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This paper summarises the findings of a formal study conducted in late 2001. It argues that a singular approach - or blueprint - can form the basis for internal brand deployment.
HE ENCOUNTER BETWEEN the company and the customer has become the key management issue of our mar-
keting age. As a brand manager for a large service organisation, I had often read about the importance of aligning the customer experience to the brand promise. But, while I recognised the benefits of building a strong brand from within, I could find little practical advice on how to make employees effective brand ambassadors. Some authors suggested specific activities such as workshops (Gofton, 2000) or developing a ‘catalytic symbol’ (Murphy, 2000) that would signify a step change to employees. These singular activities seemed rather piecemeal, and therefore liable to fall foul of cynicism. My suspicions were confirmed by a casual conversation with front line employees who were evidently ‘living the brand’. The decision by British Airways to put its workforce through the Putting People First and Putting People First Again workshops had been widely-publicised in the marketing press. So, on a plane flight back from Cape Town, I asked the crew what they thought of the workshops and how effectively they
We have seen a shift in the role of the brand from a marketing tool to an organisational principle for business. In the best-managed brands, particularly service brands, values are practised by the entire workforce as part of everyday life and, consequently, all employees are ambassadors for their brand, often without even realising it.
had supported a change throughout the company. As front line staff dealing with passengers every day, they felt patronised by the training, believing they already supported the brand values. With no apparent evidence of change elsewhere in the organisation, the impact of this ‘soft’ training had been undermined by the employees’ lack of belief in a new order.
K. Gofton, Putting staff first in brand evolution (2000); C.Murphy, Instilling workers with brand values (2000). See end for bibliography.
2 In search of an ‘off-the-peg’ solution
NDAUNTED, I continued to make a nuisance of myself by asking the question: “How do I persuade the
employee who delivers the customer experience to embody the brand?” Discussions with consultancy firms revealed striking similarities in the way many organisations approached internal communications and training. However, they were reluctant to suggest a ‘one size fits all’ approach to building the brand internally on the basis that ‘every organisation is unique’. But are businesses quite as unique as they’d like to think? We all have employees, markets and customers. We work within broadly similar departmental structures. The same issues concern each of us on a day-to-day basis: communicating with customers; motivating staff; recruiting and retaining the right people; spending our budgets wisely; using technology efficiently; managing effectively. When I gauged the views of other brand managers at a conference, I was reassured to find I was not alone in desiring a framework to help my organisation ‘live the brand’.
The role of the brand manager is widely misunderstood. In my own organisation, I have heard myself described as Logo Cop. It strikes me that we need to be on especially solid ground before attempting to ‘brand the employee’.
3 Taking matters into my own hands
N ARTICLE ENTITLED Bank On The Brand (Interbrand Business Paper No.1), and published on www.brandchannel.com,
Stage 3 - Catalyst for Corporate Change Where the company has identified a need to improve, using brand strategically as an emblem of its vision and values. During this transitional stage of brand development, driven by a cross-functional team, the brand is used to motivate staff, raise standards of customer service and communicate with customers. Stage 4 - Centrepiece of Corporate Strategy Where the corporate brand is at the centre of business strategy. Typically, the CEO and senior management have agreed the brand strategy and positioning in parallel with the business vision so the brand is the embodiment of the company vision and direction. These findings confirmed to me that similarities did exist between organisations when it came to branding, and so a singular approach, or blueprint, could be possible.
inspired me to consider developing a blueprint of The article investigated branding within the financial services sector. It asked 24 financial institutions around the world how their principal customer brand was used and managed, both externally and internally, and revealed four specific stages of organisational brand development: Stage 1 - Visual Identification Where the brand is predominantly a naming device and has no clearly defined personality or relationship with stakeholders, especially employees. Stage 2 - New Subsidiary Development Where a sub-brand has been created which embodies the service promise, giving employees values and clues about how to behave towards customers.
