Brands Are For Employees First, Not Customers

by Bruce Kasanoff on July 2, 2012

(2nd in a series of articles on UnderBranding) – As Michael Hinshaw and I outlined in Smart Customers, Stupid Companies, the disruptive force of Social Influence means that there are almost always countless other people between a company and its customers.

Imagine a jeweler trying to sell an overpriced necklace to a customer while 8,000 people are in the room chanting “Too much, too much!” and you get the idea.

It will only get worse. Customer reviews and recommendations, blogger posts, price comparisons, apps and a range of services we can’t yet imagine will all lessen your company’s ability to use traditional tools (advertising, design, communications, packaging…) to influence customer perceptions.

At the same time, traditional media is fragmenting and fighting for its life.

Now for the good news

UnderBranding is a new way of thinking about brands. It proposes that brands must be linked with the right compensation, culture and conditions at a firm. It also suggests that brands are more important to employees than customers.

Fortunately, it has never been easier for a company to communicate with its own employees. The same forces that are disrupting relationships between companies and their customers – smart wireless devices, apps, pervasive memory – make it possible to communicate in real time with thousands of employees.

Knowledge management portals abound. Firms can customize communications between teams, functional areas and divisions. Using widely available services, they can set triggers that tell people what they really need to know, when they need to know it.

Employees drive your firm

No matter what your industry, employees drive your firm. They make all decisions, large and small. They build the systems that serve customers, they deal with customers, they design and deliver the products. They decide whether to collaborate or compete with each other. They are obsessed with customer needs, or indifferent to them.

In short, your customers are your firm. Your brand tells them how to act.

Your brand says to employees, “I work in a really cool place,” or “We are hopelessly old-fashioned.”

Your brand signals employees to be innovative or reliable, trustworthy or aggressive.

If you target your brand first at employees – and if you synch your company’s culture, conditions and compensation with the brand – then you can change the path your firm follows.

Bigger than marketing

The only way to get your company to act smarter than its competitors – and smart enough for its customers – is to elevate branding all the way to the CEO level.

The head of marketing can’t change compensation systems across your firm, but that is what it takes to synch compensation to your brand promises. Likewise, the CEO and other top executives have to be involved in changing your firm’s culture and working conditions. These three elements must synch with your brand, or your brand is little more than an empty promise.

Branding and customer experience have become critical, CEO-level issues. Now if only CEOs start to recognize this…

- How I Help Clients in 15 Days or Less
- Part 1 in UnderBranding series
- Part 3 in UnderBranding series

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