Generic Values = Generic Culture

Most companies have a set of values. Most of these stated values are generic and quite frankly, meaningless.

Take this test. Pull out a copy of your organization’s values – remove your company name and logo from it. Replace it with another company name. Does it work for them? Could it apply to that company? If so, then your company values are not distinct enough to have meaning and value. A company like a person needs to have unique values similar to your personal values which cannot easily be shared by anyone else. This is important because the culture of your company is a reflection of what the company values – it guides employee behavior and decision making. The more generic the values, the more difficult it is for employees to know what to do or how to represent the company that is in alignment with the culture.

 For example, here are the values of a company:

Communication – We have an obligation to communicate. Here, we take the time to talk with one another… and to listen. We believe that information is meant to move and that information moves people.

Respect – We treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. We do not tolerate abusive or disrespectful treatment.

Integrity – We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly, and sincerely. When we say we will do something, we will do it; when we say we cannot or will not do something, then we won’t do it.

Excellence– We are satisfied with nothing less than the very best in everything we do. We will continue to raise the bar for everyone. The great fun here will be for all of us to discover just how good we can really be.

These values sound good. Communication. Respect. Integrity. Excellence. These could be taken straight from those inspirational posters from the 80s (and we still see on many corporate walls), like “Teamwork” along with the picture of people all rowing in the same direction. These values could possibly apply to your company and many others – and that’s the issue.

The values above are from Enron as stated in their 2000 annual report (page 53). At its height, Enron employed nearly 22,000 people, was one of the largest energy companies in the world, and was named “America’s most innovative companies” for six consecutive years by Fortune magazine. The company went bankrupt and executives were sent to prison, as they were found to be involved in corporate corruption and accounting fraud, which further led to the dissolution of their auditing firm, Arthur Andersen. Their culture did not reflect their values.

 Another example:

  • Deliver WOW Through Service

  • Embrace and Drive Change

  • Create Fun and A Little Weirdness

  • Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded

  • Pursue Growth and Learning

  • Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication

  • Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit

  • Do More With Less

  • Be Passionate and Determined

  • Be Humble

Many of you may have guessed who this is by the very first line of “Deliver WOW Through Service” – it’s Zappos. You would be hard pressed to apply these values as a whole to any other company. They are unique, well thought out, and truly reflect the culture of their company. They also drive decision making and corporate strategy, as a result, this is their brand.

Unique values are important – but that’s not enough.

Which brings us to the second important point of ensuring your company has unique values – they must be applied. No matter how prominently your values are communicated or placed in big lettering on a wall for all to see – if they are not used as a guide and applied to every important decision your company makes, then it was a waste of time to even have had them developed. It’s akin to spending time and money on a lot of research or strategic planning, to only have this nice binder sit on a shelf gathering dust.

Even a great mission and vision statement are not enough. They are important in helping everyone understand why they do what they do and where it will take them. The values are about how it will get done. Google’s mission statement is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” That’s clear. But how are they going to work together to achieve that mission? That’s where their values come in. They have defined it as the “ten things we know to be true” which include:

  • It’s best to do one thing really, really well

  • Fast is better than slow

  • You can make money without doing evil

  • You can be serious without a suit

  • Great just isn’t good enough


Unique and authentic values that are lived are fundamental to a strong and distinguished brand and will help attract and retain the type of talent that is valued in your organization.

Is the culture of your company what you want it to be? Do your employees know what to do when a challenge arises or an important decision needs to be made without having to look it up in a handbook or convening a meeting? If not, it may be time to rethink what your company values and incorporate them into how work gets done.

Trick or Treat?

Don’t play trick or treat with your marketing budget.

We hate to see when clients purchase services that don’t meet their expectations. This only creates a bad taste in their mouth, and they become more suspicious of agency promises. Agencies conversely, lose the opportunity for a long-term relationship.

If we randomly picked any dozen or so marketing agencies in your area and asked them if they did social media, web development, advertising, media planning, strategic planning, and brand development, bet you that they would all say yes to every one of those specialties.  But how could they all possibly be good at everything?

