How do companies large and small use their brand not only to create demand but also to engage employees (and, ultimately, retain clients)?
A company's name can command a tremendous amount of respect and equity with customers. Likewise, employees who possess a great amount of pride in working for a world-class organization can be a greater asset than sometimes realized.
If companies can take these ingredients and begin to change the culture to one that "lives" the brand, the market will take notice. Of course, what we must always be cognizant of in the process is that pride is not mistaken as hubris by customers.
A great long-term brand strategy, if executed properly, will trigger pride among customers—pride in owning, pride in working with, pride in doing business with and/or talking about the brand—without coaxing or coaching. Many world-class brands/companies share in this luxury—such as Coca Cola, Starbucks, the Mayo Clinic, BMW, Nike, and Harley Davidson. GE's Jack Welch had the brand placed on the balance sheet in order to demonstrate its importance to his employees.
Essentially, it all starts in the hiring process and is embedded within the employees' minds, actions and decision-making. For those companies that are looking to reinvent themselves, this is a luxury that is not afforded—rather, it is a long-term work-in-progress that can take months (or even years).
Step one is to define the brand internally. For example, are you customer-focused or product-focused? What do you stand for? What do you aspire to be next year? In five years? In ten? How do customers and consumers perceive you? How do you want to be perceived? How do you reduce the gap (if one exists) between perceived and desired?
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Once you define the brand internally, you need to frequently communicate and instill this philosophy into existing employees' minds. Accomplish this through frequent internal training as well as external conferences/seminars that continually challenge you to rethink the way you do business.
This would mean that every current employee understands, believes in and lives the brand every day—concurrently understanding that any adverse action dramatically affects your perception in the market, thereby effecting sales. For example, if you were to ask any employee at the Mayo Clinic what the company stands for, the answer will be something like this: "The customer's (patient's) needs come first." However, to create the buy-in from employees, buy-in must be obtained (and lived) throughout the organization—including executive staff members—top-down.
The next step is to communicate/train new employees. One idea is to initiate pre-screening psychological profile tests and along with in-depth reference checks for all new hires at all levels (especially for those who are hired in direct customer touchpoint positions). Most major organizations have begun to implement such testing to help ensure that the prospective employee possesses the winning attitude needed to help the organization succeed.
Once hired, a marketing representatives should meet with every new hire within the first week in order to educate him or her about the importance of the brand—preferably in the form of a brief training session. These sessions (including those with existing employees) would include the following:
- History of the company and timeline
- Marketing (and sales) strategy
- The importance of the brand and how it effects business (key touch points & relationships) both positively (if executed properly) and negatively (if not executed properly)
- Brand image and what "we stand for" as a company and business unit
- Roles of each individual as a brand representative
Once all new and existing employees are trained, management must diligently monitor progress and performance to detect any departure from the path that has been set. Every meeting, training session and presentation should reinforce the brand and its importance. Performance evaluations should also incorporate the brand and the employees' contributions to living the brand. Evaluations should be bi-annual, at a minimum, so that employees understand the importance of the brand strategy.
A company's brand has tremendous value, and it is astonishing how many employees do not understand the power of the brand. As a result, it should be measured, quantified, reported and monitored consistently in an effort to continually remind all of the importance of the brand and how a decline in brand equity directly affects a company's financial performance.
Living the brand is an enormous step and dramatic culture change. However, if implemented and maintained properly—if you truly live your brand—the foundation for all other drivers of revenue and growth would exist. Excitement and synergy would prevail, performance and productivity would improve.
The proof is in the pudding—other world-class organizations have succeeded, and so should you.