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How HR Can Help Build and Protect the Corporate Brand

Looking at Interbrand's 2013 list of Best Global Brands, the top spots are occupied by household names like Apple, Google, Coca Cola, IBM, and Microsoft. Aside from well-recognized products/services and large market shares, these corporations also have huge workforces. What's the connection?

The relationship between employees and brands

i4cp's Chief Research and Marketing Officer, Kevin Martin, wrote an interesting TrendWatcher in February 2013 about the increasingly entwined relationship between marketing and HR departments. During a recent re-read, a quote from Jamie DePeau, SVP and Chief Marketing Officer at Lincoln Financial Group, jumped off the page:

HR and corporate marketing share the same business objectives.

That makes sense. Both of these departments--at any organization--ultimately have a stake in the company brand. But what differentiates high-performance organizations (HPOs) from low-performance organizations is a strong brand consistency both internally (HR) and externally (marketing). In fact, The People-Profit Chain™ performance improvement model from i4cp identified 25 KPIs that correlate to high performance and found that HPOs are 2.3x more likely to go to great lengths to build and protect the brand.

Basically, consumers may be drawn into transactions by marketing initiatives, but it's the touchpoints with employees along the way that cultivate brand loyalty and drive future sales. HR needs to equip employees with the skills they need to be self-sufficient brand evangelists, deal with positive and negative customer feedback, and radiate excitement about products and services.

Building a quality internal brand will strengthen the external brand:

Create a culture that rewards out-of-the-box thinkers

Creativity and innovation foster a corporate culture of which employees are likely to be proud, building brand loyalty and distinguishing the company from its competitors.

Place customer focus at the center of strategic decisions

The old adage that the customer is always right certainly holds merit in a marketplace where few factors aside from price matter to end users. HR needs to hire for customer focus--HPOs are 3x more likely to employ this practice according to i4cp's The Customer-Focused Organization--and institute policies that underscore the value-add of each interaction to make sure that employees build brand loyalty by sending customers away with positive perceptions.

Establish a sustainability plan

HR can certainly help build the corporate brand, but strategy is required to ensure that the potentially vulnerable reputation is protected into the future. Work with the marketing department to map out goals and timelines of brand measurement metrics using industry standards--number of returning customers, market saturation, brand recognition, to name a few--and ensure that leadership is committed to following through. Brand can be a powerful driver of purchasing decisions, and protecting its longevity can make the difference between success and failure.

Assuming the role of protector demands that HR formalize a strategy to secure the brand internally, advance business goals, and increase long-term shareholder value.

Download a complimentary preview edition of the research report, The Customer-Focused Organization, to learn about other practices of high-performers.