Welcome to my first in a series of articles about companies, their employees, and their brand. Following a career in consumer goods marketing with companies like Unilever, I formed Bricoleur, a brand and people consultancy. We’ve had the opportunity to work with many companies over the past 7 years, and this year, I set a goal of codifying our evolving thinking into a book, Brand Alignment in the Age of a Questioning Workforce (and World), to be published later this year. In this article, derived from the book, I lay out the challenges facing companies in this digital age, with social media, real-time news, Millennials, and dynamic market conditions.
My intention is to explore what is happening in and to companies, large and small, across the worlds of marketing, social media, HR and in the day-to-day in offices here in Singapore and worldwide. I hope to help you make sense of what lies ahead and offer thinking that helps you craft the best way forward for your company and context.
Marketing today is not separate from HR. Brand is not dead. Branding and purpose are not mutually exclusive. Purpose and profit do not need to be mutually exclusive either- it is possible for organisations to have both and not just the newsworthy high flying companies, every company has this potential. But the rules of marketing have changed. Our age of social media, content marketing, 360-degree exposure (think Glassdoor) and our first fully digital cohort in the workforce (Gen Y or Millenials) are radically transforming how individuals and companies engage with their brand.
I hope to strike up a conversation that convinces you that your company brand, your team culture and your overall purpose are intimately linked.
SOCIAL MEDIA’S IMPACT
Thanks to social media, what happens in the office doesn’t necessarily stay there – social media, mobile and real-time news means that the internal is not necessarily internal anymore. Anything could go public within minutes. Since the internal can become external so quickly, it’s important to look at the messages you are sharing about your company brand across internal and external touch points, and whether they are aligned.
BRANDS AND DYNAMIC CHANGE
The world of work is changing rapidly, and organisations need to adjust to these changes. Attitudes and behaviour are shifting in an increasingly real-time, news driven, social media-saturated world. The workforce has also adapted to these changes and as a result, configured their expectations of work and their employers accordingly.
Advances in communication and connectivity are driving us towards a feeling of mutual responsibility and a desire to make a difference to the world we live and work in. Consumers expect brands to deliver meaning beyond the product. This feeling seems to be intensifying with every piece of news related to climate change which is seen as a looming threat in most countries across the world.
Organizations face the challenge to be united by a social purpose – customers and market sentiment demand it. Profit-seeking companies must develop paths for their employees to work together to promote values and causes that they believe can make a positive impact in the world. Some experts may say this belief in making a positive impact is a Millenial value. Perhaps. But, by 2025, Millenials will comprise 75% of the workforce.
The workforce today is changing in nature and it has never been easier to be self-employed than now. So even Gen X professionals, with significant working years under their belt, no longer wish to spend their time committed to only improving shareholder returns for somebody else’s company. They would rather spend their experience and time devoted to a cause they care about, or creating better returns for themselves, or both.
Having a cause or purpose or a mission that your team can devote themselves to is the best way today to evangelize your brand. We know thanks to sites like TripAdvisor.com that we will believe and make major purchase decisions based on recommendations by total strangers. But at the same time, we have developed a very healthy dose of cynicism and question every claim that a company might make even if it is honest, based on facts and more precise (thanks in part to the anti-corporate movement articulated in the book No Logo back in 2000). The same cynicism now permeates our workforce and they will increasingly question every action and step taken by the leadership and top management within an organisation.
Your company brand, your team culture, and your purpose are inextricably linked
In a social media saturated, global world where opinions are formed by the current sentiment or what’s trending on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and where it is not only easy, but actually fashionable to berate the ‘big’ company, organisations need advocates and ambassadors. And while loyal customers and fans are useful, having employees vouching for an organisation’s motives may prove to be the most useful of all- not only to attract customers but also the best talent.
Your organisation needs a purpose that feels compelling to your colleagues and that they believe will make a positive impact in the world.
Research continues to show appalling rates of disengagement. According to a Gallup poll over two-thirds of Millenial employees are disengaged or actively disengaged worldwide. In fact, a compelling cause may even prove to be the holy grail for all leaders and HR teams in an organisation- nothing like a cause to truly solve the issue of disengagement!
Millennials have different priorities than older generations. They want to make an impact, have work life balance, build career progression and pursue learning and development opportunities. Having a cause, purpose or a mission that your team can devote themselves to can prove to be especially important to Millennials, as it is congruent with their values and priorities, and may be the best way today to create brand evangelism.
No cause can be won without a devoted followership from within your team. Only when your teams become your brand’s strongest advocates can you advance on the path to long-term, sustainable business success and advocacy.
Aligning your company brand with the changes in thought, motivation and expectation within your team has never been more critical. This seems obvious, but it’s amazing how many organisations don’t perform well because the employees don’t share the same vision. By keeping employees engaged and fully aligned with the overall company strategy, managers can drive up performance and ultimately, revenue (see attached infographic).
There is power in linking individual employee goals to company-wide strategic priorities…Aligning employees with company strategy has a direct impact on an organization’s operational and business success. Workers agree—70 percent say alignment is the greatest hurdle to achieving company strategy. HBR, May 2016
Brand alignment is the internal and external manifestation of strategy and a well-defined purpose that is embraced and shared by all maybe be the best way to create alignment and engagement. With a well-defined purpose the team can devote themselves to the organisation’s objectives and drive promotion and brand advocacy. Loyal customers and fans have their value, but with selectiveness on the rise when it comes to job hunting, recruiting the best talent through employee backing is priceless.
And financial results? They are delivered as part-and-parcel of successful alignment. In our ever-more competitive business environment, organisations will need to rely on their ultra-connected team to focus on collectively agreed company objectives and milestones. But, it’s important to remember that an engaged individual might not be fully aligned! An engaged employee might be focusing their efforts on narrow objectives, which do not align with the company’s strategic priorities. Ensuring alignment with the company’s objectives and brand may require some research to check if everyone in the team has clarity of direction and understanding. And if they don’t then it may be time to invest in an internal branding campaign.
Social media also has a major influence on how millennials operate, even in the workplace, but this comes with its own risks. Back in 2004, Facebook had 1 million users. This grew to 100 million in 2008, and it has escalated to 2+ billion registered users today. Glassdoor has grown rapidly in the past years and now has over 41 million visitors each month. This exponential growth has a huge impact on the blurring of barriers between the internal organization and the external world. Looking at purpose and profit as one, rather than as mutually exclusive entities, will help CEOs align their organisations with the brand.
As millennials form the majority of the workforce, their love of real time news and social media mean that employees are now very empowered. CEOs of today must factor in all these changes, to actively manage perceptions internally and externally to create alignment between touch points and do so with a more mobile, disaggregated, and disconnected workforce. Consider that “all companies with higher-performing employees report a formal linkage between corporate and individual goals. What’s more, such companies were 2.2 times more likely to be top performers than were their peers whose employees produced mixed performances.” HBR, May 2016.
Thanks for reading. Comments are most welcome. Please share this with others who might have an interest.
Every two weeks for the coming months, I will explore issues that impact corporate brands today. Next, I’ll explore the dynamics of social media in The Impact of Social Media on Corporate Brands, followed by a deeper dive into purpose with The Power of Authenticity and Your Cause. Then, Aligning Your Internal and External Brand, explores the concept of brand alignment and some paths to create a truly aligned organisation. I explore each of these topics in greater depth in my book The CEO’s guide to Brand Alignment in the age of a Questioning Workforce (and World) due out later this year.