BrandAssimilationBuilding Great Brandsand BusinessesMaking the brand thecentral focus of theorganization clarifiesfor any employeewhat is “on-brand”and what is “off-brand.”In the field or in anexecutive suite, it thenbecomes easier tomake the rightstrategic decisions.The whole organiza-tion will now have abrand lens in placeto make smart andstrategic brand-based decisions.Aligning Employees Around Your BrandCHICAGO • HAMBURG • HOUSTON • LONDON • NEW YORK • SAN FRANCISCO • TOKYO • ZURICH
4In today’s highly competitive environment, brandbuilding is no longer optional, it is essential. Yourcompany’s brand can and should guide critical businessdecisions as well as determine appropriate employeebehaviors. Adopting this brand-driven approach helpsfoster customer loyalty that will ultimately translateinto increased profitability and competitive advantage.While many companies recognize the value of apowerful brand, they often overlook the critical roleemployees play in shaping relationships with customersand instead focus solely on external communicationssuch as advertising, direct mail, and the like. Companiesthat focus their efforts on marketing communicationsalone are not only failing to fully capitalize on theknowledge and enthusiasm resident within theirorganizations, but may be also setting themselvesup for brand and business challenges ranging fromdisenfranchised customers to loss of shareholder value.United Airlines’ Rising campaign is a classic exampleof such a short-sighted effort. United launched animage campaign that was designed to elevate customerexpectations of the United experience. Because Unitedfailed to inspire or equip employees to deliver on thebrand promise conveyed in the advertising, what couldhave been a differentiating experience for customerscould not be delivered in the field and arguablydenigrated the company’s brand.The reasons to align employees around your brand arestraightforward and difficult to dispute:• It provides a tangible reason for employees to believe ina company, which keeps them motivated and energized.• It allows each employee to see how he or she fits intothe grand scheme of delivering the brand promise to itscustomers and the effect of these efforts on business goals.• It develops a level of pride tied to fulfilling the brand’spromise.• It facilitates recruiting as well as retention.• It confirms that the customer and the brand are thethings to focus on.Most important, making the brand the central focusof the organization clarifies for any employee what is“on-brand” and what is “off-brand.” In the field or in anexecutive suite, it then becomes easier to make theright strategic decisions. The whole organization willnow have a brand lens in place to make smart andstrategic brand-based decisions.It should be emphasized that building a brand-basedculture is not about creating short-term buzz.Rather, it is about developing a genuine and ongoingcommitment to the organization’s brand(s). To create abrand-centric environment, you have to ensure thatemployees are living the brand consistently on a dailyBRAND ASSIMILATION Aligning Employees Around Your Brand1Brand AssimilationAligning Employees Around Your BrandEmployees can make or break a customer’s experience with your brand. Takinga strategic approach to brand assimilation will ensure that your brand-buildingefforts create deep and lasting relationships with customers.
