As I considered the tagline, I couldn’t imagine how a vendor could provide this protection. Shouldn’t protection be provided by employees? Thinking about how employees understand and protect brand strategies, it occurred to me that unless the organization does a good job of communicating the brand strategy, it would be difficult for the employees to protect it. Those thoughts led to others focused on the best practices for ensuring employees "get" the brand and acknowledge their responsibility to promote it, as well as protect it - something I’m not sure we’re always paying attention to.
Why Branding is Important
I think when most people think about branding, they think about a logo. The American Marketing Association (AMA) goes a little further as they define a brand as a "name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers." Businesses focus a lot of time and money on the creation of the appropriate brand because it can give them an edge in an increasingly competitive market.
The brand is the organization’s promise to its customers. Not only does it help an organization differentiate itself from others, it also assures the organization’s customers of what they can expect from products and services. The foundation of a brand is understanding what the customer needs and is usually anchored through the company’s logo and then builds throughout the marketing and communication channels: website, marketing materials, packaging, and promotional products.
However, another key area where branding is critical is human resource engagement. It’s a very logical connection – recruiting and hiring processes are very similar to the processes used by marketing to attract and retain customers. We want talented individuals to understand what the company’s vision, mission, goals and values are so they can evaluate if the organization is a fit with the type of philosophy and culture they believe in, and can excel in.
Building the Brand through Employees
The objectives of a good brand which should consistently be applied to marketing and communication efforts, as well as human resource management activities, include the following:
- Clearly deliver the message of what your company stands for
- Confirm the credibility of your organization
- Connect with customers, as well as employees on an emotional level
- Motivate action – to buy – or to come to work
- Solidify the loyalty of the customer or the employee
- Ensure sourcing and recruiting materials are consistent with the brand messaging
- Provide training and certification for internal and external recruiters so they understand and can clearly communicate the brand before they begin talking with potential candidates
- Include values, goals and mission statement information on the career opportunity section of your website
- Incorporate the company’s mission and values into the interviewing process by asking open-ended questions to identify if the candidate’s personal values align with the firm’s
- Integrate brand messages into the on-boarding process and help the new employee understand the responsibilities for demonstrating and protecting the brand
- Periodically offer employee training on business ethics including case studies challenging brand protection and re-enforcing how to appropriately handle business and ethical situations
- Include a focus on brand in development goals and executive coaching engagements
- Align the strategic business, marketing and human resource plans with the brand messaging
I have an excellent example of such a mismatch of brand values from a shopping trip the other day at my favorite grocery store, where I am a loyal customer. Usually this store employs staff who go out of their way to ensure that you find everything you need. The cashiers, especially, engage with shoppers to produce a personalized and "we’re so glad you shopped with us" experience. This gentleman unfortunately didn’t engage with anything or anyone, other than his poor attitude. There was nothing about my experience working with him that matched the brand. On my way out I commented to the manager and she knew exactly who I was speaking about without me even mentioning his name. Her comment was, "We’ve been trying to work with him to see if he’s going to be a fit."
Even in an organization where the recruiting and hiring processes are focused on aligning with the brand, some mistakes are made. Once it’s obvious the values of the employee do not align with the organization’s brand, it’s best to reassign the employee to a job away from customers, develop a performance improvement plan, or terminate the employee. Misalignment of personal and organizational brands results in lost customers! I’ll go back to that store because I know that wasn’t the usual experience, but if I was a first time shopper there, I would definitely find a different store!
So What’s Next?
The recession has complicated the marketplace. There are many organizations redefining their brands as customer needs and expectations have changed. If your organization is reexamining your brand, make sure the process and final results are communicated not only to customers, but existing employees as well. Help job candidates and employees understand how to communicate and demonstrate the new brand through successful performance interactions. The success of the organization rests on their performance. Take immediate actions to review your Human Resource processes to ensure you are sharing the most appropriate information about your expectations for how the brand looks and sounds in the everyday workplace.
It turns out the truck I saw belongs to an organization that calibrates scales used in the distribution of food products. After I researched the company and understood the service they were providing, the tag line makes complete sense. They help ensure that the public can rely on the quality, consistency and trust of the products their clients sell.
There are many voices out there competing for business in my profession and yours. Defining our brands is a journey of business self-discovery. I’m curious, what practices are you employing to ensure that human resource strategies align with company branding? Post comments, questions, ideas below.
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