The short answer is most are not. Some of the larger full-service agencies do have all those capabilities internally. However, most of the small to mid-size agencies only do a few of those things well. Some will outsource the other work, which is an excellent model allowing them to be more nimble. Also, clients aren’t paying for extra overhead they are not using. Unfortunately, some agencies don’t subscribe to this philosophy, and they try to do the work themselves.

We’ve recently seen this trick. A company hired an agency that does great web design and development. The agency also sold them on developing their brand platform. The new website is excellent. The brand platform was all wrong. The client realized their mistake, and the brand platform is now in the trash. In another situation, an award-winning creative agency sold personas to their client.  The personas lacked the depth of detail necessary to be used as part of a marketing plan. In these cases, the client will never work with these agencies again, and the agencies are probably wondering why they aren't getting more business from the clients.

Why do some agencies do this?  We can’t speak for what an agency is thinking – it can range from a sincere belief they can do the work, to trying to save some money or just big egos. If you are an agency, please don’t try to fake it. Be transparent. Elevate your work with the best partners you can find – the investment pays off in the end with better work and hopefully continued engagement.  Treat.  

If you are a client, you also bear the responsibility to ensure you are getting the right agency for your money. Don't go with the first or flashiest agency with the cool office space. Talk to a few agencies to get a perspective.

Whatever it is you need, always do this: 

  1. Get examples. Ask them to show you examples of work that are similar to what they will be doing for you.

  2. Learn their process. Have the agency team explain, in very clear (not marketing speak) and logical terms precisely what their process was to deliver on the examples provided. Pay close attention to how they conducted their research or obtained the insights needed before starting the actual project.

  3. Ask for referrals. Speak to other clients whom the agency has completed similar work for and get their feedback.

If both sides do their part, there will only be treats. Happy Halloween everyone!

The Wells Fargo Culture Problem

photo by Gabriella Demczuk for the New York Times

photo by Gabriella Demczuk for the New York Times

The Wells Fargo Bank scandal of opening millions of secret accounts without customers’ permission is an issue of culture. 

Within the financial services industry, the retail business of Wells Fargo was always admired and in many ways was viewed as the gold standard because of their profitability. Much of that profitability had to do with retention of their clients and the income generated from the multiple accounts their customers had with the bank.  It’s a no-brainer, the more products and services you have with a bank, or for that matter, almost any company, correlates directly to more revenue.

Yes, what they did was not only wrong, but illegal. We’ll let the federal government and the mass of regulators and lawyers figure out what to do with that. The fundamental issue is that their pursuit of profits outweighs their values. And it’s how well a company lives up to its values that determines the culture. 

Doing what’s right for the customer, is a core value of Wells Fargo (as found in their Vision & Values brochure). Specifically stating, “One of our top priorities is protecting customers’ confidential data and information. Customers trust us to use that information to provide them with products and services that can save them time and money. They expect us to help guide them, help grow and protect their financial assets, and help them succeed financially. Our focus on customers is unwavering. That is how we have been doing business for more than 160 years and is the key to our future.”

When a company’s values, mission, or vision statement, are just words and not lived and followed, the result is what happened here. The brand is weakened. Do you remember Enron? They had awesome values. Unfortunately, they were also just words. Additionally, the entire banking industry will suffer a bit from the increased lack of trust many customers feel when they think of banks.

For a bank to be making money is not a bad thing. I hope they continue to do so and do it well. The ability to deposit a check from your phone, travel to another part of the world and get cash out of an ATM, and other services we may now take for granted are impressive. It also costs a lot to develop and support these services. However, customers are only willing to pay for them if they see the value and if they know the bank is watching out for them. Though – they have to make that decision, the bank cannot make it for them. 

What Wells Fargo forgot is that they do not define their brand nor do they determine who chooses to do business with them. A company’s brand is what their customers say it is. The brand is not only the products and services a company provides, but how well they actually live up to the standards they promote.

It's Strategic Planning Season! Are You Ready?

An effective strategic plan is a critical component to running a successful organization, yet only few companies do it well.

According to a study by Bain, they asked nearly 300 global executives to rate their company’s planning process, and only one in three said that the strategy was effective. 


