living the brand

There is a widely held belief that employee commitment to an organisation's brand can be achieved through adroit internal marketing. Senior managers and communication departments live out this belief every day, assuming with Pavlovian certainty, that if they tell employees to be innovative, customer-focused and inspirational (or whatever the corporate/brand values might be), employees will be exactly that.

Research from around the world undermines this ideal. The rather disappointing reality is that for all the talk of employee centric behaviour and the documenting of the benefits for those organisations that genuinely encourage participation and involvement, most businesses do not engage employees with their vision and values.

Research among Swedish companies by TEMO (2002) found that 31% of employees did not believe in their employers" vision and values; a Gallup study of US workers (2003) found that 70% were either not engaged or were actively disengaged at work; a research study by tompeterscompany among business professionals in the US (2002) found that 90% did not understand how to represent the brand effectively.

Some organizations manage to overcome these challenges, by recognising that communication is but one element in a total process of participation. Rather than using a top down approach to defining their values and then disseminating them to an unlistening audience, these companies engage in organisation-wide dialogues.

This method has several virtues: it is much more likely to create an authentic definition that can work for all employees; communication becomes less important as people have often already embarked on a voyage of self-discovery (a far more powerful way of learning than being told something); and people begin to relate ideas back to the overall business.

We believe in a highly participatory approach to living the brand. Our experience and research shows that top down approaches can be quick and easy, but they donít deliver employee commitment or real value.

Of course this method involves a long-term, organisation-wide programme of participation and learning. This is something we can help structure and deliver, but ultimately the business has to be prepared to take on the commitment to engage employees with their corporate purpose. That is a real challenge, but it also offers real rewards - not least in the enhancement of the brandís value.

Our Living the Brand experience includes: Telenor, Wallenius Wilhelmsen, UNICEF, Philips, The Economist Group.

Our research suggests some of the reasons behind the lack of identification among employees with their organizations.

First, managers often rely on a marketing based language to persuade employees. However, employees are remarkably cynical towards the tendency to exaggeration that is so prevalent in marketing communication. We found companies that had made significant investments in creating high quality brand books, value statements and intranet sites, but which employees ignored, or in one case, 'adbustedí, because it was seen as inauthentic propaganda and sloganising.

Second, most employees have real jobs to do. They have to create systems, deal with customer enquiries and develop new services. Fluffy sounding statements about brand and values seem to have little relevance to such people as engineers, bankers and pharmacists. Drowned by a sea of communication, this is exactly the sort of message they can discard as unimportant.

Third, there is little attempt to attach the brand to the overall organizational strategy and to demonstrate its value to business performance. This makes the brand seem ephemeral and unimportant to day-to-day work.

Questions that are answered by Living the Brand

For more information on living the brand please contact us.

'In a competitive world, organisations are realising that only people can brand products or services effectively - that we are not just selling a branded product but a mass of branded people who support and deliver it.'

Helena Rubenstein