are seemingly self destructing. Whether it is Tropicana’s campaign and packaging blunders or the alleged greed of financial giant AIG, these once great brands are losing not only their luster, but the constituents that made them great.

While Tropicana can pull its current marketing missteps from the store shelves and over time hopefully regain the tens of millions of dollars lost, AIG will not get off that easy, relatively speaking.  The difference is that Tropicana hurt only itself and its stockholders, AIG hurt the American people; a hurt that will not go away anytime soon. Once a brand uniformly betrays the trust of the general population (customer and non-customers alike), any future brand-building efforts become an exercise in futility.  Even a name change in today’s information-driven world would be fairly transparent and probably not make a difference.

As with any crisis or cultural shift, opportunity will abound for the organizations smart enough to take advantage of the situation. How do companies take advantage of the opportunities created by their respective market leaders?

The answer is simple, the actions are not. Here it is: Invest in the brand.

Consider the recent Interbrand Best Global Brands rankings and compare the book value of the leading brands to the brand value of the firm, and it is easy to understand why so much attention should be placed on brand. For leading global brands, the intangible asset of brand is shown to represent more the 50% of their overall market value. For these companies, as well as yours, brand-building can no longer be optional; it is essential.

If you ask advertising agency executives, marketers and CEO’s to define “brand” you would most likely get very different answers. For the purposes of this piece and according to the Brand Establishment, brand is a claim of distinction. It is that simple. It is what purchasers can expect from you, your products or your services – consistently. Now you all are probably thinking, anyone can make a claim or a promise. Yes, you are correct, so to take this one step further. Brand is also the compelling evidence that makes your claim credible – your evidence of distinction.

In the traditional approach to brand development, companies would conduct extensive research with customers/consumers to uncover their needs, wants, desires, and perceptions. They would look at what products they buy, what services they require and how much they are willing to pay. Then they would create a brand and brand preference to match that.

The problem is that this thinking is inherently flawed. Imagine that every maker of mobile phones talks to the same audience in this fashion. What do you think you would get? A lot of very similar brands and no way for the consumer to discern one from the other aside from price or incentives. Where is the advantage?

With an inside out look at your organization or product, you can unearth a claim that is uniquely inherent to you and you alone. After all, brand is about differentiation – why someone should choose your brand versus another. Bringing this differentiation to the surface is the foundation for a company’s brand strategy from which all communications flow — both internally and externally.

Now that you understand the value of brand, a definition of brand and how to unearth that distinction your attention shifts to how the brand will be adopted internally and activated externally.

The activation of a brand typically refers to how a brand is communicated externally to constituents. This is where marketing, advertising and sales converge to motivate people to action. That’s a topic for another article.

The focus of this piece is on the adoption of the brand or how to create brand evangelists within your organization. Brand adoption is one of the most forgotten aspects of brand-building since employee-related activities tend to fall to HR not corporate communications or the marketing department. If you move brand from a purely marketing function to a corporate function you can begin to dissolve the interdepartmental silos that spring up naturally within organizations.

It is not enough to simply create a one-time orientation to your brand, hand out t-shirts, produce “rah-rah” type events or ongoing internal communications. True brand adoption begins by creating a deep understanding of the brand, translating it into observable and actionable behaviors and then rewarding those behaviors as additional motivation. It is then that employees can begin to take ownership of the brand and truly understand how the simplest of actions can impact the entire organization.

There was a story shared a few years ago about a custodial staff member working at NASA. When he was asked what he did, he responded: “I help put a man on the moon”. This was truly an employee who adopted the larger purpose of the organization and its brand.

Recent data has drawn a correlation between employee adoption or alignment with a company’s bottom line. When looking at the list of best companies to work for between 1998 and 2007 you see that many of these companies enjoy stock returns well above industry average. In addition, “engaged” employees, returned 14% per year on each dollar invested, while the overall market return was 6% per year.

If your business relies on its employees, and whose doesn’t, there are a few steps you can take to help your employees deliver the brand experience you need to succeed.

  1. High-level commitment. Brand and subsequently, brand-building needs to be embraced at the highest levels of the organization. Brand must be a corporate initiative not solely a marketing function. Having senior leadership not only endorse the brand but become actively involved in the brand-building efforts will have a lasting, positive impression on the employees and how they in turn — embrace the brand.
  2. Clearly defined brand strategy. The key to brand adoption, externally and internally is to have a clearly defined brand strategy that is closely aligned with your business strategy. If your employees are going to be responsible for delivering on the brand, they need to have an understanding of what the brand stands for and be able to identify what is on-brand behavior and thinking. This on-brand thinking will lead to a more efficient organization since everyone is aligned with the same vision and can make decisions based on the brand and not simply reacting to market influences.
  3. Cross-functional input. Identify change agents across the organization and at different levels from senior management to the rank and file. Establish an adoption committee for the development of programs and process. Getting employees involved will accelerate buy-in and help ensure your brand is adopted by all. In terms of recruiting, not only will your company’s reputation be a drawing factor but the word-of-mouth spread by the employees will attract candidates that fit with your brand.

Price Communications is brand development firm whose principal is part of an elite group that have earned the designation as Certified Brand Strategist. Together Kevin Sweeny and Michelle Price-Taglialatela have been leading small to mid-sized business to uncover and communicate exactly what is different and unique about their product or service. Their trademarked process helps create focus and the ability to operationalize the brand for measurable growth.

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