You may be already swimming in a sea of data, PowerPoints, and debates on whether a stacked bar chart or an exploding pie chart is the best way to tell the story.  Good strategic planning is a methodical process.  However, it's important to keep the objective in mind and not get lost in the process of planning.

5 guidelines for effective strategic planning:

1.      Align with the mission and vision of the company.  This not only helps keep your organization's brand authentic, it also serves as a guide when making decisions.

2.     Make strategic planning an important ongoing process, with continual process improvement, regularly managed throughout the year, and not an annual ritual that is part of a corporate to-do list.

3.     Have clear objectives.  Objectives that are quantifiable so everyone knows what they are aiming for and a way to be able to measure progress.  Tactics follow strategy.  

4.     Update your insights. Your company does not live in a bubble, everything around the company; your customers, competition, the regulatory environment, and many other factors are continually changing.

5.     Don’t isolate the process by managing and making decisions solely on a select group of c-suite executives that push down a plan through the organization.  A strong strategic plan incorporates the views of the customer as well as employees who will be executing the plan. 

Elevate your strategic planning from an annual exercise into an integrated part of your company’s business management process. Take into consideration the voice of your customers, the perspective of your employees, and the insights from market research.  This could be the difference between an acceptable strategic plan vs. one that is inspirational, guiding, and effectively defines how the entire organization will work together to achieve your objectives.

Branding For Nonprofits

Applying for-profit marketing models to the nonprofit sector demonstrates a lack of understanding on what makes a nonprofit unique.

 Many nonprofits continue to use their brands primarily as a fundraising tool, but a growing number of nonprofits are developing a broader and more strategic approach, managing their brands to create greater social impact and tighter organizational cohesion. However, as nonprofits are realizing the benefits of having a strong brand image, agencies often rush in applying for-profit models and end up with less than effective outcomes as a result. 

Your brand is what you stand for. A brand is more than just your logo or other graphics used by an organization. A brand is the perceptions of all the constituents that are aware of your services, people, or movement. Brand management is the work of managing these opinions. In the for-profit world, marketing professionals talk of creating “a total brand experience.” In the nonprofit world, the conversation should be more about their identity, what their organization stands for and the impact they are having. Your brand ultimately is a reflection of what your organization represents and believes. 

3 Important Points. There are important differences and nuances between for and not for profit organizations that go beyond fiscal management or categorization. There is a deep source of pride that nonprofit leaders and their teams have in what they do—pride in the social mission, participatory processes, shared values, and key partnerships. For agencies to be effective in working with nonprofits, they must:

  1.  Take the time to understand and align marketing decisions with the mission and values of the organization. Join and volunteer with the organization if possible. 
  2. Look at the big picture and work to develop or enhance their brand to align with their long term vision. Nonprofits are not driven by quarterly income/earnings results. Yes, they should have clear metrics in place, but often a nonprofit has a greater long term vision that may take years or decades to achieve.
  3. Be sensitive in understanding the balance needed to raise money while staying true to the cause – balancing and respecting both mission and margin. Sometimes the right thing to do is not necessarily what will generate more revenue or increase membership.

Taking a thoughtful approach to nonprofit marketing requires more than just having an understanding of their purpose.  Closely listening to the voice of all the stakeholders and leveraging the passion of the team is a key to developing marketing strategies that are just as bold as the vision of the organization.


"I Want More Sales" Is Not A Plan - 5 Things You Should Be Doing


Clients will often tell us “I want more sales” when asked for their marketing objectives. Wow!  Who knew? Unfortunately, this is an all too common response. 

 Sales are an outcome of activities. Activities or tactics informed by having a clear business objective, supported by a strategy.

 The increasing complexity of marketing due to more informed and demanding consumers and exponential growth in channels, data, and content, causes many marketers to throw their hands up in exasperation on how to formulate that strategy. At which point, when pressed on what to do, it is not surprising to hear about just wanting to get results – give me more sales!

