Marketing messages gearing internally

Health, by its definition, is the state of being well in body or mind. Total health, then, would require the aligned vitality of both. The same could be said for a brand, and some corporations have come to realize that it isn't just the external façade - their relationship with consumers - that needs nurture. In the last few years many have reflected on what's going on inside their walls and are investing in employee branding practices as a result.
A recent survey of 150 major organizations, conducted by Carlson Marketing Group in Minneapolis, found that two-thirds were involved in employee branding and most of them saw an increase in budget for such programs on the horizon, indicating a 'recognition of how important it is,' says Steve Fraser, VP relationship marketing, at Carlson's Toronto office.

Health, by its definition, is the state of being well in body or mind. Total health, then, would require the aligned vitality of both. The same could be said for a brand, and some corporations have come to realize that it isn’t just the external façade – their relationship with consumers – that needs nurture. In the last few years many have reflected on what’s going on inside their walls and are investing in employee branding practices as a result.

A recent survey of 150 major organizations, conducted by Carlson Marketing Group in Minneapolis, found that two-thirds were involved in employee branding and most of them saw an increase in budget for such programs on the horizon, indicating a ‘recognition of how important it is,’ says Steve Fraser, VP relationship marketing, at Carlson’s Toronto office.

In the past 12 to 18 months, Fraser has also witnessed a trend toward the collaboration of marketing and human resources departments. ‘Marketing and HR are being driven together from a mutual need to reach the employee base, but they’re just taking baby steps right now,’ he says, explaining that marketing can help HR analyze data and segment audiences, as well as articulate a compelling brand strategy, and use media properly.

According to Fraser, marketing’s new interest in employee branding derives from the worldwide movement towards CRM, as well as a growing acknowledgment that employee and customer contentment is intertwined. In fact, in February, The Radclyffe Group, a Fairfield, N.J.-based performance-improvement consulting firm, reported a strong positive correlation between employee and customer satisfaction after surveying 16 major U.S. companies across several categories. Also, Carlson’s Minneapolis office recently conducted a study for an ‘international restaurant chain’ that looked at average growth per month in its 232 North American stores. Those locations that scored higher on employee satisfaction did 75% better on average.

Adds Steven Geiger, chief strategy officer worldwide for Carlson: ‘We’ve all experienced that deflation when you walk into a store and don’t get what you expect. Nine times out of 10, that’s because the employee base isn’t aligned.’

It is the desire to enhance customer service that led to Scotiabank’s current internal marketing venture, which will be followed by a new tagline and positioning for the company likely by next fall, says Richard O.E. White, VP of brand and marketing management. ‘Our mission is to help customers be financially better off,’ he explains. ‘We’ve been re-engineering the sales process at retail so the front line delivers good financial planning principles.’

The internal process, established by Carlson, began three years ago and the objective to ‘help customers understand their financial goals’ has been adapted into sales platforms and tools, says White. For instance, the bank’s reward program is no longer based on sales volume, but ‘sales behaviour’, such as offering customers financial overviews. Scotiabank also instituted a peer-recognition system, enabling sales representatives to honour one another with certificates, 100,000-plus of which were issued in the last year. ‘The culture is based on recognition and celebration,’ says White.

And although Toronto agency Bensimon Byrne D’Arcy’s creative for Scotiabank reflects the overall branding message of providing financial solutions – a new tagline won’t be introduced until the entire company is united on the new brand values.

‘We want full alignment right to our chairman, and then we will start the communications,’ says White. ‘Customers see banks as the same and there aren’t any memorable tags. We felt that we could drive a much more relevant brand if we were aligned and we also felt it would give us a competitive advantage.’

Toronto-based grocery chain A&P/Dominion also hopes to differentiate itself through a new campaign, which incorporated an internal branding program. Three new ads, produced by Rethink in Vancouver, were launched in late April and portray frustrated customers who are digging through piles of apples, milk or bread. Their dilemma is that everything is fresh, and they want a freebie, as the new A&P/Dominion mantra is that it’s either ‘fresh or free.’

