One of the essential lessons in brand building is, that if a company does not get its brand right internally, it will never get it right externally. And a big part of getting it right internally is ensuring brand and culture are intrinsically linked. With so many organizations currently grappling with this new world of remote and hybrid working, combined with the “Great Resignation”, a key to success lies at the intersection of brand and culture. Marketing and HR must work together to define and activate both brand and employee engagement strategies to recruit and retain talent.
It’s been almost 20 years since management consultant and author, Peter Drucker, told us that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”; and while he was not discounting the need for strategy, his comment on culture is truer today than ever. If your organization is about to embark on a brand purpose, strategy, or employee engagement exercise, here are a few things to keep in mind.
Treat internal audiences with the same importance as external
While many organizations value their employees, not enough have committed to treating them the same as customers. Most brand-related resources are still spent on marketing to customers and prospects, even though it is proven that employees are the greatest asset for many businesses. Companies that invest in employee experience are 4x as profitable as those that don’t, according to a study by Jacob Morgan for The Employee Experience Advantage.
When prioritizing audiences, rarely do employees take the top slots. There’s also a lack of real employee insights in many organizations. I’ve worked with far too many companies that, when you suggest doing employee focus groups or surveys to inform brand development work, say it is not needed; just talk to a handful of people and have a look at our employee survey.
Unfortunately, typical employee satisfaction surveys just surface some of the challenges. They were not designed – nor ask the detailed questions required – to provide enough insight to inform brand development. If you are investing in a rebrand, take a good look at your approach before you start the process. Try to make sure your internal insights work is at parity with the external – to ensure you are developing a strategy that works for your biggest brand evangelists, your people.
Move beyond purpose, to purpose activation
There have been dozens of studies and articles over the past decade highlighting the importance of defining your brand’s purpose – why your company exists beyond profit, products, and services. The reason is why employees and customers care and make it part of the criteria for deciding who to work for or buy from.
A Wall Street Journal study found that in 2018, almost 60% of Americans would “choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on its stand on societal issues”, compared to just 47% in 2017. More organizations have jumped on the purpose bandwagon, but what many have failed to do is activate it, demonstrating how it lives and breathes within an organization. It cannot just be a statement on your website if you want to be credible.
Clients often spend months discussing, researching and debating a statement’s words, but how it will come to life internally is barely considered before the c-suite signs off the strategy. We advise clients to evaluate the brand purpose and strategy concepts against how they can come to life internally, as well as externally.
Patagonia is a classic example of a brand whose purpose (“We’re in Business To Save Our Home Planet”) is activated both internally and externally. Employees can take two months off to work for an environmental group of their choosing while continuing to be paid. The brand supports employees acting on causes of their choosing. Patagonia even pays bail, covers legal fees, and pays employees for time off work to protest. And, with 4% employee turnover, the proof is in the pudding.
Employee expectations have changed and organizations need to follow suit
The pandemic has changed employee expectations. A few years ago, free lunches and ping-pong tables were valued daily perks by employees; but today, they are not enticing enough to bring people back to the office. What people want from their job, their employer, and their daily experience has changed. Companies are scrambling to figure out how to change with them.
IBM is known for inventiveness and collaboration, and demonstrated those attributes when defining how it would support employees during the pandemic. It made a pledge, posted on LinkedIn, that committed to supporting flexibility, humanity, and radical disruption of the strict work/personal life bifurcation. Not often do you hear a CEO saying you can put him on hold to save a glass your child is about to knock off the table. IBMers radiated the pledge, helping each other with some of the everyday but critical tasks, like picking up groceries or reading bedtime stories to kids of parents who were struggling to balance the demand of pandemic work and parental responsibilities.
The pandemic has opened our eyes to the diversity in employees’ lives. As such, organizations have a responsibility to now reflect that diversity in their policies, programs, and employee experience.
Employees hired during the pandemic often feel less engaged than those hired before. They have a harder time connecting to their organization. This is understandable as most of the tools and programs to support employee engagement were developed in a pre-remote or hybrid world. It’s been especially hard for younger employees who typically look to work as a source for their social life. They are also the ones who seek to learn from senior leaders.
But it’s not as simple as segmenting by junior versus senior employees; the needs and desires are different within each group. Your peer group can be comprised of people at very different places in life. Empty nesters, parents with young children, or child-free people are likely to want very different things from their employers and have different expectations of the brand. Organizations need to tailor employee engagement strategies and experiences, instead of assuming one size fits all.
By taking these steps, companies can use the power of brand and their employees to drive the company forward – which can also have a positive impact on their customers’ perception of the company. Consumers want to understand a company’s purpose and how it is delivering upon it. They also care how companies treat their employees – even going as far as looking at Glassdoor reviews when evaluating whether they want to buy that company’s products or services. So, net-net your brand strategy and the employee experience you deliver can impact your bottom line.