INSIG H T
By Jack LeMenager
Strategic Business Communications
Building the corporate brand
through employee engagement
To the average Joe, “brand” means logo. that any problems will be dealt with efficiently,
Nike’s “swoosh.” The bold block expeditiously and courteously, and that that
promise holds true every time they shop there.
characters that are “3M.” The five inter-
locking colored rings of the Olympics. A brand is also an impression, a mental image
The unblinking CBS eye. The blue Ford that evokes consistency, permanence, and
oval. And the capital letters on a positive traits about a company and its products
HUMMER H2 grill. and services.
A company cannot “own” the brand; its
stakeholders do. Its customers, investors,
suppliers, and its employees give a brand its life
and its legitimacy.
Brand is the sum of the entire organization — its
values, systems, policies, decisions, operating
principles, structures, processes, work
environments and, most important, the
employees engaged in designing, building,
marketing, distributing, promoting, selling and
servicing the products. And it is the employees
who have the greatest impact on the enduring
The average Joe would say those are success of brand, which is determined by how
brands. Joe would be wrong. they conduct themselves each day, not by some
corporate edict from above.
A brand is not a logo. Nor is it signage,
corporate colors, slogans or themes. It is Communicating brand to employees can be a
not an advertising campaign, no matter daunting task. Simply ghostwriting a memo for
how memorable or effective. a senior manager explaining the new brand
strategy, or issuing an employee newsletter
A corporate brand is a set of implied promises showing off a new company ad won’t do the
made about what people expect from their trick. Many people talk about employee
interaction with the company when they “awareness” of the corporate brand. Awareness
encounter it. Dropping off a FedEx® package isn’t enough: it’s possible to be aware, but still
means never having to worry about when or if it not care. The first priority is for employees to
will arrive at its destination. People know that a understand, embrace and believe in the values of
Big Mac® and fries will taste the same in Prague the brand, not just be informed about them. This
or Peoria, and can expect that they will be served will only happen if leadership and management
in an equally clean restaurant. Nordstrom® live the brand through their individual and
shoppers carry their packages home knowing collective attitude, behavior and actions. That
takes time, passion, energy, consistency, effort And it’s not just the things the company is doing
and dedication. But it’s important because today that need to be communicated. We need to
you’re asking employees to live a set of values tell stories.
— to keep the brand promise — that are
supposed represent the company, their role in the The Importance of Storytelling
company, and how the company interacts with Behind every successful brand is a good story.
customers, employees and investors alike. Walk the halls of Coca-Cola headquarters in
Atlanta, and almost every person in the building
All of this must be communicated on a regular can recite the tale of how pharmacist Dr. John
basis, which is certainly a challenge, given that Smith Pemberton first toted jugs of his caramel-
companies often don’t do a good job of colored syrup down the 19th century streets of
communicating with employees on even the Atlanta to Jacobs’ Pharmacy, where, for a nickel
most basic matters, let alone set the “right” apiece, the soda fountain served up glasses
examples. In fact, they often don’t communicate mixed with soda.
at all. Only half of the corporate
communications departments surveyed recently Every new McDonald’s employee, from
by Towers Perrin say they communicate with executive to fry cook, is immediately immersed
their employees. And of those, who knows how in the tale of how MultiMixer salesman Ray
many consider periodic memos on the Kroc built the world’s largest food service
company’s stock or the summer picnic as retailer on the company’s “QSVC” principles —
constituting “communications?” quality, service, value and cleanliness. Hewlett-
Packard Development Company has enshrined
Employees can’t be expected to embrace a brand the Palo Alto garage where, in 1939, William
if no one is building a relationship with them. Hewlett and David Packard developed the
Getting a copy of the annual report and a company’s first product, an audio oscillator.
newsletter listing new executive hires may
technically qualify as employee communications, Companies have histories — or, “stories.” And
but they don’t do much to help employees by telling these histories, people can connect to,
understand what the corporate brand means to feel and understand the mission, values and
them — or what they mean to the brand. passion that have built, grown and sustained the
company. Corporate brands reflect their
Neither will telling employees “what the brand company’s heritage. With successful brands, the
is” or is going to be, in so many words and pride and emotion they generate are passed on to
charts. Brand doesn’t exist in a PowerPoint new employees like family heirlooms moving
presentation or a Word document. To live the from generation to generation.
brand, employees need to see, hear and feel
what’s going on outside their cubicles and Unfortunately, as the value of corporate brand
workstations. becomes increasingly understood — or
misunderstood — from boardrooms to B-
They need and want to know this information. schools, a growing tendency is for companies to
In an era of instant messaging, if management view brand as a potential quick fix to reverse any
doesn’t tell them, they’ll find it out on Yahoo! number of business maladies.
message boards or Raging Bull chat rooms,
where they may be more likely to pick up rumors “Competitor X has a great brand — let’s get one
and gossip than positive brand-building too!” This can be an all-too-common battle cry.
information. Your colleagues need to know not Market share dropping? Market cap down?
just what the company is doing, but how your Initiate a new brand strategy! Or — even worse
actions — and their actions — build and support — create a new name or logo!
