Resource Management

Branding Your Workplace

October 1, 2011
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When we think of brands, we think of products and companies like Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Apple, Google, and Mercedes-Benz. Brands are an ever-present part of our lives-from the clothes we wear to the food we eat, the toys our children play with to the drinks we consume, and from our mobile phones to our expensive cars. Brands are everywhere.

The most successful brands are ones that build trust. They cultivate an image, persona, or personality that appeals to a specific target audience and gives its members comfort that they are making the right decision.

Brand Importance

Why are brands so powerful? First, brands nurture increased customer loyalty. Consumers develop a strong affiliation to particular brands. Therefore, they feel a commitment toward or even an obligation to purchase or use a particular brand. Brand loyalty is impacted by the experience and sense of satisfaction felt by customers. Whether customers will have a positive or negative experience depends on the company's ability to keep its promise-to successfully execute its operating model. Once customers experience a brand, they view their experience as a promise that they will have that same experience in the future. Each experience builds on the previous one. Customers become attached to the company's implied promise and, at times, are willing to pay more or go out of their way to experience that promised feeling.

In the same way, a strong workplace brand increases employee loyalty. With a strong workplace brand, employees develop a meaningful affiliation with the company and the work culture. When the company makes (and keeps) a valid promise that this company is a great place to work, positive things occur. Once employee loyalty increases, the company's employee retention rate goes up, saving thousands of dollars in hiring and training costs.

Second, brands offer a means of differentiating products and services in competitive markets. When the marketplace understands how your product or service offering is different from that of your competition, it's easier to generate new prospects, develop relationships with them, and lead them into a buying situation. If you are unable to differentiate your offerings, you'll spend time and money "selling" your prospective customers on why they should buy from you. In most cases, it is money poorly spent because you've never developed the relationships or trust needed to get their ear in the first place.

Similarly, your company must stand out as a truly remarkable place to work in order to attract the employees you need for the company to succeed and grow. Employees should be drawn to your company not only because of salary and perks, but also because of the intangibles involved with working for your company. Prospective employees need to be able to envision themselves working for your company. They need to be able to read or listen to employee testimonials on your website and see themselves in those positions. For example, one company sends a customized video clip via email to each candidate after the initial interview, thanking that person for their time and effort to come in for an interview. That sets the stage immediately that this could be a very good place to work.

Third, brand loyalty influences pricing. Because of the reassurance of quality often associated with a brand, the manufacturer can often charge a premium price. Even more important to our application of brands, a strong brand can often undercut its rivals simply because its name is better known or associated with certain characteristics, like quality, style, or even sex appeal.

Likewise, a strong workplace brand will help manufacturers break out of the cycle of price competition. In other words, employees will look at more than the pay scale when considering joining the organization. A strong workplace brand does not mean that companies can underpay or take advantage of the workforce. Instead, it means that they can offer a fair compensation package and be far ahead of the competition by using their workplace brand as a way to close the deal.

Capitalizing on the Brand

Manufacturers can take several steps to realize the benefits of branding their workplace. Claims about the workplace environment must be built on a solid foundation of truth. A claim without substance won't stand. Saying that the company is a truly unique place to work is not enough-it must truly be a unique place to work.

Companies should identify three to five unique truths about the workplace environment that can easily be proven to prospective employees. For example, are workers empowered? Prospective employees should be shown examples where current employees have been given authority to make decisions. Does the company respect its workers? Prospective employees should be able to talk with current employees to verify claims. Has the company won awards for culture, safety, or greatest places to work? If so, those awards should be posted in a prominent place. Manufacturers can be bold in their proclamations, as long as they are true.

Companies should customize their brand according to the type of employees they are trying to attract. The following exercise will help manufacturers determine their target employees. Gather the company's managers and leaders and divide them into two teams. Ask the first team, "What attributes would you use to describe one of your most valued employees?" Ask the second team, "What attributes would you use to describe a successful entrepreneur?" Have each team answer its question in isolation. Then compare the results together. Most likely the two lists of attributes will be nearly identical. This indicates that the most valuable employees exhibit the attributes of an entrepreneur.

If a company wants entrepreneurial employees, the workplace environment must attract such employees. Manufacturers must be able to express how their workplace environment addresses the needs of this type of employee. This is the key to workplace brand building.

The workplace environment must also be inclusive. It should empower employees at every level to feel that they are part of a greater team and that their opinions matter. For example, ad agencies often attract talented and creative designers by offering them the opportunity to build world-class portfolios and work as equal members in a design team where everyone's creative input is considered on projects. This builds equity in the workplace environment.

At times, leaders will have to take the time to explain why things are happening as they are. In such cases, leaders become teachers. When students (employees) begin to understand the consequences of their actions and the nature of the markets, they can begin to make decisions that benefit both themselves and the company. Inclusiveness means that consequences-positive and negative-will be felt by everyone.

For a workplace brand to be inclusive, people must rate the environment or culture as a major factor in why they came to work for the company. The CEOs and managers of King Arthur Flour, for example, communicate nearly everything to all of the people in the organization, which, in turn, empowers the employees as partners in the business endeavor. One of the reasons for the high employee retention rate at King Arthur Flour is that people are attracted to this inclusiveness and can't find it in other workplaces.

Loyalty is Key

When their workplace environment is credible, customized and inclusive, manufacturers will have created a workplace brand, a valuable tool that increases employee loyalty. Very few people in leadership positions consider the workplace as something that can be branded, but those who do reap tremendous benefits.

About the Author

Martin O'Neill is a frequent speaker and consultant on leadership, corporate culture, strategic planning, and building enterprise value. He is the author of The Power of an Internal Franchise (Third Bridge Press, 2011) and Building Business Value, and the coauthor of Act Like an Owner. Visit www.corsum.com for more information.

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