Don't Put Brand in the Corner, Explore and Ace It

February 18, 2014

Brand matters—a lot. When designed, executed and lived authentically, brand can increase sales, drive efficiency, attract top talent and inspire your people to do amazing work. It also puts heart and purpose back at the center of an organization, where it belongs. Brand is good for organizations; and it’s good for the world.

Unfortunately, at most organizations brand is relegated to the limiting role of logo, marketing campaign or employee value proposition, where it can’t realize its full impact. Luckily, this doesn’t have to be the case. There are dozens of examples of brands that are breaking the mold (think Southwest).

But if you want your organization to stop putting brand in a corner, you have to be willing to change the conversation.

Divorce brand from a marketing vs. talent mindset

The first step is to stop calling it corporate brand or talent brand! Qualifying brand with an adjective makes an already poorly and inconsistently defined concept even more confusing; it creates silos; and overall dilutes the impact that brand can have on your organization—sales and recruitment, alike. So stop!

Begin  journey of a thousand conversations

Shockingly, the next step in changing the conversation is to start having some. This is called the journey of a thousand conversations and involves more listening than talking. The goal is to talk to your colleagues, customers, executives and marketing peers to diagnose the role brand currently plays at your organization.

Some advice from the field: avoid placing blame and meet people where they are at. You will encounter skeptics and naysayers. Don’t hate. Graciously take the data points and turn your frustration into fuel and thick skin (you need both more than pointless arguments). Also, empathize that brand is a nebulous idea. Everyone you meet will have a slightly different definition. That’s ok. That’s actually incredibly helpful to diagnosing the challenges (and to building a business case!). Understand now; educate later.

Defy the silos

There is likely more than one brand master at your organization. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that those masters and the agencies they work with tend to interpret the brand a little differently. These are the silos. You cannot ignore them, but you can defy them. How you ask? Conversations!

During your journey of a thousand conversations you will encounter themes. These themes are your best friend when it comes to inspiring collaboration and championship across internal silos.

It turns out, if you gather people with thematic challenges in the same room, three amazing things happen. First, they commiserate about their problems. Second, if you’ve done your homework right their ideas and comments begin to converge. Third, with newly discovered common ground, they begin to collaborate.

Not only will this foster empathy and collaboration that defy the silos, it also creates brand champions. Changing a conversation is much easier when you’re not the only one trying to do it!

Make brand the yin to strategy’s yang

Changing the brand conversation with executives and driving subsequent brand investments, can be a real challenge, especially in the B2B world. Being the eternal optimists that we are at CH2M HILL, we decided to turn that challenge on its head. We saw it as an invitation to creatively recast brand in the role as the organization’s “strategic amplifier.” Impossible? Nope. CH2M HILL is doing it as we speak.

Being a B2B company in a service industry, we essentially sell the knowledge, creativity and delivery capability of our people. Putting our executive thinking caps on, we traced all indicators and performance metrics (and thus executive incentives) back to four fundamental metrics: top line, bottom line, recruitment, and retention. Those metrics became the anchor for our case.

Measuring brand’s direct impact against these metrics is inherently difficult (doesn’t help when you don’t have a baseline). Instead, we used real data from a brand audit that examined senior management and employee opinions, client preferences and decisions drivers, competitive analyses, and other B2B rebrands to identify holes in our brand story. We then demonstrated how these holes contributed to lack of differentiation, inconsistency and dilution, and internal identity confusion that had real top line and recruitment, bottom line, and retention consequences.

We successfully built a case to invest in a rebrand (which we are currently undergoing). Moreover, we built executive championship for brand as a catalytic force to accelerate the organization’s strategic goals; brand as the yin to strategy’s yang.

Don't wait for permission to do something awesome

Okay. Now here’s the last conversation you need to change—the one in your head! I want you to tell that little voice saying, “this sounds great, but I could never do that,” to shut it.

Someone has to have the first conversation. Driving this change is probably not in anyone’s job description. And I hate to break it to you, Superman isn’t on his way. Take a look in the mirror, YOU are the hero in this story. But, you have to choose to be.

I was a 26 year old engineer when I started on this brand journey. I had no idea what I was doing. All I knew is that purpose needed to play a more important role at CH2M HILL and the engineering world needed to tell a more inspiring narrative.

It turns out you don’t need permission to change a conversation. You just need a reason. So go do something awesome.

Kasey Hurlbutt is a Global Brand Manager at CH2M HILL. You can watch her Talent Connect talk on the topic of "How to Turn Your Executives into Talent Brand Champions" here.  If you have any questions, you can reach her on Twitter at @kaseyhurlbutt.

* image by JD Hancock
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