Not too long ago, companies were rushing to re-
It isn’t a matter of saying, for instance, “We’re brand their companies as “something-dot-com.”
innovative!” They need to see and hear Even older, established companies such as K-
examples of this every day — whether by citing Tel® and SkyMall® saw their stock prices
instances of creative customer service solutions, skyrocket as they recast themselves as savvy,
innovative new products, or employee New Economy companies. The companies and
congratulations for thinking outside the box. their stock quickly came crashing back to Earth
as soon as people understood that they were still easily overlooked asset. Protecting or building
the same old companies, with the same old an effective brand involves a constant process of
strengths and weaknesses. Without a complete self-evaluation. You should periodically be
brand strategy, re-branding can be little more asking yourself questions like:
than throwing a new coat of paint on an old car • Who are we today?
— eventually, the clunker breaks down anyway. • Who do we say we are?
• If there’s a gap between those two
Brand is not an after-thought, something to be things, why is that the case?
sprinkled on top of an already-baked business • How is senior management’s behavior
plan. It requires a considerable and constant reinforcing — or detracting from — our
effort. Brand is not something that can be brand?
achieved by merely ordering up a splashy new ad • Do we encourage the kind of internal
campaign, or slapping a logo on the side of a dialogue and debate that optimizes our
NASCAR racecar. The corporate brand should performance and brand consistency?
be treated like any other major corporate • What are our employees thinking,
initiative. It requires its own strategy, believing, and saying? How about our
dedication, commitment, resources and customers? The media? Are we even
personnel. in the habit of asking them?
• Are our communications strengthening
McDonald’s has served as a role model for how our brand? Are we communicating the
to dramatically reinvigorate its brand. In 2002, a right things?
survey showed that McDonald’s ranked 22nd out • Who do our competitors say they are?
of 25 fast-food chains in terms of order accuracy. Has that changed? Who do our
That was symbolic of several shortcomings, competitors say we are? Has that
including many pertaining to its food. changed?
McDonald’s had lost sight of what its customers • Do our capital, product and other
wanted, and the brand suffered. Fortunately for investments strengthen our brand
McDonald’s, new leadership recognized that the promise?
company had strayed from its brand promise — • Regardless of who we say we are or
its QSVC principles. A new CEO vowed a who we actually are, who do we need to
return to basics, and a commitment to being true be?
to its own center of gravity. No glitz and no
glamour. It brought back its old Big Mac secret You may not have all of the answers right away.
sauce recipe. It cut back on spiraling growth, so But the answers can be found in bridging the
it could focus on getting existing stores up to internal and external communities, identifying
standard. It reduced investments in technology the key factors that drive the natural evolution of
that didn’t directly impact the customer. And, your brand.
above all else, it reinvigorated the “hospitality
experience,” with an emphasis on employee IBM, 3M® and RCA® have all built and evolved
education. leading world-class brands without significantly
straying from their roots as International
The result? McDonald’s is flying high again. Its Business Machines, Minnesota Mining and
most recent introductions have been relevant to Manufacturing and Record Corporation of
customers, and Wall Street is excited again. The America, even though those brands stretch back
key, though, is that the company strives to live more than 100 years.
true to its values everyday, never wanting to
stray again from the principles that made The GE brand name has scarcely changed since
McDonald’s a great company to begin with. Thomas Edison formed General Electric in 1879.
GE is the only company listed in the Dow Jones
“Got Brand?” Industrials Index today that was also listed in the
Every company likes to think it has a unique and original index in 1896. But during that
effective brand. But a business can be successful remarkable span, both the company and what the
and still not be maximizing the benefits of its brand stands for have evolved tremendously.
brand. As former GE Chairman Owen Young
said, it’s not unusual for the corporate brand to The GE brand was for decades a household
be a company’s most valuable, and yet most brand name among consumers. From light bulbs
to TVs to dishwashers, nearly every home in the Of course, not all brands can stand for the same
country had electric products bearing the GE thing forever. Technology, competition and
name. Today, Thomas Edison would scarcely other elements change. Take Xerox, which
recognize the company he created. GE earns invented and was synonymous with copiers for
most of its profits from financial services and years. But competition and evolving technology
industrial products, from locomotives to jet is forcing the company to move beyond that
engines. association. The challenge is for Xerox to find
what its brand means in today’s environment. Its
In spite of the tremendous diversification and the latest brand iteration focuses on improved
de-emphasis of consumer products, GE has built productivity through better document
one of the world’s strongest brands around the management.
