The best way to differentiate an organization’s brand is through its members of staff. Converting staff into enthusiastic brand advocates gives an organization the needed competitive edge and upgrades stakeholder services.
Members of staff are walking, talking advocates for the brand. Yet, the majority of institutions spend little time, attention or money on internal marketing and branding. It is quite challenging to stand out and capture the attention of the stakeholders. Energizing the internal force behind the brand is the secret to getting and keeping the stakeholders’ attention and loyalty. Aligning the brand on the inside is more important in many ways than marketing the brand on the outside. Members of staff are critical to brand differentiation. The only thing not reproducible is the people who make up the organization’s personality and, therefore, create its uniqueness.
When members of staff are brand advocates, they create brand differentiation. Members of staff should–and can be—the most valuable brand champions. An organization should carefully assess several key elements in the organization that strongly influences the ability to deliver on the brand promise. A tentative list of actions is listed below. If it is obvious that one or more of these key actions do not align, then the organization may be falling short of its potential.
1) Align business and brand strategy
Stakeholder’s relationships fuel success. Brand strategy must promote loyalty-based relationships by defining a relevant, differentiated and credible value proposition. Such success is achieved by ensuring the product and/or service quality is consistent with the value proposition and the brand promise. Make members of staff repeatedly aware of the brand promise and values of the organization. Support customer expectations through every interaction and purchase. Failure to live up to the brand promise will quickly depreciate brand equity and ultimately the PERCEPTION of the organization.
2) Give members of staff something to believe in
Branding is more than a logo and tagline. It is the organization’s promise. It is what people see and understand about a corporation: the corporate image, reputation and what they stand for. It is built over time, with the members of staff working together as ambassadors of the brand strategy. Internal branding is ultimately about the creation of human meaning. Members of staff must fully believe in the brand’s higher vision and meaning, i.e. going beyond the product or service being sold. They then passionately advocate the vision, and see it as a means by which not only the organization, but also they themselves, can become self-actualized. In short, the brand must be so powerfully appealing that not only the organization but also individuals within it find self-fulfillment in aligning themselves and their behaviors with it.
3) Hire brand ambassadors
Granted, finding and keeping members of staff who are brand advocates is more difficult than just finding an employee. Brand-advocate members of staff must either be systematically found or created from within through commitment and promise. At a minimum, an organization must ensure that the customer and members of staff’s perception of the brand are aligned. In this era of increasing demands on organizations, it is imperative that the entire institution be brand focused. The members of staff make the difference for their stakeholders between the brand idea and the brand reality.
4) Empower brand ambassadors
Members of staff who like their jobs usually have a strong opinion and knowledge of the brand, and they communicate this to stakeholders. Given this, many organizations now realize the importance of staff members’ empowerment. Rather than telling the members of staff what the brand is, employers should exchange ideas with employees and allow them to feel ownership of the brand–to be part of the defining vision and action of the brand, and to translate it as it applies to their role in the institution. This scenario creates a win for both staff members and the organization. If members of staff feel they « own » problems, stakeholders will feel like someone is really listening to them and helping them find a solution to the problem, rather than just going through the motions. The understanding and empowerment a staff member can offer goes a long way towards creating a stronger brand.
5) Strong support from management
One cannot succeed in creating a strong brand without the support of senior management. Obvious management support and leadership will drive consistent brand behavior. Because the leadership team drives brand credibility and commitment, every manager should be outwardly invested in the success of the organization’s brand. All managers must demonstrate that internal brand alignment is a priority through their commitment to brand goals, values and behaviors and through the execution of the brand promise through every action (process, procedure, activity), both internally and externally.
6) Create employee responsibility and accountability
Middle management is the key to delivering the brand promise. Their role is to infuse their teams and their operations with a practical commitment to living the brand. This practice applies to administrative functions as much as to projects and services to stakeholders. In this way, the brand becomes the platform for focusing staff attention outwards, towards the stakeholder priorities that will secure the future of the organization. It often involves changes to processes, incentives, training and management style as much as communication.
7) Cultivate staff member participation
Members of staff should be educated on the importance of the branding process. Management should let them see how building brand awareness, brand perceived quality and brand loyalty requires their help. It should emphasize that they must monitor themselves and follow their guideline book, religiously reinforcing to each other the importance of always supporting–and never detracting from–the brand. All of this should be done with the same enthusiasm one gives to rolling out new ideas or projects or new services.
8) Design continuous performance measurement and feedback
Accountability drives results. A coherent brand evaluation program with objectives, growth measures and celebrations of achievement is vital for sustaining the momentum of internal brand alignment Regular stakeholder feedback to monitor the effectiveness of the brand delivery serves two purposes: It determines how successfully internal managers are translating business strategies into compelling value propositions. It also creates a staff feedback loop to assess stakeholder acceptance of and satisfaction with the brand promise.
9) Energize the « force within » daily
What makes the difference between an average brand and a great one? Members of staff who actively and enthusiastically engage in delivering the unique brand promise day in and day out.
An average brand becomes a great brand when members of the organization live its values; that is the key ingredient for world-class performance. Aligning the organization, operations and culture around the brand values brings the promise to life. A corporate brand stands for the relationship that an organization has with its employees, as much as it represents the relationship that it has with its customers through its product and service offering.
10) Nurture the two-way street between staff and management
Internal branding is not a one-way street. To get the greatest benefit, internal branding must be a dialogue. After all, members of staff are a great resource of information on the brand. Their perceptions, experiences and interactions should be used with stakeholders and management to research and establish the brand message. After all, members of staff are the heart of the organisation -who better to offer valuable input into the brand and the resulting stakeholder experiences?
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