Organisations work hard to create a brand that distinguishes them from the competition. Whether the brand is “value for money” — Walmart for instance — or “exceptional service” — Four Seasons Hotels — the brand promise creates an expectation in customers’ minds that is difficult to replicate.
While responsibility for brand development and promotion traditionally lies with marketing professionals, Human resource professionals also have a responsibility to ensure the brand lives up to its promise. HR supports the brand promise by ensuring the internal capability and commitment of the company’s employees is aligned with the brand that is promoted externally.
By building better bridges with marketing and creating pro-active employee communications, recruitment, training and reward programmes, HR has the tool kit that determines whether the brand promise is affirmed in the hearts and minds of the company’s customers, or repudiated by a disconnect between the promise and the product or service delivery. In essence, HR helps create brand ambassadors.
One way to create brand ambassadors is to build stronger bridges between the marketing and HR functions. The alignment also helps anticipate HR’s ability to support the brand when it comes to recruiting people with the right competencies and structuring reward programmes to drive desired behaviours.
There is a growing recognition that a lag between the launch of the brand and employees’ ability to delivery on the brand promise erodes customer trust and loyalty. HR and Marketing need to collaborate more.
HR needs to go beyond supporting the brand through HR programmes to influencing the brand by sharing information on employee opinion and organisational readiness that can be considered along with external marketing information on consumer needs. This merging of HR and marketing information allows the organisation to create a stronger and more sustainable brand because it is influenced by employee attitudes, behaviours and capabilities.
HR and marketing also need to work closer to infuse a distinct culture in the organisation. This culture is expressed in the words and actions of all its employees irrespective of their role in the organisation, and influenced by customer needs and expectations.
While marketing conducts a great deal of research on customer needs and expectations, many employees are not familiar with the findings, nor do they make the connection between customer opinion and their own behaviours. Without a sound knowledge of the customer, employees make assumptions about what drives customer satisfaction.
False assumptions lead to the demonstration of behaviours that are less than effective in building customer loyalty.
HR has an increasingly important role to play in delivering on the brand promise. While HR and marketing have often worked in silos in the past, a more sophisticated customer market calls for greater collaboration, sharing of information and ideas, and alignment between the external brand promise and internal capability.
Given the significant investment in brand development and promotion, a substantial investment also needs to be made in the employees who deliver on the brand promise. If you need to build a business case for brand-linked rewards to help retain customers, ask your marketing department how much it costs the company to acquire each new customer and you will be well on your way in getting your brand-linked HR programme signed off.
— The writer is an US-based brand advisor.