 So what are marketers and agencies that support these clients supposed to do? The answers have not changed, and there is no need to reinvent the well-established principles of marketing. The advent of digital and social media only amplifies the need for a company to truly understand their target audience and ensure they are authentic in how they deliver on their value proposition. Focus on the fundamentals: 

1.     Have a clearly defined objective. You can’t hit what you are not aiming for. An objective is a clearly articulated measurable outcome (e.g., A 5% increase in a our new product line within 1 year).  Each objective needs to have a plan. We are not marketing for marketing’s sake. If the investment your company is making in marketing is not supporting the overall objective of the business, then you are wasting your money. This requires every marketer to establish measures on how to assess the impact of the marketing investment.

2.     Do your homework. Hope is not a strategy. Once you establish the objective, conduct a classic gap analysis. What do you know, what don’t you know (that you need) and how are you going to get the insights? What is your competition doing? What are the trends in your industry? Data is not enough – use your data to develop insights, which in turn can guide your marketing strategy. 

3.     Know your target audience. This is arguably the most important component of any marketing strategy. Too often, especially in a B2B company, there is this notion of having developed the most awesome product or service – and when we tell the world, they will just flock to us. The question to ask is, how will what you are offering to your target audience improve their lives? Know them. Know how they think. Know how they feel and act when something triggers a need for a product or service. A “build it, and they will come” approach rarely, if ever, works.

4.     Know your brand. Authenticity is key. It comes down to the basic virtue of doing what you say. Has your company established a clear and inspiring vision and mission? What is your value proposition – what are your customers going to get in exchange for their time and money, and what are your employees expected to deliver on a consistent basis? Taking it a step further, when is the last time you reviewed your company values and how they were being applied?  

5.     Create great experiences. If you know your customers and you consistently express your brand, that is the key to both attracting and engaging your target audience – leading to the sales. However, creating awareness and even an initial trial is not sufficient. The traditional marketing funnel model has evolved into an ongoing fluid journey. We live our lives with needs and wants and endless distractions while being bombarded with brands constantly.  But if the right message intercepts us through channels we use and aligns with what we believe will make our lives better, we will take the time and energy to consider what you are offering.  And, hopefully share our experience with others and come back for more.

So, when things get crazy or somewhat overly complicated, go back and focus on the basics. Never forget who your customer is, be true to your brand, and create great experiences.

Lessons From Running With The Bulls


Lessons can come from places you'd never expect.

Just take into consideration all the perspectives you may have read about lessons in life from the sandbox, kindergarten, samurai, and maybe even from the Grateful Dead (yes, there is a book on that one).

But the validity of real world insights and lessons had never become so polarized to me as when I visited Pamplona, Spain and found myself in the historic running of the bulls.

Here, in winding, cobblestone, and wet streets (from the cleaning crews washing off the residue of the revelry from the night before) of this beautiful Spanish town (did I mention very narrow streets?), I found there are lessons that apply well to life or business . . . and some that absolutely do not.

Lessons That Apply!

1.  Be present. If you don't show up and stay aware, you can only be a spectator. More importantly, the lack of awareness of what is happening around you can lead to missed opportunities to prosper or avoid very bad things happening to you.

2.  Be flexible. Have a plan, but be ready to make a change immediately. During the run, you quickly realize what lack of control you really have, even with all the planning in the world. Improvise and just keep moving.

3.  Make friends. Having someone to share thoughts, ideas, strategies and provide support along the way is not only helpful, it may save your life.  Journey's are better shared.


Lessons That DON'T Apply!

1.  Get up if you fall down. This is one of those grand tidbits in life that someone has or certainly will impart upon you. Not such as good idea during the run. If you fall, stay down unless you are absolutely certain there are not thousands of pounds of rampaging beef behind you with very sharp horns. Can't say I didn't worry a bit about karmic retribution for all those hamburgers and steaks I have eaten.

2.  Grab the bull by the horns. Carpe diem! Not here. In the run, it is highly recommended not to try to grab, touch, or in any way further taunt any part of the bull. Again, enjoy the journey, and don't tempt fate unless you are prepared to handle the consequences.

3.  Take selfies. I certainly hope this trend will continue to die a long slow death, and if anything, the run is helping the cause. Not only will it cause you to miss out on probably a once in a lifetime experience, in the run, it is illegal. Your lack of awareness and focus on yourself may kill or hurt you and others.  

Demographics Are Outdated

Using demographics to identify and target your audience is increasingly ineffective.