The Four Stages of Brands in Financial Services, Interbrand (2001)
Stage 4 Centrepiece of Corporate Strategy Stage 3 Catalyst for Corporate Change
Role of brand within business strategy
Stage 1 Visual Identification Stage 2 New Subsidiary Development
Low Value of brand to business
4 My study and ndings
ORROWING DEFINITIONS from the www.brandchannel.com article, I contacted a number of well-known service
The brand owners who considered themselves to be developing sub-brands embodying the service promise (stage 2), or who were using the brand as a catalyst for improvements (stage 3), said that their effort was focused towards instilling brand values into people’s approach to work and, consequently, the delivery of the customer experience. There was no set progression through the stages. So, to embody the promise and provide employees with clues, a brand could develop from a naming device to become the ‘catalyst for change’ without the interim phase of sub-brand development. Brand managers felt it was possible for a wellmanaged organisation to be brand-driven from the outset; to make the brand part of the intrinsic fabric of the company. Based on the responses to my study, the stages of progression would be more fluid and so look more like this:
Brand Progression in Service Organisations
Or start here Stage 4 Centrepiece of Corporate Strategy Stage 3 Catalyst for Corporate Change Stage 2 New Subsidiary Development Stage 1 Visual Identification
brand organisations and conducted in-depth interviews with the brand owners to test the existence of the brand stages. In the interest of diversity, I looked at brands ranging across industries such as management consultancy, transport, communications, distribution and finance. The service-providing organisations in my study employed a variety of organisational structures and widely-different numbers of people. My study was exploratory in nature, looking at the different approaches brand managers used internally, comparing common themes and identifying possible trends. While conducting the study along academic lines (methodology and findings available on request), I was keen to make the focus practical so that, having satisfied my own enquiry, the results would be useful to other brand managers. What I found All of the brand owners were able to place their own organisation in one of the four stages. The majority agreed that their brand was developing internally through the same stages as the Interbrand model suggests. In all but two cases, intensified brand activity appeared to be driven by increased competition and consumer interest. These two organisations were monopolies whose brand activity had been driven by the CEO.
Role of brand within business strategy
Low Value of brand to business
5 The trends point to a single approach
TRONG TRENDS began to emerge that were true for organisations operating in diverse industries and subject to widely dif-
The number of employees is not a barrier to the advanced development of internal branding. Logic might suggest that brand deployment would be easier to manage, and therefore more advanced, in smaller organisations where communication with all employees is potentially easier. This proved not to be the case in my study. The organisations employed widely different numbers of staff, ranging from 400 employees to over 100,000, yet some of the larger firms considered themselves to be in the later stages of brand deployment. Defining core brand behaviours within the working context is a good approach in organisations with a high proportion of front line employees because it is easier to relate definitions to daily activities. In particular, two of the organisations had made forward strides by creating simple, practical communications targeted at front-line employees. Brand owners accept they are working within constraints and all see internal brand development as an ongoing challenge. There is a general acceptance from brand managers that they are working within culture parameters and constraints, and that all activities are part of corporate strategy. In my study, many managers identified activities that they would like to have developed further but could not for reasons of time, access to the particular audience or budget.
ferent market forces and internal pressures. This supported my original instinct that an over-arching approach to internal brand development could be constructed for service organisations. The trends are as follows: Brand activity is more credible in companies where brand management occupies a central strategic position. There was a strong correlation between companies that considered themselves to be more advanced in their brand deployment and those which identified branding as a central strategic function within organisational templates. Large companies use core employees as brand champions to help communicate the brand. The larger the organisation, the more likely it is to select key personnel to give credibility to brand deployment. ‘Brand champions’ are not always selected on seniority grounds but on the basis of peer-group respect; indeed, the most brand-developed organisations tend to select from a broader cross-section of employees. These advocates are trained specifically to support the initiatives.