strength of a single word: Quality. When GE
said, “We bring good things to life,” it referred to What does your corporate brand stand for in the
everything from NBC television programs to public’s mind today? Is it what you aim for? Or
GE-branded credit cards. GE is known and do you stand for something else? Understanding
respected for being a leader in every market it where you are now is critical for you to get to
enters, and for applying its famous “Six Sigma” where you want to be.
initiative that provides a roadmap to quality by
reducing errors by several orders of magnitude. If you do it right, brand is forever. However, a
brand that is poorly managed, tarnished or tied to
It’s hard to imagine GE even contemplating a negative image can also last forever, casting a
changing its name to “Genelcom” or some other long shadow or a bad reputation that may be
computer-generated name merely in an attempt impossible to shake.
to create a “modern” brand image. GE has built
and evolved its brand as the company has In the infamous Tylenol® tampering crisis,
evolved, and recognizes the value of the brand Johnson & Johnson elected to defend its brand
far outweighs any potential benefits of any aggressively in the face of what could have had a
radical rethinking of the brand. However, its devastating outcome. By immediately instituting
current marketing iteration — “Imagination at a complete nationwide recall and implementing
Work” — has not given the company the lift of stringent (and costly) product safety measures,
its previous theme. Words alone don’t do the J&J restored the integrity of and faith in the
job, and the jury is still out on the value and brand to the point where Tylenol emerged post-
meaning of that theme. scandal with an even greater marketshare. Its
management of the scare has become a
The good word prominent case study in crisis management
Want an even simpler definition for your brand? courses and texts.
Strive to own a word in the minds of the
consumer. Can you reduce your mission to one It’s no coincidence that the company’s long-time
or two words? Consider these familiar “credo” is: “We believe our first responsibility is
examples: to doctors, nurses and patients, to mother and
fathers and all others who use our products and
FedEx — overnight services.”
Disney — family entertainment
Palm — handheld Contrast that with the Ford/Firestone tire
Wal-Mart — low price debacle, where consumers responded poorly to
3M — innovation what they perceived as both companies’ finger-
Volvo — safety pointing and reluctance to acknowledge
problems and undertake steps to remedy the
These brands don’t simply claim these qualities situation with tire failures on Ford Explorer
— they OWN the word(s) in the minds of the SUVs. Both Ford’s and Firestone’s brand
consumer. Their laser-like focus on living out equities suffered. In the case of Firestone, some
their mission every day has earned them hard- openly question its ability to live on as a
won places in the hearts and minds of their consumer brand name.
customers, employees, suppliers, business
partners and investors. For better or worse, brands possess staying
power. The moral: you must nurture your brand
well because it is the company. That’s why it’s everything that they do, fulfilling the brand
critical for you to be so passionately mindful of promise every day. Through their daily
the brand — you only get one shot at it. commitment, they shape the brand’s evolution
and maximize its value to the corporation.
Come Back for More
To the consumer, investor or onlooker, brand Winning as a team
exists solely in the mind. Brand is a result of the We are essentially talking about a successful
cumulative experience of people as they interact team effort, so an appropriate analogy would be
with employees, products and services. How do a winning sports franchise — say, the Boston
the products make them feel? What motivates Red Sox, which broke an 86-year losing streak to
them to purchase? Or to invest? Or to work for win the 2004 World Series. The team’s
the company? What makes them want to come stakeholders include its customers: a loyal fan
back? Do they view the company’s offerings base of millions in the six-state New England
differently from those of competitors? Why? region. It also includes its employees: a squad of
Do they view buying from the company as a 26 highly paid professional baseball players, the
relationship or merely a transaction? team’s management,
and the coaching and
An effective brand doesn’t simply distinguish a support staffs. The
company or product from its competitors. It local and national
builds a lasting relationship with people. It sports media are also
influences, motivates and drives them. Brand is important stakeholders.
nothing more than the emotional feelings and The Red Sox brand
responses a company engenders in people. received a huge boost
in meaning and value
If leveraged properly, a strong brand can on the heels of their
increase the awareness and interest of potential 2004 championship.