While demographics still have value, they shouldn’t be the sole or primary criteria for identifying your audience and determining the best message to deliver. As our reliance on demographics fades, so too is the effectiveness of classifying people in broad categories, such as Gen Xers and Millennials.

Demographics alone won’t tell you the most important thing you need to know about your audience, which is what they value. The emphasis on understanding what people like and how they share experiences creates new tribes and new ways to segment your audience.

During a study we conducted for a financial institution that wanted to attract Millennials, it became clear that how they felt about money and savings had largely to do with whether or not they lived with their parents. A 21-year-old working her first job and sharing an apartment with roommates has more in common with a 35-year-old in a similar situation than a peer living at home with mom and dad. This is common sense, but it is surprising how companies continue to use generic targeting schemes based on the faulty premise that everyone born between the early 1980s and 2000s will respond as a single homogeneous cohort. Trust me, I’ve seen enough RFPs come through.

This coming together around common values is related to how we access content, increasing urbanization and the growing popularity of authentic brands aligned with our values.

Our ability to access content anywhere at anytime, along with social media platforms that let us share that content, create new opportunities to interact with like-minded people — often in ways that shatter demographic boundaries.

In a 2014 interview, BBC Radio’s George Ergatoudis said, “If you look at the list of the 1,000 favorite artists for 60-year-olds and the 1,000 favorite artists for 13-year-olds, there is a 40% overlap, and if you take 30- to 39-year-olds and 13- to 19-year-olds, over 50% of their favorite artists are the same.” Can you imagine listening to 60% of the same music your parents or grandparents did when you were 13? I validated this when my 14-year-old son said he listens to Green Day, Led Zeppelin and the Stones. Cool.

Our increasingly urbanized society allows us to interact more closely while being exposed to a greater variety of cultures, ideas and experiences. According to a 2015 McKinsey Global Institute study, urban populations are growing by 65 million people every year — that’s seven new Chicagos a year, a mind-blowing statistic.

This growth leads to increasing economic spend, and brands that play on this global stage respond, not based on demographics, but in shared value experiences and by meeting individual expectations. This is why Starbucks has no stated demographic only target audience; it has created environments that allow people to share experiences. The company understands its power comes from how consumers feel when they interact with it. And when they love it, they will share it. Starbucks is one of the most popular brands shared on social media; it has more Instagram tags than Apple, McDonald’s and Coke combined.

Living in a society that allows us to connect with people and ideas in ever-expanding ways, virtually and physically, lets people more fully express themselves as individuals. Knowledge, technology and choice allow freedom of expression to blossom. It’s why consumers flock to brands that allow them to express who they are or who they want to be. We see this in fair trade coffee, Tesla and handmade crafts on Etsy. Brands allow consumers to do what they want, how they want, while feeling good about themselves. The Swedish clothing company Uniforms For The Dedicated has launched an initiative called the Rag Bag. It allows customers, once they take their new clothing out of the company shopping bag, to turn the bag inside out and place a donated item inside. Once reversed, the bag turns into a printed and pre-paid package that can be sealed and dropped in the mail. It effectively renders shopping guilt-free, even virtuous.

To more precisely target and meet the needs of your audience, look well past the demographics.

They are important, but to be truly effective in your marketing, study audience psychographics. Understand what they value, how they feel about your category, what is important to them and, above all, stay authentic. Like the old adage goes, say what you mean, and do what you say – and never stop listening to and studying your audience.

Can You Trust Your Mind?

1962 was a peak year in market share for GM, with 52% of the U.S. car market.  Today they stand at 18%.  The decline was not sudden nor should it have been unexpected. There were rumblings of change all around them, beginning with the rise in oil prices in the 1970’s, but they were ignored. By the 80’s they finally realized that the Japanese could not only make better cars, but also make them more efficiently, and they were popular with the U.S. market. What took the leadership so long to realize this? Part of the answer is the mental models they operated within. 

Peter Seng, in his book, “The Fifth Discipline”, defined mental models as, “deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the worlds and how we take action. Very often, we are not consciously aware of our mental models or the effect they have on our behavior.” This is not new. The idea of mental models was first postulated by the American philosopher, Charles Sanders Peirce in 1896.

