Our Thinking

Leading with Brand: How the Corporate Brand is Relevant to Employees

July 2018

By Michael Watras, Chairman & CEO

Corporate brands can be a powerful tool to connect CEOs to company stakeholders. As we explore brand’s importance to each stakeholder group, we must start with the employees. Why employees, rather than customers? Aren’t customers the key stakeholder, the ones that a brand must attract and engage in order to succeed? Well, yes, but it’s the employees who represent a corporate brand to the world. That’s why brand is so much more than a logo treatment — it’s the sum total of perceptions about a company and its offering.

Brand connects with customers through employees

For many B2C and almost all B2B brands, the customer connects with the brand through an employee. As the old fashioned sales model is disrupted and transformed, employees are becoming ever-more crucial brand ambassadors. An employee may be the only representation of your brand a customer ever encounters, giving them quite a bit of power to influence the customer’s opinion of your brand. Therefore, it’s vital for employees to not only understand your corporate brand, but to be invested in it and aligned with it in everything they do.

The CEO, the corporate brand and employees

In large, global companies, employees may never meet the CEO, let alone personally understand the company mission and vision from the CEO’s perspective. Therefore, the corporate brand is probably the most critical connection a CEO has to employees. If employees don’t buy into the brand and support it, the brand will fail.

In order for a brand to succeed, employees must understand it, believe in it, and connect to it at every level. Messaging must flow from the brand, expanding on it and supporting it. A single, cohesive messaging platform can promote alignment throughout the enterprise, among all departments: marketing, HR, communications, and beyond. If you are a global organization, aligned messaging can unite and inspire employees all over the world.

This is usually an area where the brand is most at risk. Many corporations still struggle with this issue, and a branding consultancy can help by creating brand messaging and providing clear, comprehensive guidelines on brand usage. These are the pieces to the puzzle that employees often miss, because they are focused on their responsibilities and don’t have the opportunity or tools to link what they do on a daily basis to how the company is positioned in the world.

Corporate brands as a tool for recruiting

According to the Harvard Business Review, CEOs have taken note of how brand can positively impact employees. As corporate brands play an increasingly important role in securing future talent, CEOs are also taking a larger role in recruiting by shaping the employee-focused aspect of their brand. It’s easy to see why: top companies with strong, recognizable brands tend to attract more applications, and these applicants are more predisposed to accept a job offer. (On the flip side, Corporate Responsibility magazine surveys indicated that recruits were five times as likely to refuse an offer from a company with a negative reputation.) Over half of the CEOs interviewed by the publication cited long-term recruitment as the greatest strategic role of their internal brands.

Brett Saunders, CEO of Allergan, certainly shared this sense of responsibility. As Allergan grew, he recognized that its success would not come from a successful M&A strategy alone. We worked together to create a simple, yet powerful core idea —  Bold for Life — to transform the corporate brand, rally employees around a clear sense of purpose, and better align internal and external communications. Allergan’s mission-driven passion is clear to all employees, from new hires to seasoned veterans. The strong brand also helps integrate and inspire employees that come to the company via acquisition.

Corporate brands as a tool for retention 

Not only can brand be used as a tool for recruitment, it’s also instrumental for retention. Current research predicts that the average American will hold around 12 jobs in his or her lifetime. Those companies that pine for the “good old days” are missing an opportunity to build a loyal and dedicated team around something more powerful than pensions: purpose.

Brand inspires employees and gives meaning and purpose to the work they do. Aligned to a purpose, employees work harder, bringing their heart and soul (and their brain and creative ideas) into their work. And when employees feel they are part of something, they aren’t as likely to be tempted by greener pastures. We find that this is especially true of our nonprofit clients — when employees feel connected to a higher purpose, their dedication increases.

However, this phenomenon isn’t limited to organizations whose sole purpose is doing good in the world. For-profit companies can also inspire and align employees through a strong, purpose-driven brand.

Conclusion

Brand can be a powerful tool to ignite the interest and dedication of potential, newly hired, and seasoned employees. Brand represents what is most important and unique about a company, packaged in a way that employees can pick it up and run with it. Employees represent the company to the world, so it’s important for them to understand the brand, connect with it, and express it properly. When employees are aligned with the corporate brand, brand can be a conduit for communication that flows from CEO, to employee, to customer.

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Straightline is an international brand strategy and design consultancy. We work with leaders of global and emerging businesses to develop brand strategies and creative solutions that help organizations improve their business and bottom line. To have a conversation about your brand, contact us.

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