BRAND ASSIMILATION Aligning Employees Around Your Brand4basis, across functional areas, divisional boundaries,and geographic markets. Creating such an environmentis not an easy task, but it can be done, and brandassimilation is the key.Brand Assimilation DefinedBrand assimilation is a set of programs designed toensure that all employees understand and embraceyour brand and are able to bring it to life inside andoutside your organization. A successful and structuredbrand assimilation program will ensure that employeesunderstand the meaning of your brand and how it cantranslate into observable, actionable behavior. Whenpeople inside your organization deal with customers,prospects, or other stakeholders, they should think,speak, and behave in ways that create the kind ofcustomer experience and lasting impact that yourbrand aspires to deliver. With your employees alignedbehind your brand, you maximize the strength of thebrand and are able to develop a vibrant brand-basedculture. On-brand employee behavior will result inmore meaningful customer relationships that ultimatelytranslate to favorable business results.A recent Fortune article (May 2002) pointed out thecorrelation between employee alignment and the bottomline, noting that many of the companies on its “bestcompanies to work for” list enjoy stock returns wellabove industry averages. Southwest Airlines, for example(LUV), which topped the inaugural 1998 list has beena standout in the troubled airline sector, returning 26%per annum over the past four years. Similarly, biotechgiant Amgen, motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson, andretailer Lowe’s, all of which have appeared on Fortune’slist, each returned an average of at least 40% annually.Employees as Brand AdvocatesBrand assimilation programs are not just about one-time training, slogans, t-shirts, “rah-rah” events,or internal communications. In order to truly develop abrand-based culture, your brand assimilation programshould help each employee understand how his orher behavior can impact the entire organization.A deeper brand understanding will create a sense ofownership and satisfaction that trickles down to thecustomer experience.To get there, your employees will need to move throughthree primary stages, from merely being aware ofthe brand and what it stands for (“Hearing It”), tounderstanding their role in delivering against the brandpromise (“Believing It”), to finally becoming passionateadvocates for the brand (“Living It”).2Superficial“BELIEVING IT” PHASEConceptual“HEARING IT” PHASEEmotional& Personal“LIVING IT” PHASEREADY TO DEFENDACCEPTANCEUNDERSTANDINGAWARENESSCONTACTPASSIONATE ADVOCACYCULTURAL EXPERIENCEUTILIZE & INTERNALIZEPERSONALIZEREADY TO PROMOTETimeDegreeofSupportforChangeEmployee Motivation and MoraleMcDonald’s failure to demonstrate its organizational values and deliver on its brand promise – to provide outstanding service,quality, value, cleanliness, and to have every customer in every restaurant smile – resulted in customer dissatisfaction and loss ofrevenues. In 2001, a University of Michigan study on customer service ranked McDonald’s among the poorest performers relativeto customer satisfaction.The study found that on any given day, 11% of McDonald’s customers are dissatisfied with their visit andnearly 70% of the dissatisfied customers are further dissatisfied with the way their complaint is handled. Additionally, morethan half of all dissatisfied customers cut back on their visits to McDonald’s and told as many as ten other people about theirunsatisfactory experience.The top five complaints by McDonald’s customers were rude employees, being out of Happy Meal toys,slow service, missing product/wrong order, and unclean restaurants. According to the Michigan study, poor customer service maybe costing McDonald’s up to $750 million per year in lost business. (Source: University of Michigan Customer Service Study, 2001)Fiscal Impact of Not Living the Brand – McDonald’s
BRAND ASSIMILATION Aligning Employees Around Your Brand4To develop brand advocates, your first job is to generateexcitement around the brand and demonstrate thecompany’s thoughtful commitment to it. You must thenpresent a persuasive and convincing argument aboutthe value of the brand and ensure that employeesunderstand the impact of the brand and its positioningon their individual activities. If you do this well andreinforce it consistently, over time employees will beginto live the brand, instinctively, naturally, and withan ever-increasing fervor. The brand becomesan old friend to them, someone theyare proud of and want to defendand protect.Ensuring SuccessThe companies with strongbrand-based cultures have manyemployees operating out of a“living it” mindset for longperiods of time. These companiesare good at maintaining thosebrand-driven behaviors, with carefulmonitoring and periodic refreshment andreinforcement. They also had several fundamentalpieces in place before getting started:1.High-Level Commitment.It is crucial that a commitmentto the brand exists within your organization at thehighest levels. The impact of an executive endorsementfor brand-building activities should not be underesti-mated. If