customers, improving the opportunities for new
and expanding sales. It can sustain or even Certainly the 100-year-old franchise had a well-
intensify customer loyalty and increase repeat entrenched brand image long before its 2004
sales. A strong brand can help multiply revenues season. Like any brand, it experienced its ups
and add value to the company, improving and downs. Even established brands like IBM,
shareholder equity. In short, a strong brand can Procter & Gamble, Apple, Coca-Cola and
help meet business objectives and deliver General Motors seesaw through periods of strong
positive business results. and weak brand identity. So, too, have the Red
The development and cultivation of the brand is
largely out of the hands of the so-called brand For years, the Red Sox brand was one of “June
managers, as well as the marketing managers, swoons” and blown chances of success, such as
and advertising agency creative directors. You the decisive error by Red Sox first baseman Bill
don’t “create” a brand; you find it — Buckner in the 1986 World Series against the
intentionally and systematically — from the New York Mets. In the late 1980s, the brand
inside out. And like anything else, it requires was exemplified by an often-heard cliché about
planning, commitment, adequate resources, the team being “26 players, 26 taxicabs after the
performance and a strong foundation. It also game,” a team without camaraderie,
requires that the communications function be cohesiveness, or common sense of purpose. But
involved from the outset in all strategy the 2004 version of the team was different.
development and planning, both to reflect the There was a new spark. The brand reinvention
concerns of all constituencies as well as to weigh started among the employees — the players. In
in on the language and concepts used to effect, what the Red Sox did was establish a
articulate the brand. clear image in their own minds.
It also demands that the company cultivate an That image was one of cool, quiet confidence
operating philosophy and values that and determination. A relaxed, self-assured
meaningfully permeate the entire organization. attitude grew among the players and prevailed in
That means it must start with engaged employees the clubhouse through both victories and losses
and managers who embody the brand in as the long season played out. On a team of
superstars, no one was seen or treated as “the
leader.” They all were leaders. Even when the The Same Ball Game
media tried to single out a star, he would defer. The creation and improvement of a corporate
In a sport full of huge egos, the Red Sox players brand occurs in much the same fashion. The
were actually humble and self-effacing. Even winning spirit and the internal value system
genuine game heroes were quick to share credit reinforce themselves among engaged and
among their teammates. They called themselves committed employees and managers.
“a bunch of idiots.” Collectively, they come to see themselves on a
mission — as though pursuing their own
As the team improved and won more games World Series championship. Maybe it’s a
through the late summer, the players’ enthusiasm mission to become and remain the best in
and confidence grew exponentially and became quality and reliability in their market, like
contagious, spreading to the local media and the Toyota. Maybe it’s to be recognized as the
fans — the so-called “Red Sox Nation.” The market leader, like Coca-Cola. Or maybe it’s
team closed out the regular season by earning the being known as an iconoclastic innovator, like
wild card berth for the playoffs. Apple Computer. In each case, the culture
revolves around the mission and bolsters the
After beating the favored Anaheim Angels in the brand through the daily actions, commitment
division play-offs, the Red Sox came from and understanding of the employees and
behind a 3-0 deficit in the best-of-seven managers.
American League Championship Series to beat
their archrivals, the New York Yankees, in four It’s easy to recognize those cases in hindsight.
straight victories. The subsequent 4-0 World But how did they get that way? How do brands
Series sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals, the achieve a universality that, to many
winningest team in baseball that season, brought organizations, remains beyond their grasp?
the championship to Boston for the first time Again, the answer is that the brand starts inside
since 1918 and assured the meaning and value of with engaged employees.
the Red Sox brand for years to come.
Like the Boston Red Sox players, engaged
The Red Sox management capitalized on the employees drive positive results through a
renewed strength of the brand and reinvested it stronger affinity, sustained higher morale, a
by sharing the championship across the New sense of pride in what they do; greater relevance,
England region in a highly visible manner. In better management, smarter and faster decisions,
addition to a massive victory parade through the and operational focus. In fact, what we’re
streets of Boston that reportedly drew 3.2 million talking about is a company culture.
people, members of the team visited other New
England cities to repeat the experience into Brand = Culture = Brand
November and December to show off the The brand is built on the internal
gleaming World Series trophy to their millions development and sustainability of the
of fans, further cultivating and polishing the company culture. Employees must
brand, allowing these key stakeholders to “own” experience the characteristics of the brand in
the brand. the culture, manifested in the company’s
vision and values, its business strategy, the
Team owners held a lottery among fans to give management’s actions and enthusiasm in
four lucky winners their own World Series rings, support of the vision, values and strategy —
identical to the rings given the players and not merely its words — and the products and
coaches — with the proceeds of ticket sales services themselves.
going to charity.
