By Jeff Smith
Companies are increasingly realizing that for brand and business strategies to be aligned, the brand can no longer be driven solely by the activities of the Marketing Department. Delivering against the promises of a company’s brand strategy requires the entire organization, at every level, to live the brand. To a significant extent, this demands far more cross-functional collaboration than once occurred.
One of the most critical partnerships: bringing Marketing and Human Resources together to create a corporate culture that is on-brand, on-strategy and, ultimately, more effective at delivering bottom-line results.
The Benefits to Marketing
HR’s primary constituents are the company’s employees. Since a brand’s strength lies in its delivery, not just its communication, HR can be extremely effective in creating a brand-based culture through training programs, new employee orientations and performance evaluations.
As a partner in Prophet, a management consultancy specializing in integrating business, brand and marketing strategies, I have seen this collaboration take interesting forms. One global firm, for example, developed an interesting contest to create deeper appreciation and understanding for its new brand. It was based on a series of CD-Rom trading cards featuring questions for employees about how they would act in situations to uphold the brand. After correctly answering five questions, the card was traded for a new one. The first to collect all six cards won a prize. The program created an international network around the ideals of the brand, with cards travelling to all corners of the globe. The more people in the program who were in the program, the more the cards were distributed, resulting in a highly effective internal communications program.
HR can play a key role in helping Marketing develop internal communications that demonstrate how employees should “live” the brand. David Aaker, the noted authority on brand, emphasizes a company’s need for “change agents” who embody and live the ideals of the brand and are individuals that many people in the organization respect. By identifying these individuals and aligning their messages and behaviors, you create a very powerful force of internal role models for employees to emulate. HR is the function most capable of identifying and encouraging these employees to participate.
At the same time, HR benefits from closer collaboration with its Marketing colleagues. By positioning and keeping promises to prospective customers—who might also be future employees—Marketing can bolster HR’s ability to attract and retain employees who believe in advancing the company’s brand and business strategies.
In analyzing its recruiting efforts, a global services company we know discovered an evolution in how potential employees look at career opportunities. It found that it is no longer sufficient to offer a long career; recruits seek employers who will clearly help them build their own market profiles and overall market value. This suggests that Marketing and the brand play an expanding role in attracting the best talent. Potential hires give high consideration to what the brand stands for and how it is perceived in the marketplace.
This has elevated the importance of branding and increased HR’s reliance on Marketing. Marketing’s in-depth understanding of the customer and its ability to develop communications targeted at this group can help HR determine what tools and messages will help current and potential employees deliver the brand promises contained in Marketing’s communication materials.
Changing behaviors to encourage greater collaboration between HR and Marketing requires overcoming various obstacles: unaligned compensation systems, lack of senior management commitment, lopsided focus on immediate results and the management vs. the leadership of an initiative.
The surest way to stymie a great initiative is with a lack of senior management support. At many businesses, the HR group owns the internal values of the organization while the Marketing group owns the values the company wants customers to experience. Without senior leadership mandating that both groups work together, brand-oriented initiatives will forever be separate and will confuse— more than motivate—employees. The message needs to be consistent.
Sustainable change geared toward enabling employees to think differently comes from true leadership—managers who demonstrate that changing the way employees think works through their personal commitment to the ideals of the initiative. Combining HR and Marketing initiatives into a single program or initiative affords leaders greater clarity and focus and, ultimately, leads to more effective business results.
To truly reap the benefits of a Marketing and HR collaboration, a solid partnership between the two departments is required, one that strengthens the company’s efforts to bring its brand to life internally.
At Goldman Sachs, for example, the brand is at the very core of company’s culture, lived by each employee—a result of a conscious effort to integrate Marketing and HR efforts from strategy development to implementation. This is a key differentiator and one reason for its industry leadership. Internally, Marketing employees talk about cultural practices, not branding programs (a more effective way of engaging employees). Externally, Marketing highlights the elements of the Goldman Sachs culture that are most important to targeted customers. Brand and business alignment underscore the intense new-hire training program for all new Goldman Sachs employees by, among other things, explaining how the firm’s culture and values relate to the client experience. And continuous employee research ensures that company initiatives always meet employee and customer expectations.
Bridging the Gap Between Marketing and HR
Here’s how companies can bridge the gap between Marketing and HR, brand and culture, inside and outside, to better assimilate the brand internally.
Organizations need to start through a strategic alignment of company objectives, marketing and employee objectives, and, ultimately, communication to all constituents. Each department must develop respect for the other’s expertise. Meetings need to be held during which strategies are exchanged, synergies discussed, and overlaps resolved. The alignment is best developed around business objectives, not departmental objectives.
Once both departments are philosophically aligned, each one’s specific strategies must be discussed and agreed upon and shared objectives must be determined. One, for example, might be to generate employee excitement about recent company achievements or changes in strategic direction.
From there, it comes down to implementation: assessment of what needs to be done collectively and as individual functions. Once the tasks are outlined, a plan should be created detailing how the brand is reflected across all key initiatives, as well as the roll-out for each initiative.
While the execution of plans divides responsibilities between each department, there should be some joint management structure providing frequent assessments and course corrections. This can be a cross-departmental senior representative steering committee or a joint working group.
Brand alignment is critical for the implementation phase to be effective. To infuse brand into business practices, it needs to be related directly to employee benefits using language like, “If you act in this way, you will achieve these results.”
It’s also essential for Marketing to internally share the company’s promises with employees before communicating with the external market. BMW has had great success motivating employees by sharing its advertising campaigns with employees before they hit the general market. Successful brand alignment will help employees and the company as a whole to naturally act on-brand with an on-brand customer experience to follow.
The monitoring and management of HR and Marketing’s collaborative efforts is ongoing, and the two should provide updates on progress and relevant information regularly. While HR should continue to monitor the pulse of employees, Marketing must stay focused to deliver against the needs of the company’s stakeholders.
HR and Marketing might not be natural bedfellows, but experience proves their cooperation increases successful recruiting, overall employee understanding and support of the brand. With a simple formula of communication and coordination, companies can create a strong foundation to build a compelling brand, a strong culture and drive significant business impact.
About the Author(s)
Jeff Smith ([email protected]) is a partner in the Chicago office of Prophet (www.prophet.com), a management consultancy specializing in integrating business, brand and marketing strategies.