employees think that the executives believebrand building is a priority, they will embrace it as apriority as well. Hearing and perhaps, more importantly,seeing brand endorsement from a high-ranking mem-ber of the company can leave a strong and lastingimpression. Without leadership buy-in, support, andwillingness to lead by example, your brand assimilationefforts will fall flat.2. Clearly Articulated Brand Strategy. In order for brandassimilation efforts to succeed, it is critical thatyou have developed a long-term strategy foryour organization’s brand that is closelylinked to your company’s businessstrategy. You need to have a visionfor what your brand should standfor over time and how it supportsoverall business objectives in orderto identify near-term organizationalimperatives and, more specifically,to carve out well-defined roles foremployees. If employees are to serve asthe linchpin for bringing the brand to life,it is essential that the appropriate strategicfoundation has been laid and that employees have thiscontext for their efforts.3. Cross-Functional Team. You should pull together across-functional and cross-level team. Utilizing sucha team will accelerate buy-in of brand concepts andfacilitate sell-in of these concepts to the rest of theorganization. Keep in mind that change agents may3In 1994, Alberto-Culver North America faced declining sales and a fiercely competitive environment. Carol Bernick, the company’sPresident, knew that overcoming these challenges would require changing employee attitudes and instituting a cultural shift.The culture at the time was downbeat and discordant and was hindering innovation, creativity, and employee retention.Bernick began her mission by creating a new position called Growth Development Leader (GDL). These GDLs functioned aspassionate advocates for the brand, serving as mentors, role models, and liaisons between employees and senior management.Bernick began using employee surveys to identify areas for improvement and provide 360-degree feedback to management. Fromthese surveys, she produced a to-do list that ranged from eliminating compensation biases to refurbishing the physical officeenvironment. She changed the atmosphere by celebrating success, promotions, and routine events like anniversaries.Through these and other more customer-centric tactics, Bernick was able to eliminate Alberto-Culver’s patriarchal and secretiveculture with its top-down management style and achieve astounding results. By making culture a priority, Alberto-Culvercut employee turnover in half and successfully persuaded outsiders to join the team. Sales in 1999 were 50% higher than they werein 1994. (Source: Harvard Business Review, June 2001)Role of Brand Advocates – Alberto-CulverWithout leadershipbuy-in, support, and willing-ness to lead by example,your brand assimilationefforts will fall flat.
BRAND ASSIMILATION Aligning Employees Around Your Brand4reside anywhere within the organization – limitingbrand assimilation efforts to only senior level peoplewill reduce your likelihood for success. Effectivelymanaging your brand is a cross-functional, company-wide endeavor. Your brand assimilation efforts shouldbe too.The Role of Employee SegmentationWith this foundation in place, the first major questionthat you need to answer is tied to segmentation: Is therea role for a strategic employee-based segmentationmodel that drives the scope, depth, pace, and timing ofyour brand assimilation activities? One way to thinkabout strategically segmenting your employee base isdriven by an individual’s level and formal/informal influ-ence base and the probability that he or she will directlytouch either marketing communications or customers.Because each segment will have a different set ofexpectations regarding the brand assimilation initiativeand will be required to do different things if theinitiative is to be successful, thinking through yourassimilation program based on such a segmentationframework can be beneficial. As with external market-ing efforts, specific types of communications andexperiences can then be targeted and tailored forrelevance and impact for each segment. The timing andintensity of these efforts can then also vary. It does notmean that the other employee segments are ignored,but it does mean that you are focusing your time andenergy on the most relevant ones.A Three-Phased ApproachDespite the temptation to jump directly into the tacticalaspects of brand assimilation such as workshops, events,company intranets, newsletters, and the like, the mostsuccessful organizations take the time for considerablestrategic planning prior to executing their brand assimi-lation program. The three phases of a structured brandassimilation program are strategic development,foundation-building, and implementation:Brand assimilation is evolutionary and requiresdeliberate planning. As such, the first phase of astructured brand assimilation program focuses onsetting the strategic direction. Key activities during thisphase include defining the scope and objectives of yourassimilation program and segmenting your company’sinternal audience. It is critical that you use this phaseto identify the