‘This is a pretty revolutionary promise in the marketplace,’ concedes Doug Brummer, SVP marketing and advertising at the Great Atlantic & Pacific Company of Canada in Toronto. ‘It’s not just advertising, it’s a totally integrated way of going to market, and to do that you need to invest in employees.’

Hence, the establishment of the ‘University of Fresh Obsessed’ to educate employees about the new advertising claim. ‘We’ve trained before, but we’ve never had a program of this magnitude,’ says Brummer. ‘We spend millions in advertising, so why not spend a lot of money on our employees?’

The training program included videos, workbooks and presentations that were both motivational and humorous, the latter of which is just as essential a facet, according to Brummer. ‘Humour’s important because it brings the concept to life and it becomes memorable.’

Jim Rea, director of creative development at Toronto-based Audience Communication Inc., the ‘invertising’ agency, says it’s illogical for firms like A&P to go to market with a promise that isn’t driven through the organization. ‘One of the best ways to kill a brand is inconsistent delivery.’

Rea explains that just like consumers, employees need some type of emotional connection to a brand. Once a company achieves that, it should appoint ‘brand champions,’ he says. ‘As we are increasingly becoming a service economy, there is often little distinguishing one company from another. When it comes to real differences, it is individual service.’

Even Zellers, the commodity based mass merchandiser that it is, began investing more heavily in training four years ago, and will continue to push this agenda. ‘We’re focused on fairly significant steps in change at stores right now, because we’re trying to improve our service to our customers,’ says David Strickland, SVP of the Brampton, Ont.-based chain. ‘The customer is more demanding. There’s no question that every service business has to have an extension of the external campaign directed at the internal audience.’

Zellers introduced ‘learning maps sessions’ two years ago, which transform education about brand changes into quasi-board games. The maps led to Zellers being named the second best Canadian company to work for by R.O.B Magazine last year. Zellers also recently chose ‘leaders’ which become ‘credible voices to others in the organization and pass the training down,’ explains Strickland, who adds that for a 71-year-old company like Zellers, which has a staff of about 35,000, employee branding and education is a ‘big job.’

Strickland also warns that a promise, whether external or internal, can’t stray far from a company’s true form. For instance, in Zellers’ case, the promise is that the experience will be fast, convenient and friendly for Mom.

Rick Seifeddine, VP communications for Calgary-based Telus Mobility agrees that dangers arise when you claim to be something that you aren’t or can’t be. ‘Be who you are, so you don’t have to deal with a gap.’

He says the tagline ‘future friendly,’ created by Telus’ Toronto AOR Taxi Advertising and Design, fit right away because it mirrored the environment of the young company, then called Clearnet Communications, which was ‘fun … and had a non-MBA approach.’ (Toronto-based Clearnet was swallowed by Telus in August 2000.) Last year, Telus decided to adopt the ‘future friendly’ slogan for all of its operations, and luckily, the brand also suited the larger firm.

Still, the values of the ‘future friendly’ positioning are being emphasized internally via a company-wide agenda that will ensure all employees comprehend the brand. ‘You have to walk the walk in describing the brand to employees – keep it engaging, simple and refreshing; and you should make it fun – Don’t just tell, but intrigue in an enlivened manner.’

Seiffedine admits that brand alignment is much more complicated for huge, old-style corporations, and that the easiest way to attain brand culture inside the organization is to ‘start from scratch and hire the right people.’

When that isn’t feasible, a significant launch is the ideal way to establish a brand culture, according to Jeff Swystun, global director, knowledge and innovation for Toronto-based brand strategy and design firm Interbrand Tudhope.

Swystun says firms need to communicate values of the organization by focusing on three to five key words and also by incorporating these concepts into the environment, for instance, by allowing casual dress if one of the principles is ‘laid-back.’ After the launch, there needs to be consistent, follow-up efforts. ‘It falls into a regular pattern, through quarterly updates, the newsletter, the intranet and social events,’ he says. ‘You should also make sure you tie the brand into people’s performance evaluations. Sound like a broken record, but keep it fresh every time.’