Thursday, December 21, 2006

An insider’s view of branding

Brands are visible. And so too is branding. Brands have the capacity to capture our imagination. There are many images that come to our mind when we think of brands. Companies and brands strive to stand out from the clutter through one or more elements of the brand. Differentiation is the name of the game. The brand name is what most people remember and recall. The brand name can be generic – cueing the category and business. Al Ries however says that this is a recipe for disaster. Or it can be just different. Nothing straight forward or predictable about Orange in mobile services or Apple in computers. But who’s complaining? Brands can be different in terms of the very shape of the product. Who does not like Toblerone chocolates? (More so people of my age who are better off, not even looking at chocolates). But back to the sweet stuff – the very shape of the chocolate and its trademark triangle are differentiators. Brands like Harpic have a unique packaging. Other brands like KFC have a continuing character or a mascot that is instantly recognisable. Who can forget the Air India Maharajah? (Except perhaps the employees of the beleaguered airline). I cannot but remember “His Master’s Voice” and the dog. Sorry, if that belongs to my time. Some brands own colours – it is not only coke that has appropriated the colour red, but Eveready batteries as well. And Tide with its orange stands out from the blues and whites in the detergent category. Corporations too have realised the value of their identity. IBM’s venetian blinds are a property. So what’s your brand’s property? Advertising is another differentiator. Sharply positioned brands like Volkswagen, Volvo or Avis stand out from their competition. Yes, all these visible aspects of branding are outward. They are targeted at an important segment – consumers. Brands need consumers as much as consumers need brands. Most marketing theory is about branding with the consumer as target. I have no quarrel with that. But what is often sidelined is the fact that brands have other key targets. Existing and potential employees and investors to name just a few. Will your mass media product TV commercial work for a harassed and hassled employee? Will not a slick (and largely untrue) appointment ad be a red rag to a bull when the current employees are disgruntled? This is what leads me to talk about building a brand internally. Within a company. Targeted at its employees. Communicating with them. Telling them and showing them that they matter.

Talk to me
CEOs specialise in clichés. Simple one liners that they pick up in management seminars or books of famous corporate leaders. “People are our most valuable asset”. (Oh really!) “Every evening our assets go down the elevator and we hope they return the next day”. (We all live in hope don’t we)? Sadly there is a preoccupation with empty statements but a strong reluctance to “walk the talk”. People realise the value of internal communications but do not give its strategy or execution the importance it deserves. Communication of the company’s values, systems and processes are a CEO’s job. But CEOs in my opinion are more anxious to talk to the media and the CII rather than their own employees. Of course there will be CEOs who are exceptions and thank God for them. Nor does this seem to be a problem only with Indian companies. When Deloitte and Touche Human Capital conducted a survey among American CEOs who were asked which HR issues are very important to the success of the organisation, 95% of them said “effective internal communication”. Simultaneously only 22 percent agreed that they thought it was being delivered effectively. If that is the situation in the land of management gurus and corporate giants, imagine the situation that could prevail here. So here is my question to you. Do you have a planned internal communication programme in place? Who is driving it? Who is monitoring its programmes and progress? What do your employees think about it?

People first, second and third
Technology companies whether they like it or not, know that people matter. Period. And to add to the challenge, the demand for quality technology professionals seems to far outstrip the supply. To add to the excitement, some of them seem insecure as well. Adding to their insecurity is the risk of obsolescence and fear of burn out. The counselling centre that I do voluntary work for in Bangalore has a fair share of techies battered by stress at the work place and tension at home thanks to the long hours and prolonged absence from home on global trips to unhappy and unappreciative client offices. “I am an individual” he says “recognise me as one such”. “Tell me what is happening in the company, outside of my work group”. “I am worried about repetitive strain injury…tell me about it”. Savvy companies are realising that it is just great business sense to focus on their people as much as on their customers. Satisfied employees will get their friends to join the company thereby reducing recruitment costs. Disgruntled employees bring down the morale of the place and frighten prospective employees. And yet a carefully devised, consistent, well executed internal communication programme can reduce attrition and improve employee morale. And while I speak about technology companies, I am sure that is true of every other company.

The “what” and the “how”
When we talk about branding an organisation internally we need to be clear about a few things. First determine the current mood of your employees. What are their highs and lows? What are their current concerns? What is the current level of communication? While it is fine to talk of communicating, it is equally critical to understand what needs to be communicated. Is it the announcement of a rewards programme? Is it “Thank God its Friday”. Today people want communication that is impactful. Done by professionals-not an out-of-work freelancer or a disappointed copy writer who is now writing software. Ad agencies are not motivated by creating internal communication. They want big budget TV films that are shot in Switzerland. Go to a professional who understands people, HR and communications. Determine where you will communicate. It can’t be only the intranet. Where are the vantage points in the campus? Where do people congregate? Where is the opportunity to see a grafitti board for instance? Have you considered the lift doors? Monitor your communication. And last but not least – get senior management involved. Some of our most successful internal communications programmes had a champion – the CEO. Find a champion within the company. And may you have a company of brand champions. A company full of people who know what your brand stands for and who will be your best salesmen.
The author is Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO of Brand-comm

No comments: