I once worked for a large, multinational software company. We had a strong vision and good corporate values and it was a great place to work. But I never quite felt the company’s vision and values actually connected to what we did on a daily basis. Many companies face this challenge to apply their guiding principles on a practical level. I didn’t think we had a well-defined brand, though all the pieces were there, ripe for a full-blown brand execution. We were well-respected, trustworthy, and our customers loved us.
Then, new marketing leaders came in and tried to move the brand a few steps in the right direction. The advertising became more inspirational, showing people how our software could help them do their jobs better, instead of rattling off a list of features and functions (as every other B2B software company seems to do). And while this was definitely the right direction, I always felt it wasn’t grounded in anything real. The claims weren’t grounded in a larger corporate Brand Strategy. Everything came from the marketing department, and we weren’t embracing the brand holistically as a company, deep down in our bones. What was finance’s role to play in that customer promise? Or engineering? Or even legal?
Then one day I saw an intriguing email go out. It was an internal email from human resources, showcasing all the recruiting sites that their team had implemented. I clicked around on some of these sites meant for outside recruits. They talked about sports teams and community events the company sponsored. I was floored by the information. First of all, as an employee I didn’t know half the things we were sponsoring as a company, yet HR was promoting these activities to people who didn’t even work there! I was on the grant committee and knew about our own office’s amazing community activities but not the work from our other global offices. This was all being presented to potential new hires as part of our brand. But I worked for the company and didn’t even know this was our brand and what we were portraying ourselves to be. It was actually kind of cool: I remember saying, “Wow! This is a company I would totally work for!”
Now, as I said, this was indeed a great company for which to work, but my issue was the fact that HR presented a brand to potential new hires that wasn’t quite the reality of working there.
And I knew this because I worked there and had experienced none of these things. I thought it was kind of sad that HR had developed a clearer brand for the company than its own marketing team. What amazing things could we have achieved if marketing and HR had been in lockstep on messaging? We could have been attracting more of the right customers and employees to truly live that brand inside and out.
Brand can be a huge recruitment tool for a company. I’m amazed more businesses don’t link up their marketing and HR teams and have them work together. Both groups are responsible for vital internal and external communications that should be aligned.
The marketing department can spearhead brand-building efforts but they don’t own brand evangelism: that’s everyone’s job.
If hiring practices are closely aligned with brand efforts, then the HR team can make better hiring decisions and attract the right kind of people, who will in turn embrace and live out the brand, thus further cementing it externally. And the cycle will continue. But if you don’t know your brand well, you can’t possibly determine if people will be a good fit for your organization or if their values align with yours. Brand can provide a litmus test to not only communicate the right things about your company to customers, but also to potential employees—and even partners.
If I’d followed my own advice, I’d have seen a red flag waving a mile away when I interviewed with a technology start-up firm years ago. In my interview with the product marketing manager, I asked, “What kind of culture would you say you have here?”
His answer was, “We don’t have a culture, but that’s why we need a strong marketing director. Marketing can create one for us.”
Wow. I should have run away right then and there. Marketing can craft and shepherd the right brand, based on market demand, competitive analysis, and customer feedback. It’s their job to take all of that information, synthesize it, and then figure out the best way to convey the right image and messages to the world in order to attract more sales and customers. And yes, it can even inform internal processes and policies if there is executive sponsorship from the top.
But marketing cannot bear the sole responsibility of forcing a culture or brand on a company. Brand is part of every activity and interaction so every employee has a role to play in fulfilling that brand promise. They have to know what it is, embrace it, understand it, and contribute to it. I believe great brand adoption starts at the top and rolls downhill. If the founder or CEO commits to a strong brand vision, verbalized and perfected by the marketing team in many cases, the rest of the company will fall in line. But if the person at the top doesn’t think brand is important and isn’t creating a mission-based organization, then the true assets of that organization—the people—will reflect that attitude as well.
Josh Levine of Great Monday, a business consultancy that builds brands from the inside out, calls this culture-driven branding.
“Programs that have the most effect are the ones that engage people within the company. It’s all about culture—the sum of the decisions that any one person or group makes,” says Josh.
How do you engage your people to understand and make better decisions about what they’re doing day in and day out? Josh says if you can teach your employees the company values, they will make better decisions on how that brand is expressed in their jobs. “Your people are making decisions time and time again, and a company’s money will be much better spent if it’s able to create and invest in a brand-education program that propagates itself.” If your people know why they are coming to work, they can align to your mission and help you achieve it. Give them a purpose and control over their destiny.
That’s the amazing opportunity available to entrepreneurs, small business CEOs, and startup firms. You are young and you are nimble. You’re closer to your customers and employees than large corporations. You have the power to create a brand as amazingly sticky as Apple, Nike, or Virgin if you want. But your Brand Strategy needs to start at the top and permeate not just advertising and marketing, but hiring, operations, customer care, finance, production, and every other aspect of your company. It can help determine the right people to bring into the organization and ensure they’ll be ambassadors for your brand.
Today’s post is from brand strategist, speaker and author Maria Ross of Red Slice, a brand strategy consultancy that helps start-ups, small businesses and entrepreneurs craft irresistible brands. The 2nd edition of her Amazon best-selling book, Branding Basics for Small Business: How to Create an Irresistible Brand on Any Budget launched on April 1 and teaches organizations what brand really is, why it matters to the bottom line and the 10 crucial questions that will help you make smarter marketing decisions that boost your business.
The post above is an exclusive adapted excerpt from the book.
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