There are many lessons that can be taken from marketing and applied to HR. From the obvious point of how best to advertise a job to ways of spreading messages and training through an organization, marketing has been a source of useful innovation for HR for years.
One of the most powerful tools, and one of the most often misapplied, is branding.
The Surface Of The Brand
On the surface, brands are all about image. Consistent visuals, voice and style are important in getting the brand across. As a result, many attempts at internal branding focus on these features. It’s about matching Post-It notes, posters with the corporate logo, team T-shirts for away days.
The problem is that these are the surface features of a brand. They’re used to convey its real message to customers. But employees, already embedded within the organization, don’t need these things. It can even feel patronizing for someone who has helped shape policy or spent hundreds of hours answering customers’ questions to be treated as if a pen with a logo should mean something to them.
Brands As Values
The power of brands comes from their ability to get people’s buy-in, to get them engaged with an organization. In an era when employee engagement is so essential this is a great thing to tap into. But that means looking more deeply at the brand.
People don’t buy Nike because of the aesthetic quality of that swoosh. For anyone but a designer that’s an obscure detail to explore. What people buy into about Nike are the values it represents. The messages of boldness, courage, and a can-do spirit. Of living life fully and physically.
The swoosh is just a symbol of that.
If you want employees to engage with the brand, you have to do more to convince them. They see behind the logos and the slogans to the beating heart of your company, the space where they spend their nine to five. To create a sense of excitement around a set of values you have to make sure that the company lives those values.
So if your company claims to value clear, open and honest communication, then that’s something you have to start living by. Senior leaders have to clearly and openly share the thinking behind decisions. Policies and procedures have to be stripped of jargon and clutter so they’re easy to understand. Management practices built around evasion or deception have to be stamped down hard.
If your company lives its brand, lives the values that it espouses, then it will gain a deeper meaning for your employees, beyond merely being the space where they earn their pay checks. It will provide values that they can commit to.
In And Back Out Again
Using deep branding to improve employee engagement is a worthy goal in itself. But it also has an added bonus.
If you live the values that your brand represents then the cracks in your image will never show, because they won’t be there. Nothing undermines an institution like the image of hypocrisy. To take the example of Nike again, the discovery that the company was using sweatshop labor did great harm because it contradicted the values of health and opportunity Nike purported to represent. A government department claiming to support open democracy will come under fire the moment it keeps a secret.
If you live by your brand, it will show in every action your employees take, and there will be no hypocrisy to find. Everything will reinforce that outward image of the brand, delivered by employees who are passionate and committed.
So embrace the power of the brand. Embrace your values.
About the Author: Mark Lukens is a Founding Partner of Method3, a global management consulting firm and Tack3, a mid-market and not-for-profit focused consultancy. Most of Mark’s writing involves theoretical considerations and practical application, academics, change leadership, and other topics at the intersection of business, society, and humanity.