Make Internal Brand Equity Strongest Piece of Value Chain

These days, executives have little more to hang their hats on than their organization's brand equity with stakeholders. Developing and maintaining this among each stakeholder group is a monumental task, but a very critical one. Communications executives almost unanimously agree that starting inside the company with employee engagement is the shortest route to overall branding success. "Companies that are quick to discern workforce drivers of engagement have a significant competitive advantage," says Paul Sanchez, former worldwide partner of Mercer Consulting (he recently retired). "More and more companies recognize that how employees perceive their work experience has an impact on business results." Numbers certainly seem to support Sanchez's statement. According to numerous studies, companies with highly engaged employees have significantly higher retention rates, customer loyalty, productivity and profitability as compared to those without an engaged workforce. Clearly, there is an impenetrable argument to be made that employee engagement with the internal brand makes a big difference across multiple benchmarks of success. With that, then, consider the following strategies for making your brand equity an unbreakable link in your value chain, starting from the inside out. *See where you stand. As is often the case with any communications initiative, the first step in increasing internal brand equity is research. "Review and analyze key data points, including employee surveys, workforce analytics, competencies, demographics and external brand research," Sanchez says. "Then analyze data for preliminary 'working' brand concepts." *Develop an integrated internal branding team. Sanchez identifies the point at which the employer's brand is created as the "functional intersection" of HR, marketing and communications. Thus, these departments cannot exist within silos; rather, they must operate collaboratively at multiple touch points. "Marketing aims to shape how customers experience the brand," Sanchez says. "HR must translate external brand values to employees. Communications plans and executes programs to ensure two-way communication with employees. Employers must formulate plans that incorporate brand values into how employees experience their work." These organizational departments encompass the broad spectrum of the groups that contribute to the internal brand. Specifically, though, input from individuals, including managers, supervisors, external stakeholders, senior executives and your most valued employees, is necessary to round out this integrated team. *Allocate resources to specific internal branding activities. The process of building internal brand equity via employee engagement hinges on a number of components, the ultimate combination of which is different for every organization. However, communicators must rank the importance of each component and decide how much time and money will be dedicated to each. Sanchez identifies the following "operating drivers": Confidence and trust in senior management Leadership visibility and communication Line of sight between individual performance and company performance Career growth and development opportunities Communications program Relationship with supervisors Recognition and rewards (for more on steps to establishing internal brand integrity, see sidebar) *Implement programs to achieve employee engagement. Within most organizations are different types of employees who could be categorized as unengaged and who are therefore the target of internal branding efforts that affect the external customer experience. Sanchez identifies four of these "types," and offers strategies for gaining their support: Hostile employees: Provide information and training about the benefits of the desired customer experience. Unaware employees: Provide training to build the knowledge of touch points and positioning. Unmotivated employees: Institute recognition and reward programs that support a customer experience-centric culture. Incapable employees: Develop skills and processes to design and deliver the customer experience. *Measure success. Execs always want metrics that measure the relative success of their efforts. Fortunately, in terms of increasing internal brand equity in the context of employee engagement, there are a number of measures, including: Savings in recruitment efforts Reduced attrition/turnover Improved customer service Increased external brand recognition Ultimately, Sanchez says, "The branding journey begins with understanding how your people contribute to the brand. Brand strength is in the hands of the last employee who has customer contact." PRN CONTACTS: Paul Sanchez,; Gregg Lederman, 10 Truths About Achieving Brand Integrity It's common knowledge that a brand's strength begins within the organization. In this vein, Gregg Lederman, managing partner of Brand Integrity, identifies the 10 truths that should be obeyed to give a brand--and, in turn, a company--the credibility it deserves: 1. A brand strategy is the ultimate business strategy, and often the least understood. "Brand integrity is the point at which your organization achieves its desired brand image while reaching business goals," Lederman says. "[It's the point] when employees, customers and prospects believe and experience that you are who you say you are." 2. True branding is about being different, not about saying different things. 3. If you think you know your brand image, you are probably wrong. "Ask employees what they think the brand is, and what it means to them and to customers," Lederman says. 4. Only wimps and egomaniacs are afraid to investigate their company's reality. 5. Marketing and advertising can kill your brand. 6. Behaviors and experiences make the invisible visible. 7. Employees are not your greatest assets. Your greatest asset is the employee who is engaged with the organization's goals. 8. Gaining buy-in is the only way to execute a brand strategy. 9. Most companies suck at capturing successes and recognizing people. "Most employee recognition programs fail because they are too exclusive, difficult to manage, focused too much on financial targets rather than behaviors and missing buy-in and training at the leadership level," Lederman says. 10. Only leadership has the power to ensure brand success. "Leadership has two types of power required for brand strategy success: purchase power and influence power," Lederman says. "They have the knowledge of the business objectives and high-level strategy, as well as the ability to keep people focused on core values, brand concepts, strategies and tactics that grow the company."

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