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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Your employees and your brand

This Rubik's Cube image is from a article "Are your employees puzzled by your brand" which discusses the challenges when a company decides to change its brand -- and needs to engage its employees in the process. This of course is the top-down "marketing department" approach to branding, and has some relevance in corporate take-over situation, but for most businesses reading this blog, the actual employee involvement in the brand really arises (with leadership at the top, of course) at the grassroots level. This is why I am wary of "rebranding" campaigns.

Your employees are the key carriers of your brand. The meaning of that simple sentence may fly over your head -- it would have mine just a year or two ago -- but its underlying importance is vital for you to appreciate if you wish to achieve even the minimal success in marketing in the construction industry.

Your brand, for want of a better description, is the sum total of impressions about your business that cause potential clients to consider doing business with you in the first place, and continue to do business with you, even if your price may be somewhat higher than the competition, or (and this is important for your survival) you occasionally make mistakes and need a second chance.

Building your brand is what marketing is all about -- creating a perception that transcends, but is still rooted, in reality that causes your business to be worth more than the bricks and mortar, or cash in the bank. A great brand, I think, correlates well with really high "Goodwill" on your accounting statements. It also really helps your retained earnings in good times, and allows your business to survive and recover even when the objective circumstances aren't so great.

But if your employees screw things up by disrespecting clients, abusing the trust they are granted, and not respecting and building and sustaining the kind of relationships that support and enhance your brand, you are in big trouble. This can be especially serious if they are acting without supervision, and you lack enough oversight to see the damage they are doing. (Of course, if you are the owner/shareholder of the business, it is your responsibility, ultimately, and no one should be 'blamed' but you for your failure to see what is happening around you.)

So your employees really need to "get it".

But here rests another problem. You can't get employees who "get it" with a dictatorial, autocratic style, I think. Employees who are tied to a procedures manual, denied freedom to express and innovate, to try new things and sometimes fail, will convey, I think, exactly the wrong impression among your current and potential clients. No one I know wants to work with a bureaucratic drone. So you need to risk some brand-damaging mistakes, or you won't achieve the brand building freedom and confidence needed in your work force. (Really healthy businesses are often employee owned, but they only receive their equity when they truly appreciate the nature of responsibility and ownership, and pay for their shares with sweat and cash.)

The best approach to this branding dilemma is to appreciate your leadership responsibilities. If you are the owner/primary shareholder, you cannot simply abrogate your responsibilities and live the good life, dumping everything on your employees. You need instead to delegate effectively, letting go of the reigns to allow enough freedom to err, but showing enough involvement and compassion in your own style and practices so that you connect with the employees and your clients. This allows you to catch problems quickly, and resolve them.

And that is the great thing about building a great brand -- if you do it right, your current clients will tolerate some mistakes, in fact, in your resolution of the problems, you may actually enhance the brand. Your business will thrive even when things go wrong.

(Do you see some autobiography in this posting?)

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