Leadership drives internal branding, although financial incentives for senior management are generally considered unnecessary. Brand owners in this study saw the use of financial incentives to gain senior management support as a contravention of brand values. Only one organisation (which placed itself in stage 4) had targets and financial incentives in place. All respondents saw senior management as a vital component in brand deployment. They felt employees followed values demonstrated by management, whilst a manager whose behaviour contradicted the brand values immediately destroyed the credibility of the brand. Some ran workshops for managers to secure their commitment to the brand at an earlier stage. Brand budgets are centrally based and so become vulnerable during times when internal branding is needed most. People are most receptive to internal brand deployment when times are tough, yet this is precisely the time when budgets are most under pressure. All brand owners identified a greater opportunity for brand deployment and interest from employees when the business environment was more threatening. Yet, these were precisely the times, when all the respondents said that brand budgets were greatly reduced. Not surprisingly, there was an ele-
ment of frustration in the opportunity lost. Adopting some form of brand equity measurement based on the potential for conducting future activity could help keep budgets secure during difficult times. If the brand owner can secure the funds, developing HR policy aligned to the brand at the development stage really helps support the brand deployment. All brand owners who considered their organisations to be more advanced in brand deployment had developed their HR policies in this way. Brand consultancies help in developing the brand personality and potential approaches to deployment. All of the brand owners within this study had used specialist branding consultancies when developing the initial brand values or for advice when approaching deployment. Organisations tend to scope the brand proposition and values thoroughly before implementation. All of the service brands in this study appeared to have well-considered brand personalities and values. T ypically, the process involved collating existing information about the organisation’s cultural values and its market in order to develop a central
idea. This was then tested amongst both customers and employees. Common themes included a focus on added value and an emphasis on supporting ‘people’. Brand managers believe that internal communication channels should be evaluated in relation to the brand messages and new ones developed where necessary. In many of the organisations, brand owners said that they had to use existing communication channels, rather than dedicated vehicles. New approaches to communication, however, demonstrate the commitment an organisation has to deploying the new or refreshed brand. Indeed, one could argue that the channel itself is as important as the message in signifying importance of the brand.
If the business plan is the traditional corporate blueprint for ‘hard issues’, from pricing to location to capital resources, then an equivalent blueprint is required for ‘soft’ issues of personality and culture. After all, human beings are the most powerful influences on the way any business grows.
6 Internal branding: a blueprint
Chief Executive Officer Approves brand development Understands implications Understands level of support Understands cost
ASED ON THE FINDINGS from the study, an over-arching approach to branding can be developed which lists
Test with externals and customers
activities, from positioning the brand and its personality through to its internal deployment. What follows is unashamedly prescriptive: after all, this is a blueprint constructed for myself by myself. If you’re a brand manager, I hope you find it useful! Get the CEO involved In some organisations, the CEO will wish to steer internal branding activity; in others, the brand owner will need CEO approval to undertake it. Either way, the following actions should be undertaken as soon as possible by the brand owner: • Obtain a mandate for brand development • Agree on the extent of the development • Ensure that the CEO appreciates all the implications, including the support that will be demanded • Ask for a bigger budget! When embarking on this activity the parameters and scale of effort needs to be understood and clearly set out. The CEO will be more receptive to the idea of supporting internal branding if the brand owner can justify proposed activities by demonstrating the current brand value or its associated financial benefits. When discussing branding scope, it is important to recognise that the number of employees is not in itself a barrier to achieving a culture change, but will affect the scale of the task. Using a model such the ‘Brand Iceberg’ (Interbrand, 2001) might also help to illustrate the activities required and the potential size of the task.
Brand Team Scopes brand personality Uses all existing research Draws initial conclusions
Workshops to test with employees
Brand Team Pulls together findings Refines if necessary
CEO & Snr Mngt Workshop Develops look/big idea Develops values Develops meanings Understands reach & cost Understands brand fully
Brand Team Briefs the development plan Reach and costs Defines strategy
Chief Executive Officer Supports strategy Agrees to develop brand Agrees costs
Feedback and input into all brand activity
Brand Team Fully defines/concludes story Interprets all manifestations Develops all specifications Develops HR and support Develops visual identity
External Comms Brief visual identity Brief brand values
Support functions HR aligned Ops Spec aligned Recruitment aligned Training aligned
CEO/Snr Mngt Launch brand Specific event Cascade to follow All staff if possible
Brand Develop comms Use existing channels Appoint brand champions Develop new channels
An over-arching approach to internal branding
Brand team: scope and test the concept Gather all available market information which describes the company’s position and benefits. This should help in establishing the unique proposition that the brand will represent. Many organisations find it useful to employ consultants at this time to assist them in developing the brand. Once a concept is in place, test it both internally and externally. Internally, use workshops to involve employees as fully as possible and act upon contentious issues. Externally, do not just test current customers but include prospective audiences. It is important that the framework tests the concepts independently. Brand team: work through the findings with the CEO and senior management team Arrange a workshop for the CEO and senior management team. This will enable the senior management team to develop a full understanding of the brand, take some ownership by inputting their ideas and help it understand the implications and potential reach of the deployment across the whole organisation. Take the team through the findings, then work with the brand team to develop and refine the look and feel of the brand. Consider the ‘big idea’ behind the values and develop the brand meaning across a wide range of functional environments such as finance and customer services.
