|Employee Brand Research: Not Just Another Organizational Survey|
When most people think about employee research, they equate it to traditional, organization-focused job satisfaction research. However, there is another type of employee research that is absolutely critical to being able to develop or reposition a brand, or ensure that your existing brand strategy is understood and internalized by your employees.
Unlike employee satisfaction research, employee brand research is market-focused and answers questions such as:
Answers to these questions can significantly affect the way the brand is communicated internally, and ultimately, how it hits the marketplace.
So, going back to my study in contrasts, I would bet there's a difference in the role that employee brand research (and brand research in general) has played in the development and management of these two brands. It's not about the song, it's about all that's behind getting to that point. And it's about my friend's intentions to go back and buy another Saturn, and my thoughts in that direction, too.
Gaining internal buy-in for branding
If you accept that branding is an organizing principle and not merely a marketing function then you’ll agree that everyone in the organization has to buy-in to the brand tenets and agree to do their part. But how do you go about creating that buy-in? For many people – and most in any given organization – branding is a fuzzy, intangible concept.
Elaborate education efforts about branding only tend to confuse everyone further. This is predictable when you think about it – branding in the technical sense is really a strategist’s tool.
We have seen two successful approaches to gaining buy-in for brand strategy development, and more importantly, the subsequent implementation. The first approach is to make branding about the customer and the second is to include employees in the process. Here are some ways to make it happen.
With employees, make branding about the customer, their customer
Most employees sincerely care about providing good service to their customers. They also tend to think possessively about them. They know that customers are the firm’s, but still feel a sense ownership and obligation to their customers. We have seen this repeatedly in conducting employee research. This even holds true when there is discord between employees and the employer.
This knowledge provides a few opportunities for the brand manager. Enhance employees’ sense of customer ownership and share customer feedback with them, especially positive service-related feedback.
Enable employees to feel ownership of their customers. They do anyway so you may as well acknowledge it and be encouraging. Employees need to be given reasonable latitude to solve customer problems and need to feel relied upon by customers. They also need management to let them own some of the customer relationship. Meaning that they participate in the relationship and that management acknowledges their customer ownership.
To enhance this sense of ownership, it’s invaluable for front-line employees to hear from customers about the specific things they do that provide value. As a caring individual, it is empowering to hear feedback from customers that your efforts are meaningful. When your company also links your service efforts to providing value to the organization – and that is what the brand is about – the picture is complete.
Include employees in the brand development process
For most sensible initiatives, people tend to be supportive when they’ve had legitimate input. Yet, not everyone can directly participate in defining the brand strategy. How then can you seek employee input in a way that is both efficient and meaningful? Here are three ways:
1) Conduct formal research with employees
We are not talking employee satisfaction surveys here. Rather, ask employees questions like: What would customers say that we do really well? What makes us different? What should we be able to do better than anyone else? And, why do our best customers do business with us? We’ve found employees participate earnestly in this type of research and provide valuable input.
2) Executive management actively participates
The very best way to achieve buy-in with senior management is to have them actively participate in setting the brand strategy. Executives that participate in a planning workshop for example not only provide great insight, they quickly endorse outcomes and become natural brand champions.
3) Consult with managers and supervisors
Managers and supervisors should also be consulted in the brand development process. Options include conducting one-on-one interviews and having them complete a questionnaire that poses six or seven open-ended brand related questions. These methods can replace or be combined with the more encompassing formal research outlined above. Summarized outcomes of these approaches provide good input into a planning workshop.
Brand success relies on employees executing effectively and on strategy. Gaining internal understanding and buy-in early in the process reduces costs and expedites brand positioning objectives.