Unfortunately, in many cases, there is a
While thanking people for their support and disconnect between the culture and the brand.
giving them a chance to be part of the Sometimes, when management talks, the brand is
celebration, the Red Sox bolstered the strength of treated as separate and distinct from what they
the brand for years to come. Adolescent and pre- do. The brand becomes merely a logo, signage,
adolescent fans in every corner of New England slogans, and advertising and marketing activities,
are now locked in as lifetime Red Sox fans, win and the employees become disconnected from
or lose. the brand.
Several years ago, while counseling a major of the Internet as the future of technology. The
airline on employee communications, we internal campaign changed the way employees
listened in on an employee focus group thought about everything they did, from how
consisting of customer relations people — the they named products to how they organized staff
men and women at the airport ticket counters. to how they approached selling. In other words,
One young man made a very telling statement the first step in re-branding IBM was to assure
about his employer. He said that he had lost that employees bonded with the new brand
track of the number of occasions in which he focus. Consequently, the transition, as
found himself embarrassed when customers experienced by the external world — customers,
asked him about advertised specials or analysts, suppliers — made sense, and appeared
promotions about which he knew nothing. flawless and successful. Wherever and however
they touched the organization, there was a
In other words, the airline had forgotten its most consistent message and a cohesiveness, both of
critical audience: its employees. The airline, in which are central elements of a strong brand.
effect, was making a promise to its customers The campaign was successful largely because it
while neglecting to get employees to buy into gave employees a sense of direction and purpose,
that promise — an absurd oversight in that it was restoring their confidence in the company’s
those very employees whose chief responsibility ability to predict the future and lead the
was delivering on that promise. technology industry.
It seems astonishing that an airline — any The brand starts inside in this manner and is
business involving intense customer contact — reinforced externally. Instead of shouting and
would neglect to keep its employees in the loop. turning it into a sales message, a “discover
Yet it happens, all too often. For instance, how versus sell” approach is far more effective. A
many times have you gone to a retail company’s constituencies should discover the
establishment in response to an advertised company and its brand, such as through third
special or promotion, only to learn that the clerk party endorsements, third party recognition, and
knew nothing about it? Not only is it a newfound visibility in new areas.
frustrating experience, but it also speaks volumes
about the nature and quality of that business, and Internal Chemistry
places serious doubts in the customer’s mind What is the origin of the spirit that molds and
about the wisdom of ever shopping there again. drives the internal value system that becomes the
Additionally, word-of-mouth emanating from company culture and the brand? Citing the Red
that customer will only be negative, steering Sox example again, the chemistry among the
other potential customers away. players was key to driving a successful season
and, hence, bolstering the Red Sox brand.
Clearly, if the brand is a promise, then the Undoubtedly, team management and ownership,
company’s employees are the keepers of that through its selection of the right player
promise, further underlining our previous point combination, was a critical element. As has been
that logos, signage, slogans, and advertising and reported by the Boston sports media, a number
marketing activities are almost incidental. of available free agent stars were passed over
due to their reputations of being “difficult” or not
The challenge to management is to inject reality being “team players.”
into the brand by helping employees make a
personal commitment to the promise and then to To a large degree, then, team/corporate
keep it by owning that promise in everything management must put the right elements
they do — to invest them with the right attitude together, remove roadblocks to success, and
and behaviors to deliver effectively on the leverage employees’ individual strengths while
promise time and again, whether they are compensating for their weaknesses, and then get
customer service representatives or out of the way.
manufacturing line technicians.
If we look at the challenge through a
When IBM launched its “e-business” campaign communications lens, we’ll see that making the
in 1997, its first marketing campaign was brand real is a multi-faceted assignment in the
directed exclusively to its internal audience of corporate environment. Employees must be
employees in order to align them around the idea connected by:
• Giving them information first,
• Actively engaging them in the business.
• Initiating opportunities for two-way
• Communicating face-to-face whenever
• Aligning internal and external
• Focusing on actions, not words.
• Crafting clear, relevant messages.
• Communicating openly and frequently.
• Putting a human face on senior
• Building knowledge and excitement for
the products that will embody the brand.
In so doing, communications aims toward a
single-minded goal: building relationships across
the organization. In other words, employees
must be allowed to have a relationship with the
business. It’s a relationship defined by the
corporate values, such as productivity, efficient
systems, quality and dependability, flexible
thinking, responsiveness, humility, quiet
confidence and innovation. Managers and,
especially, leaders must get employees to buy
into those values by acting the values themselves
in a consistent manner.
Jack LeMenager is a principal with Strategic
Business Communications, a Winchester, Mass.,
management consulting firm specializing in
employee communications. He can reached at