The assumption under which GM functioned were never written down, but, the following were obtained from interviews of retired former senior GM executives:

1.      GM is in the business of making money, not just cars

2.    Success flows from rapid adaptation, not technological leadership (automatic transmission was last major innovation)

3.    Cars are primarily status symbols:  people want to upgrade

4.    The U.S. car market is isolated from the rest of the world

5.    Fossil fuels (oil) will remain cheap and abundant

6.    The government is an enemy and so are unions

7.    Planned obsolescence works (quality less important)

8.    Efficiency of mass production beats other approaches

9.    Bigger is better – we can manage anything

Imagine how these filters and perceptions of the world affected the decisions GM was making. Mental models are subtle, yet very powerful. And not all models are bad, in fact, they help us organize and navigate our lives. For the most part, they have helped us survive. The issue is that they can influence our behaviors without us even being aware. In fact, they can at times cause a collective herd mentality that in the case of GM, had disastrous effects. 

What are the unwritten rules or mental models in your company? It’s the stuff you talk about that is not in your employee handbook, or the bits of wisdom you provide to new employees to help them adjust to your culture. Are the mental models of your most senior executives different from the rest of the staff? How are your individual or corporate wide mental models affecting your decision-making? How are they possibly blinding you from growth opportunities, competitive threats, or changes in your target audience purchase patterns?

Take the time to reflect and write down your unwritten rules – whether in your company or in any other aspect of your life. Question them. How do you know them to be true? Are they helping or in actuality, limiting beliefs? Share your mental models with others in your company and look to get to the data behind them and see if they can really stack up or if they are just assumptions that filter your thinking and actions.

Being consciously aware of your mental models and intentionally managing them can not only free up your thinking to new possibilities, but also shed light upon blind-spots.

Why Innovation Teams Fail

I recently received my latest and greatest credit card with the chip. It reminded me of when our innovation team pitched the leadership of our large credit card firm on how to transform our industry with this technology.  The company was looking for an innovative approach to help take a leadership position in the U.S. credit card market. 

The capabilities and security advantages of chip technology over magnetic stripes were already being put to use throughout Europe and Asia. Along with consumer benefits, there would however, be significant cost implications. Though, it was apparent that this was where the entire industry was headed and the benefits to the customer along with a reduction in fraud were clear. Not to mention the new applications, discoveries, and innovations that could be built upon the technology. We had an opportunity to make a bold and disruptive move in the U.S. card market.  That was in 1996. More on that later.

Unless a company has integrated innovative thinking into the fabric of the organization, they may fall prey to the idea that they can set up a separate group to come up with great new ideas to deliver to the market. 

Coming up with new or groundbreaking ideas is often not the greatest challenge. Delivering the ideas into the market is where things begin to fall apart. 

Organizations may come to the realization that they lack either the culture or know-how to develop innovative products or services and successfully get them into market. They may take the easy path and decide to set up a team, give some folks a new title, or even physically locate them away from the rest of the employees and dub them the “innovation team.” 

This will often prove ineffective and may backfire on two fronts. The primary issue is not that the team won’t come up with great ideas, but they will then have to take their magnificent concepts and introduce them into the very same system and organization that admittedly stated they were not good at innovating. A study of MIT technology transfer over 16 years, found that when a large company licensed a technology from MIT and introduced it into their development systems, the idea never even got to market 80% of the time.

The second issue is one of negative cultural impact, which is exactly the opposite of what leaders would expect to happen. The concept of demonstrating their commitment to innovation must surely boost confidence in the company. But exactly how would you feel if you were not selected or even asked to participate in the innovation efforts? There is the real threat of fostering animosity from existing employees who know they have great ideas and want to contribute, but can’t or were never given the option. Or worse - ask the employees to submit their ideas, and foster excitement, only to have little feedback on what happened with their ideas and inevitably, see the tiniest percentage ever see the light of day, if that.

Back to that pitch to our CEO two decades ago. We had our challenge. We completed our research and we even had pilot programs up and running. After a good hour long presentation, the CEO, with a very thoughtful expression on his face, leaned back and said, “couldn’t we just paint a chip on the card and make believe it did something, when in actuality, it just used our same mag stripe infrastructure?” Awkward silence followed. And here we are 20 years later finally implementing the technology in the U.S. And a bit too late, as more innovative companies are already moving us beyond chip technology with mobile payment systems and enhanced security features.

