5 steps to building an engaging brand experience

A brand experience platform can help to bridge the marketing/HR divide to drive tangible bottom line results, writes Karen Monaghan

With today’s consumers considering the values and cultural attributes of businesses before purchase and preferring to transact with those they trust and respect, responsibility for brand values and the brand experience can no longer be split between employee and consumer.

Employees are brand ambassadors, consumers are potential employees and on it goes.

In a world where brand loyalty is harder to gain and almost impossible to keep, a culture focus is vision critical. As such, the long-held belief that HR owns the employee brand and marketing owns the consumer brand couldn’t be more wrong.

Building a strong culture starts on the inside. Until now, this has largely been the responsibility of HR leaders. However strong cultures evolve when the vision is shared and supported by the CEO and executive teams. In my experience, though, executive teams rarely play well together in the sandpit. They are too busy competing.

For businesses to thrive in today’s ever-changing marketplace, we need a ‘new normal’ leadership that does away with the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality.

“Building a strong culture starts on the inside”

In the Radar Journal, Tod Martin writes about such a style of leadership. He says: “How you lead is difficult because leadership has become, more than ever, a team sport. A leadership team’s ability to become more adaptive requires not just individual change, but collective and coordinated change.”

Effectively, the onus should not fall on either the marketing department or the HR function of a business to lead it through change. Either can take up the mantle, so long as both are united in the desired outcome.

Case in point is consumer goods conglomerate, Procter & Gamble (P&G). In 2001, the business was losing market share, had recently lost its CEO and was coming to terms with a complex restructure when Jim Stengel joined as chief marketing officer (CMO).

Stengel led a deep dive into understanding the lives of consumers, as well as the internal challenges of the organisation. He created a community of business journalists, academics and thought leaders to look into the inner workings of the business. He believed that if he could get the outside world to have a conversation about the brand, it would impact internal behaviour.

“When the leadership team is not in sync, the experience will be compromised”

The P&G turnaround was a team effort, led from the top, with Stengel, as CMO, playing a critical role in building employee pride through conversations in communities and media. He was able to bring the consumer perspective to influence critical organisational decisions.

But not every organisation has the good fortune or the budget to hire Jim Stengel. So what can be done, then, then to bridge the gap between marketing and HR for the benefit of the company?

Designing a brand experience that reaches the touch points of not only the consumer but also a brand’s many stakeholders including its employees is a powerful business solution to solve this challenge.

An all-encompassing brand experience

Marketers traditionally focus on consumers when designing brand experiences but the approach is so much more than a marketing channel.

Creating experiences that enable your audience to be hands on – whether that’s smelling, tasting, touching, feeling, collaborating, influencing – has been proven to build engagement with your brand. And it makes good business sense to create brand experiences with a business-wide approach.

“A brand is a living entity, it changes year to year, CEO to CEO, culture to culture, and with each employee cycle”

In the words of renowned marketing consultant Simon Sinek, “When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.”

Still not convinced? Jacob Morgan, author of The Employee Experience Advantage analysed the employee engagement ratings of 250 organisations. He found those that invested heavily in employee experience were

  • 28 times more likely to be included in Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies,
  • 11.5 times more likely to appear in Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work,
  • 2.1 times as often on Forbes’s list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies,
  • 4.4 times as often on LinkedIn’s list of North America’s Most In-Demand Employers.

They were also twice as likely to be listed in the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

Morgan also found companies that invest in employee experience are four times as profitable, a figure supported by a Gallup poll that found companies with highly engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147 per cent in earnings.

“An integrated brand experience platform has the ability to act as a Trojan horse to solve business challenges”

As Marilyn Carlson Nelson, former CEO of Carlson Companies said in 2008: “If you haven’t captured the hearts of your employees, they won’t capture the hearts of the consumers.”

You get the picture. Engaged employees are as much if not more valuable than engaged consumers but how do you develop an approach that creates both? it’s that bit in the middle where it can get sticky – the ‘How To’.

5 steps to building and embedding an internal brand experience platform

1. Brand engagement task force

Start by building a multidisciplinary cross-organisation team to champion brand engagement. As a first project for this team, why not bring the brand story to life with an initiative co-funded by the marketing team.

Commission a brand book that can be used across all stakeholders and audiences for induction of employees, board members, franchisees, dealers and channel partners.

2. Understand where you are and where you want to be

Work out where you are at. What is the current experience for our team? What’s working? What’s driving those outcomes? What’s your biggest problem right now?

Next, look to the future and establish the business and communication goals.

Then conduct research. Find out how you compare to other organisations. Who are your potential employees? How would you describe your own culture? What cultures do you admire and what are your unique propositions and strengths?

Take the example of Google. Google staff start out as Nooglers. For weeks, they are immersed in the history, the learning, the rules of engagement, what Googliness means, the vision for the organisation and more. They do a deep dive into the brand and where it came from before becoming a fast-moving part of the future of Google.

3. Identify the strategic plan and story

Ask yourself what is emerging from these insights? What is the core theme ­– the seed of an idea from which all communications and activities can spring? Develop your positioning statement, a campaign look and feel and key messages.

4. Engage your leadership team

Work with your leadership team using a strategic alignment with marketing to influence the strategic platform and prioritise brand experience. This is critical.

When the leadership team is not in sync, the experience will be compromised.

5. Test, learn, adapt then evolve what works

There is something to learn every step of the way and it pays to demonstrate to your team that you were watching, listening and will be improving.

Demonstrate that you appreciate their involvement. Welcome their feedback and include them in the planning for the next chapter.

A brand is a living entity, it changes year to year, CEO to CEO, culture to culture, and with each employee cycle. Internal communications should never cease evolving accordingly.

A smart investment

Building brand champions within the organisation who communicate their passion for the brand is vital for businesses looking to survive today’s climate of disruption and digital transformation.

But it goes beyond that. An integrated brand experience platform has the ability to act as a Trojan horse to solve business challenges.

When you adopt this approach across the leadership team it doesn’t matter if it is the CFO and HR director leading the next merger and acquisition, the CIO transforming systems and processes, or the CMO launching a new product range, the leadership team all have something to gain from the commercial benefits that roll from a brand-invested and passionate team.

Consistent, engaging business-wide brand experiences will allow you to work through any disruption.