Under the Skin of a Living Brand
The best organisations never forget the important role that employees at the coalface of customer interaction play in shaping their brands.
The difference between an average brand and a great one is that the great brand will not only capture your imagination with its communications, but also deliver on the dream when you walk into the store or call the contact centre. Most companies focus their brand building efforts on external communications such as advertising, PR and direct mail. But the best organisations never forget the important role that employees at the coalface of customer interaction play in shaping their brands.
Your brand is the product of everything your company does. It is the outward manifestation of your business strategy, a blueprint for your company’s operational performance and the experience that you deliver to your stakeholders at every point of contact. The brand might be nurtured and managed by the marketing department, but it is represented by your entire organisation. That is why a strong brand requires that everyone in the organisation has a complete understanding of, and ability to express, the brand promise and brand values.
Great brands have employees that ‘live’ the brand values in their day-to-day interactions. Average brands have employees that are vaguely aware of the message the company advert is trying to portray. Great brands make money. Average brands struggle to survive. For the brand to come to life with customers and create a bond based on values that are backed up by performance, it needs to be the backbone of your organisation’s culture. Brand values need to be the glue of the organisation that creates culture of oneness that provides direction and clarifies expectations for customers and employees.
Why a living brand is good for business
Ensuring that all employees live the brand brings a host of benefits to your organisation. Employees who live the brand understand the organisation’s core values and how these are relevant to the business and its customers. They are able and willing to use this understanding of the core brand values to bring your brand to life through their behaviour.
The rewards in terms of strict rands and cents can be significant. Customers will be greeted with clear, consistent and co-ordinated communications and service – an experience that matches the promise of your advert on TV.
All employees will understand the brand values clearly and thus will be able to make strategic decisions as to what is ‘on-brand’ and what is ‘off-brand’. These sorts of decisions are made daily by all employees, and the ability to make them confidently translates into better company performance, fed by the sense of satisfaction that employees feel when they are empowered to responsibility and effective action.
Bringing the brand to life
Organisations need to commit to a ‘Live the Brand’ initiative if they want to bring about the cultural changes that will turn the workforce into a team of brand advocates and every point of customer contact into a living embodiment of the company’s brand. Here are some critical elements of a ‘Live the Brand’ programme.
Before an entire company can work, live and interact ‘on-brand’, it must clearly articulate the brand itself. Many companies make the elementary mistake of trying to develop an internal dynamic around a brand that doesn’t yet have a clear identity.
Evangelists at the top
Try and imagine Virgin without Richard Branson at the helm. Successful brands are defined by passionate CEOs who are committed to the brand and its resonance across the company. They are also characterised by a top management team that understands the brand and its relevance to staff behaviour and the customer experience.
Without top level evangelists that clearly articulate the importance of ‘Living the Brand’, internal brand mobilisation will diffuse. High impact leaders realise that ‘Living the Brand’ is a way of life and not a silver bullet campaign. They’re committed to living the brand life along with their employees.
The brand council
Let the brand itself take centre stage by forming a brand council made up of a cross-functional team of staff members from different departments and levels of the company hierarchy. Such a council can cut through internal dynamics and power plays found in any organisation and focus instead on the health, relevance and role of the brand itself within the company.
The marriage of marketing and HR
Brand infusion, education and alignment have to be underpinned by brand-led HR practices and change management interventions. If this does not happen, the brand remains an abstract, largely theoretical concept, and does not become a fundamental element of the business. The brand promise must be tied to performance management in order to create brand champions across the organisation.
Employee satisfaction depends on the creation (and delivery) of performance objectives, true career advancement channels and rewards systems. Implementing a Living the Brand programme can potentially turn your entire organisation into a team of brand advocates. But this will only happen if your employees actually believe in the brand, its values and its commitment to its values, especially when it comes to the internal functioning of the company.
The touch-point analysis
Although internally focused, internal brand programmes must be built on an understanding of where, how and when customers come into contact with the organisation. Understanding each point of interface means that you can impact on the customer at each point, consistently.
The segmented organisation
Your staffs are also your customers – they need to understand, buy into and act according to the brand identity and experience. As you would segment your customer audience, you should also segment your internal audience by tailoring your messaging and communication for each distinct segment to bring about real change in behaviour. Different people respond to and absorb information in different ways – these differences have to be catered with all internal communications.
Measure and manage
A ‘Live the Brand’ programme should be a dynamic intervention. As such, the brand needs to clearly define its position before the programme starts, and set clear (and realistic) goals for delivery. Unseen issues will arise, limitations will be exposed and delivery will not be constant. The key is to continually measure and manage the programme to deal with the reality of daily life.
Training and communication
To communicate is not enough; it needs to be supported by change management processes and training. Constant communication is essential to influence perceptions, excite and motivate employees, and make the transition to a new culture enjoyable. But you should also demonstrate to employees how they can live the brand, with practical examples, and by giving them the right tools to make your brand come to life.
Ignore at your peril
Of course, no change management programme as far-ranging as a ‘Live the Brand’ initiative is free of risks and dangers. But once you are aware of the challenges, you can manage them effectively and ensuring that your programme brings about the cultural changes you are looking for.
As a first step, you should remember that an internal branding programme needs to do more than send out a few memos and ensure that the company values are proudly displayed on the wall. The cultural changes must be felt at every level of the business, and should be built into the HR process. This is about alignment, consistency, behaviour change – accept that it is journey rather than a destination and commit the time, money, and patience necessary for success.
Also remember that rah-rah sessions can inspire your people, but the warm feeling that they engender can melt away quickly if employees aren’t given the tools and support they need to transition to a new culture and its new behaviours. Allow them to ask the hard questions and give them the honest answers. Training, presentations, dialogue, performance management and team-building exercises are some of the options at your disposal.
People want to play a part in the process, feel like they’re engaged with the organisation. Don’t just dictate, but rather present the case for change and allow people to get involved. Arouse curiosity and invite participation. If you simply tell people what will happen and when, you probably won’t succeed in your goals and will simply end up with unmotivated staffs who are looking for new jobs.
Perhaps most importantly of all, you need to strike a balance between hard business imperatives and softer cultural factors. A programme that is all business will seem to make bottom-line sense, but won’t engage your employees. A programme based on research and numbers will give you a by-the-numbers solution that doesn’t set you apart from the herd. And an initiative that is all inspiration and motivation will be nothing more than pretty booklets and empty noise.
The Live the Brand initiatives that are most successful synthesise all of these basic elements into a powerful compound that is perfect for the chemistry of the market and the company. It makes sense in all ways – emotional, financial, operational and strategic. The perfect alignment of business, brand, people and strategy is what makes the best companies so great.
Janice Spark is a director and partner of Idea Engineers. She has more than 20 years of marketing, sales and advertising experience across a range of leading global and South African brands.