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March 23, 2005
Branding to Your Most Important Client

You are one of the top managers in your company. You’re on the phone with your boss talking about how well your department is doing when there's a knock at your door. You put your hand over the receiver and tell your favorite employee to come on in. She enters, acknowledging your phone call, and sits down. She’s here for her annual performance review. You take your time finishing up your call. No need to hurry. You smile to assure her that you'll be done soon. She smiles back. Seemingly, all is business as usual. As you hang up, you reach for her performance evaluation on your credenza behind you and swing back to your desk, ready to discuss her outstanding performance and the great raise you are giving her. Your most valued employee, however, hasn't come to discuss her performance. Instead she has come to resign. She is leaving the company! "Wait!" you say. "I've got great plans for you. This is the year I was going to let you run the department presentation at the annual meeting. This year it's a double digit salary increase and sushi every Friday, steak even”. Unfortunately, all your offered temptations are for naught. She is excited about the great opportunities and challenges her new company is offering her. She tells you what a great brand they have. She thanks you for the great opportunity you provided, shakes your hand and leaves. It strikes you as ironic, as you sit there glumly, that just a short time ago she was excited about your company, your brand and about you being her boss. She was a great hire on your part, you reflect, contributing mightily to your goals and with great potential.

You conclude finally that it’s probably a values issue, “these GenX’ers don’t appreciate loyalty.” Perhaps it’s the tight market conditions, “I can’t believe what some companies are offering these “kids”, you tell your manager. Oh well, not much you can do about it, it’s the state of this crazy “me-driven” world. Finally, you resign yourself to her leaving and begin the hiring process, again!

Scenes like this unfold every minute of every working day in companies. Surprisingly, organizational leaders and managers routinely accept this outcome and plod on as if it were beyond their control.

Successful companies and their leaders however are discovering that we can do something about it. Better yet, the realization has finally set in that we can’t afford not to do something about it.

The employment issues for companies have remained the same for the past few years. Specifically finding the best talent available, hiring them and then keeping them engaged continues to be the biggest challenge for organizations. Yet this very challenge has provided the impetus for many organizations to attack employee selection and retention with a vengeance.

As a result some great ideas are taking shape on how to maximize human capital and it all begins with accepting the fact that, like we do with our products and customers, we must have marketing strategies in place for our employees. Hence, the practice of internal branding has exploded upon our world.

At the root of internal branding is the fundamental belief that your employees are your most important customers, and that their emotional engagement in your brand and their willingness and ability to deliver your brand promise begins with your marketing to them.

Having an internal branding strategy may be the most obvious, yet overlooked tactic in engaging employees. Ask yourself, what do your company and products stand for, why do they exist in the first place and do your employees deliver on your brand everyday and in everyway? Clearly linking your external branding efforts with your internal branding efforts is crucial to this process.

The question then becomes how do you market your brand to your employees? Here is a four point marketing approach that we believe will help:

1. Engage your employee.
If you can get their emotions churning positively, their minds and bodies will follow. A thorough understanding of your workforce, their personal and professional drivers, their needs and aspirations are all critical parts of the marketing strategy. We’ve known this to be true for consumers, but have been terribly remiss in applying this thinking to our own employees. Do not assume that employees believe in your products and mission just because they show up to work everyday.

2. Communicate your brand to your employees.
The typical company will advertise its brand and its inherent promise sometimes thousands of times, in multiple mediums, from print to broadcast. Further the communication is segmented to very specific audience demographics. Yet when it comes to employees, brand communication is generic and disseminated, often dispassionately, via quarterly employee meetings, periodic employee newsletters (usually prepared by non-marketing types) and maybe a few ad hoc e-mails. No wonder we have varying degrees of engagement! We have always known that product exposure is key to acceptance by consumers yet we expect our employees to fight for the company cause after a one-hour meeting! Communicating to the nth degree and in a language that your employees will understand is an approach that will yield vastly different results.

3. Continuously court your employees.
Despite the “free agency” mindset that recent market conditions have perpetuated, the single biggest reason employees leave their organizations is because they don’t feel appreciated or understood. Coincidentally, it is also the primary cause for divorces in our society as well as great source of discord between parents and their children. Training your leaders how to ensure that they listen and explicitly show their appreciation for their employees is one of the most effective steps that companies can take. Again, knowing your employees’ motivational drivers is where it all begins.

4. Letting the experts help.
With all due respect to Human Resources professionals they are not marketing experts. If you accept the premise that you must market to your employees, then inherent in that premise is getting your marketing experts to participate in the development of the internal branding plan.

In summary, hold your leaders responsible for understanding that it all begins with the way they view their employees. Like customers, they must be courted, nurtured, constantly inspired. Above all your employees must always be made to feel like your most important customer.

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When agencies and clients need to improve their internal teamwork, they call upon Sheila Campbell. Sheila is president of Wild Blue Yonder, a consulting firm specializing in strategy for marketing-oriented companies. She is co-author of Retreats That Work: Designing and Conducting Effective Offsites, and frequently conducts workshops for the 4A's.
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