In practice, it may be difficult to get the CEO and senior management team together. If this is the case, build a brand team business case. Following the scoping process, produce a report describing the brand concept, the brand strategy for the organisation, the areas which would need to be developed for the brand to become part of the company values and the associated costs of this activity. Gain CEO approval Following either a workshop or presentation from the brand owner, obtain the CEO’s support for the brand strategy, and the approval of parts of the organisation which need to be aligned to support this and approve the funding. Fully develop the brand With the other members of the brand team, fully define every aspect of the brand and how it translates to employees. This includes not just the visual identity but the service specification, HR policies, training, recruitment, literature, communication and reward schemes. Start by understanding the ideal branded customer service experience (to a specific audience) and work back so that all processes are aligned. Then draw in experts from other business functions to support and provide input to the development.
Define core brand behaviours, particularly if the organisation has many front- line employees. Testing internal policy changes against objectives is also a useful activity. However, it is more effective to develop the groundwork before involving employees, rather than attempting to get a consensus upfront. Assign support functions Following this work, there should be a clear trail of changes within the organisation’s support functions which show they have been aligned to the brand. It is a business decision as to whether the support changes are implemented as they are developed or if they should be introduced as part of a launch. Communicate externally Following the brand development, brief the new visual identity and brand values to all external creative agencies. Often they will have helped develop the identity by working with the brand team. Communicate internally - with originality The types of messages (for instance, team briefs) and channels of communication (such as newsletters) should have been scoped as part of the overall deployment plan. Brand owners do, however, need to consider the audience experience and be confident they’re portraying the relevant messages. New and original communication tools should also be used where possible to give a distinct impression of change (for example, CDs and intranets).
However, attention needs to be given to their practicality and cost based on their intended audience. Empower employees To create an organisation which ‘lives’ its brand values, give all employees the opportunity to take ownership and offer valuable insights into the issues faced. For example, form working groups to look at specific issues, such as developing an operational service specification which adds value to the customer; or develop the office environment in a way which reflects the brand. If yours is a large company, use some core employees as brand champions to assist in communicating the brand. Hold a launch event If possible, persuade the CEO to launch the brand at an internal event attended by as many of the staff as possible (or just the brand champions, depending on whether this approach is used). Arrange workshops to create employee interest and demonstrate the commitment and importance of the CEO and senior management team to the brand. The activity needs to be supported with additional communications and tangible activities, such as policy changes, to remain credible. Cost will certainly limit what is achievable. Measure progress Put clear measures in place so that the progress of all activites undertaken can be clearly measured.
7 The value of a single approach
HIS PAPER PROPOSES that service businesses can follow a single model for internal brand deployment.
ARTICLES Gofton, K., Putting staff first in brand evolution, Marketing, 3 February 2000, pp 29-30. Interbrand (2001), Bank on the Brand, Interbrand Business Papers, No.1, 15 May 2001 on www.brandchannel.com or contact Interbrand.com Murphy, C., Instilling workers with brand values, Marketing, 27 January 2000, pp 31-32. MODEL Brand Iceberg Model in Interbrand (2001), Bank on the Brand, Interbrand Business Papers, No.1, 15 May 2001.
Although our business circumstances vary, there are similarities between all of us when it comes to people; it follows that the methods used and the issues faces when deploying brands internally are common to all of us. I hope my work has provided some useful insights, and shown that brand deployment cannot rely on a single activity, but should involve a sustained programme of alignment, communication and tangible demonstration of change to the employee. In today’s dynamic climate, in which organisations are diversifying, globalising or decentralising, an increased focus on the way their people behave can provide much-needed stability and motivation. I will be using this blueprint to enhance my brand, and hope it proves useful to other brand managers.
Matt Stevens, the author of this article is a brand manager for Royal Mail.
This article was based on study for his Masters degree. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
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