Innovation is not the job of a select few. Innovation is a mindset, supported by senior leadership, with systems, education and tools that empower all employees.

Before pursuing innovation in your organization, take the time to step back and consider the entire system, not just one component, such as generating ideas. Take stock in your culture, your leadership, your commitment, and your innovation capabilities before investing in tools, teams, or titles. As in any endeavor, the time taken up front to plan and prepare, will help yield better results on the back-end, where it matters.

How Strong Is Your Employer Brand?

Attracting and keeping top talent is one of the biggest challenges for most companies. In a recent study by the National Center for the Middle Market, staffing is the number one issue these companies have as they look forward over the next 12 months. Harris Allied’s Tech Hiring & Retention survey similarly found (for the 4th straight year) that hiring top talent was the number one concern for tech companies. 

Over 60% of CEO’s interviewed in a Harvard Business Review study stated that talent related issues were their top concern.

So, if you want to attract the top talent, what do you think these prospective employees think about your company? What is your company’s reputation or Employer Brand? Even though the term Employer Brand was coined in the 1990’s, few companies are doing an effective job at managing a unified brand – a brand platform that is universally applied internally as well as externally.

The same brand management principles applied to your customers, such as being authentic, consistent, and having a clear value proposition, need to be applied internally. Yet, companies often struggle with developing a unified brand.

Only Going To Get Harder

The changing employee landscape is only going to increase the need to be clearer about what it means to work at your company. The rise of social media and entrance of millennials not only into the mainstream workforce, but increasingly holding senior level positions, is transforming companies and sometimes forcing them to become more transparent, whether they like it or not. 

What it’s like to truly work in a company is an important consideration for any prospective employee, and easy to find out.  Just as companies increasingly use social media in the hiring process, prospective employees are using sites like LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and profiles on The Muse to get a sense of what a company culture is really like as they conduct their due diligence.

Internal Brand Management

When companies think about their brand, they often focus on the external facing element of how customers perceive their brand. However, that is only part of what it takes to effectively manage your brand. In a similar fashion to how a company has a value proposition for its customers (or why should I give you my money and time), a company needs to develop and apply a clear value proposition for their employees.

The good news is that a company doesn’t need to rebrand themselves or put any extra time and effort in redefining their brand – they just need to ensure that they apply the same brand management principles internally as they do externally. 

Authenticity is key to attracting and keeping top employees as much as it is to finding and keeping customers.


Things To Do

·      Start with the basics and find out how well your employees understand your company’s mission, vision, and most importantly, values. How well are new employees on-boarded and how well do current employees live the brand?

·      Does your company have an employee value proposition? If not – think about what image your company wants to portray externally as a place to work. Also consider what your company needs to do to help promote that image. Social media is not only critical in these efforts, but should be a mandatory tool to help promote your Employer Brand.

·      Investigate how well your employees make value-based decisions. In other words, if one of your top values is putting the client first, how is this value applied in every interaction with your customers? Or if work/life balance is a value, what is your company doing to communicate and manage to this value?  If your values are fully incorporated into how your employees work every day, they shouldn’t have to pull out an employee handbook to figure out what to do. It will be instinctual, because, “this is just how we do things around here.”

·      Don’t leave this responsibility solely in the hands of the HR team. It’s important that defining the Employer Brand begins with the CEO and is just as much a responsibility for the leaders of the organization and marketing as it is for HR.

At the end of the day, having a clear employee value proposition is just plain good for business. 

It should be a no brainer that attracting and keeping top talent will only lead to better financial results in the long term. The Middle Market study, further showed that companies with a clear employee value proposition had nearly a 3:1 top line revenue performance difference compared to companies that didn’t have one. 

And finally, it will only strengthen your brand overall. When your employees understand your brand, and if your brand is consistently applied internally as well as externally, employees will deliver upon your mission, vision, and values in every interaction with your customers. It’s simply a win for everyone and worth every effort required to make it happen.