A brand is one of an organization’s most valuable assets. It is what differentiates us from our competitors, makes it easier to introduce new products and move into new markets and, when managed and nurtured, can stand the test of time. Entire campaigns are dedicated to brand launches and promotions. Yet in our drive to cultivate one of our most valuable assets we often overlook another: our employees.
First, let’s define what we mean by the terms “brand” and “brand management.”
Brand And Brand Management
When we talk about brand, we are not just talking about a logo, or even a brand name. We define brand as the intangible perception, the gut feeling, that our customers have about our product or service. Though we can never completely control how someone perceives our brand, we can try to influence it through brand management.
Brand management is often the physical management of assets associated with the visual elements of our brands. That’s logos, typography, color, even the copy in our ads and marketing collateral. Too often, these physical manifestations of our brand become our central focus. We document it all in a brand guide that then becomes a rulebook on how to maintain consistency for our customers. When that happens, the people who represent our brand each and every day tend to become an afterthought – or even worse, are given no thought at all.
Living The Brand
While our training efforts often include branded scripting, at some point our employees will need to go off-script. This can happen when there has been a service breakdown, or when there is an opportunity to truly exceed expectations. By ensuring that our employees not only understand the brand but can also apply it to their decision-making process at work, we create consistent customer experiences that reinforce our value and differences from our competitors.
To set our employees up for success in this area, we must create a program that communicates the brand in such a way that resonates with each employee, reverberating in their interactions with customers and with each other. The program should be so ingrained that it becomes force of habit.
Below, are 12 tips for a successful, sustainable employee brand education program:
1. Brand Audit
A brand audit allows us to evaluate our brand from the perspective of our customers, leadership team and employees. We use brand vectors to graphically map how our organization is perceived by these three groups and in relation to our competitors. The audit allows us to qualitatively measure the brand in order to determine gaps between the three audiences and how they can be closed, as well as find opportunities to further differentiate ourselves from our competition.
2. Align Your Brand From The Inside Out
Before we reach out to our customers, we need to make sure that our employees understand the brand and are dedicated to protecting it. This means that any brand activation programs need to start with the people charged with creating a consistent brand experience: our employees. This includes sharing advertising campaigns and marketing collateral (e.g., print, TV and digital) with employees before they hit the market.
3. Start From The Top
Brand alignment, along with brand engagement, start at the top. The leadership team must understand and agree with the brand before it can make its way down the hierarchical levels to the rest of the company. Knowledge of the company’s brand should be implemented in phases to ensure that each management level is fully engaged before moving on to the next level in the organization. The need to force engagement and compliance through “mandatory meetings” should be a red flag. Instead, focus on management development programs and brand workshops.
4. Integrate and Maintain Consistency
To be truly successful, brand message must be consistently integrated across all employee communications. Brand messaging goes much further than you think – it should be included in company-wide memos and banners in employee break rooms and back-of-house areas. While this is a great start, it is only the first step in ensuring the brand’s message is being consistently communicated in each employee touch-point. All employee-facing collateral, including training manuals, recognition cards, employee reviews and even job descriptions, should be reviewed to ensure that the brand’s values are reflected.
5. Give Employees The Right Tools
To “live” the brand, employees must understand it; and understanding the brand goes beyond being able to recite a few of its key values. Rather than simply memorizing them, help employees understand how the values came to be and how it is essential to customer experience. Then take their education a step further and give them the tools to communicate this to other employees as well as people outside the organization. This is where targeted phrasing comes in handy – just make sure that they also understand the meaning behind the keywords they have learned.
6. Get Them Excited
To get them invested in your brand, you have to get them excited. To get them excited, you have to make a personal connection. It’s much the same process as with your customers. Start by bringing the brand to life in a way that feels authentic for your organization. This may be through employee pep rallies, one-on-one meetings with their supervisor, or both! To make them feel involved, take this time to connect your employees’ individual roles to the brand’s purpose. Doing so will give them a sense of ownership and demonstrate that they play an integral role in the brand.
7. Keep the Momentum Going
Keep your employees’ excitement levels up and your brand value at the top of their mind by making the brand’s values and associations easily accessible. This can be done through your company’s intranet, employee newsletter, company workshops or training sessions, employee signage like posters, floor clings, wall wraps, contests, awards, appreciation events and performance reviews.
8. Hire The Right People
We cannot make people share our values. Part of the brand awareness process will lead to attrition, and this is natural. To secure ourselves against this, we must restructure our hiring practice. Rather than looking for someone who fits our culture, which can quickly lead to a “mob mentality”, we want to find people who fit our brand values. Take this a step further by using new hire training and onboarding as an opportunity to build engagement and momentum in reinforcing brand values.
9. Reinforce The Right Behaviors
By acknowledging and thanking employees whose decisions and interactions demonstrate brand values, we can reinforce these behaviors. Managers should share successes when they happen and encourage employees to do the same through a peer recognition program.
10. Lead By Example
It is not about what you say; it is about what you do. The leadership team doesn’t only have a responsibility to educate their employees but also to provide an example of what it means to “live” the brand. Company culture, after all, flows from the top to the bottom. If the leadership team, from supervisors to CEOs, does not itself demonstrate the brand’s desired values and behaviors, then how can their employees be expected to do the same?
11. Do An Annual Checkup
Each year, have your leadership team, employees and customers complete a brand survey. Revisiting this on an annual basis will allow you to track any changes in how your brand is perceived and where there might be opportunities for improvement.
12. Ongoing Program, Not Time-Boxed Campaign
Building a brand takes time. For internal branding to be effective, it must be an ongoing program, not a campaign with a fixed end date. It takes time to affect change, both in employees and in customers.
Each day, organizations are presented with opportunities to create memorable brand experiences. To make this happen, we must carefully craft an internal branding program that empowers our employees to make decisions that support our brand values. We need to help them see that they themselves are an integral, rather than peripheral, part of the branding process, and that their actions help provide a consistent experience to ensure our customers (and the brand itself) will be around for many years to come.