Brands need advocates, and a company’s best brand champions are its employees. These are the people at the front line of a company, building and maintaining relationships that directly shape how the brand is perceived in the public sphere. Every time an employee interacts with a customer, shareholder, suppliers or a fellow employee, they have the opportunity to reinforce – or break – a brand’s promise.
The key to building and maintaining a strong brand begins internally; is by building your brand from the inside. Developing a strong culture of employee branding, or internal brand alignment brings many benefits, including the ability to attract top talent, and better financial performance.
Employee branding is all about employees living and breathing the brand – knowing its brand story, and embodying its brand values. Employees need to know far more than just their company’s tag line or latest marketing campaign. They need to embrace and deliver it in action to customers and each other every day. Think of Virgin. A company doesn’t become part of the Virgin family by simply hanging a Virgin logo above their door. What is required are the values, attitude and way of being, becoming infused into the entirety of the business.
Without the brand being infused into the daily operations of the business, you run the risk of employees simply not “buying in”. And it is those areas of the business that affect employees the most, that is likely to directly influence not just attitudes, but actual behaviour. A classic example is Google. Google has famously delegated time for their employees to work on their own private projects with free access to Google’s immense resources. Geeks around the word drool at that kind of worker environment. What better way to send a message to its employees about the importance of innovation to the Google brand, than to get their employees freely innovating?
Management culture has changed dramatically in the last twenty years. The days of micromanagement and iron-fisted CEOs are truly gone. Today, executives require new tools and techniques to deal with the challenges of globalisation, empowerment and rapid technological innovation. Companies need to be cooperatively grown via aligned and engaged employees. The truth is that most employees want to be engaged by a company that’s exciting, that has a firm vision, and where input is valued and taken on board. When engaged this way, workers will be the best advocates of the business’ brand.
The impact of an engaged workforce has on a company’s bottom line can’t be overstated. The Global Workforce Study surveyed 90,000 employees in 18 countries. Their research found an uncontested link between levels of brand-engaged workers and financial performance. Essentially those workers who feel connected and valued by their company work with far more passion than those who don’t. Engaged employees also have a stronger sense of being able to impact their company, and this too adds to an emotional engagement with the brand. Having these factors in place is likely to result in a workforce eager to make the organisation succeed, by pulling them together for a common purpose, so that will be motivated by factors other than just financial reward.
Internal branding is also a very important way to retain and attract employees. Company’s with strong brands are far more successful at retaining their best employees than companies with a weak record of worker engagement. As companies are constantly competing for the best talent, many companies are realising how the power of leveraging of their brand in attracting and retaining recruits. While companies often understand branding when applied to the realm of products and services, few area aware of how to use it to attract talent. To really use it’s brand as a recruiting tool, it should think of recruiters as customers. Use extensive research to determine key competition, what sort of attributes matter to different types of recruiters and work out the best ways to meet them.
Employees only change their behaviour when they see tangible evidence that the brand is infused within the way the business is run. Brands can make the biggest impact by prioritizing areas of the business with the most power to influence employee behaviour:
1. Lead by example – There are a few ways that employee branding and engagement is built. It needs to begin with leaders within the business. Senior leaders need to show inspiration, commitment and communicate a sense of vision. Companies with the highest rates of employee engagement tend to have a charismatic CEO who is able to inspire their workforce with an engaging vision. Just think Steve Jobs of Apple, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Richard Branson at Virgin. Leading by example often entails senior leaders being more accessible to employees, and communicating honestly and openly.
2. Recruitment – begin with talent who already possess the primary traits of the brand, and you’re half way there.
3. Training – give employees the tools and knowledge required to deliver on the brand promise.
4. Management Incentives – define specific behaviours relevant to your brand’s values and bring accountability in to play.
Nurturing a strong connection between your employees and your brand will result in multiple advantages. Having engaged employees has had massive advantages for companies such as Virgin, Google, and Apple. Engaging workers will payoff in the strength of your brand externally, fostering a unique culture within the business and winning the ability to attract the best worker talent.