people, processes, systems and otherresources that will enable you to achieve yourobjectives and to anticipate potential roadblocks. At theend of this phase, you should be armed with a detailedroad map that delineates, by segment, your initialhypotheses around key objectives, messages, vehicles,timing and tracking for your program.4Senior leadership teamTop executives acrossthe organizationMarketing and communicationsmanagers from each business areaOther primary customer-facingemployees (for example, sales,customer service, service delivery,branch employees)Other employeesEmployee SegmentationWhat is the correct segmentation and mix of employees to target?The 3 Phases of Structured Brand AssimilationSTRATEGICDEVELOPMENTFOUNDATION-BUILDINGIMPLEMENTATIONActivities:Define scopeof programSegment company’sinternal audienceDevelop detailed18-month assimilationroad mapCreate metrics forgauging successDevelop materials andconduct workshops to“train the trainers”Identify key vehiclesfor company-wideimplementationPrioritize segments,messages, and schedulefor implementationConduct training andworkshops with allemployessUtilize internalcommunications tomaintain brand dialogMonitor and measureeffectiveness of planModify for adjustmentand improvement
BRAND ASSIMILATION Aligning Employees Around Your Brand5During the second phase, foundation building, muchof the heavy lifting occurs. The appropriate level ofbrand education for each segment is determined, and“train the trainer” sessions take place among keyemployees who can serve as potential change agentsand champions. By holding a series of brand workshopswith these individuals, you are securing buy-in for theinitiative and increasing understanding of the brandassimilation initiative and its benefits. Theseworkshops also provide the opportunityto understand what brand means foreach employee’s respective areaand how the brand can be usedto guide behavior. Based on thisdiscovery, you will then be ableto identify key vehicles anddevelop appropriate materials fora company-wide rollout of yourassimilation program.The final phase, implementation, iswhere the rubber meets the road. This phaseis critical in that assimilation efforts will now expandbeyond the relatively safe haven of change agents andadvocates to the larger employee audience. The emphasisis on leveraging the insights gained in the previous twophases to execute key communications materials,events, and other supporting experiences that will garnerbuy-in and change employee behavior throughout theorganization. As with all business and brandinginitiatives, it is important to monitor the reaction andresponse to the program and make adjustments to itas necessary.What is Not Measured is Not ManagedIf you are going to expend the time, money, and energyto create and implement a brand assimilation program,you will certainly want to know if your efforts havebeen successful. You will know that you have beensuccessful if employees are aware of the new brandinitiative, understand “what’s in it for me and thecompany,” and know how to deliver on the brandpromise. Your employees should also understandtheir role in deepening relationships with customers,have the practical knowledge and tools to excel, and beable to leverage your brand to help overcome businesschallenges.For example, when British Petroleum merged withAmoco in 1998, it seized the moment-in-time opportunityto rebrand itself and measure its success along the way.Utilizing a new, single corporate brand (BP), the com-pany developed a new brand identity and positioningand launched a brand-building campaigntargeting employees and the public. BPtook a survey of employees after theinternal branding campaign waslaunched. The survey showed that76% of employees felt favorablytoward the new brand, 80% wereaware of the brand values thatconstituted the new brand messages,and 90% thought the company wasgoing in the right direction. Thesemeasures helped justify the continuinginvestment of $25 million (per quarter) in thebranding initiative. (Source: Harvard Business Review, 2002)Stick WithYour ProgramIt is important to note that this type of change doesn’thappen overnight nor should it be taken lightly.Changing behavior and maintaining those changesrequires considerable time, resources, and diligence.A poorly planned or executed assimilation programmay, in fact, be worse than doing nothing at all. Anattendee at a recent branding conference told us thathis company’s misguided brand assimilation effortsultimately created more brand skeptics than advocates.His company held a huge brand kickoff party, but thenneglected to support any meaningful changes toemployee behaviors or the way business was conducted.This example highlights the risks of merely paying lipservice to branding initiatives. If, however, you pursuebrand assimilation in a strategic and committed fashion,you will be well positioned to reap the benefits ofa strong brand. Over time, you will build a brand thatresonates with customers, excites and motivatesemployees, and drives true shareholder value. ●Changing behaviorrequires considerable time,resources, and diligence.A poorly executed programmay be worse than doingnothing at all.