· Features

HR: It's crucially important to ponder your 'brand'

Is the term ‘brand’ just a logo, some advertising or a PR campaign? Or is it perhaps one of the other essential outputs of the marketing department?

For too long, the whole concept of branding has been seen as an external communication process with logos at the very core of the operation to visually encapsulate what the brand stands for.

I believe the term 'brand' should be reclaimed, 'rebranded' even because in today's highly competitive market the best companies are increasingly realising that branding means so much more.

Our insight, gained over years of research, tells us both employees and customers have changed their behaviour. Rather than blindly believing the spin, they wait and watch, seeing how the company or brand actually behaves. They bide their time and ask themselves: 'does the experience match the promise?' making a truth out of that old saying - actions speak louder than words.

This employee and customer experience process is where 'the new era of branding' battles are being fought, and new organisational adjacencies are being actively developed - where cross-functional teams work on providing sustainable and consistent customer experience.

Take retailer Pets at Home, for example. It has every animal based product under the sun in all the colours, flavours and sizes. But the real point of difference is the experience the brand delivers through its people to its customers - they clearly know what it is doing, how it does it and why.

They all share the same set of values that are understood not just in their store but also at head office and in the warehouse and crucially they understand how to bring those values to life for themselves and their customers (human and animal), rather than just reading them on the wall.

It is no surprise they keep being placed so high up The Sunday Times top 100 best places to work because their ethos works brilliantly inside as well as outside the company. Another great example is one of our clients at Brand Vista the Merlin Group, which is the parent company behind Alton Towers, Madame Tussauds and the London Eye.

We've worked with its staff and figures now show that of 15,000 employees 92% know and believe in what they are delivering, 92% are aware of the values and 96% are clear about what they are expected to do.

Other Merlin Group data shows 94% are happy to go the extra mile at work when required and The Merlin Engagement index shows that 86% of permanent staff and 88% of seasonal staff would recommend the company, are committed and are proud to work there.

In the new era of branding, your talent is as big a contributor to delivering competitive advantage and differentiated positioning as any advertising - after all your people will meet and interact with more relevant customers, more often than an ad can ever do and customers will remember great or rubbish experiences a lot longer than they remember any ad! In fact we have a phrase that we think all HR professionals should keep in their minds when talking about customer experience delivery. It is based on over 20 years of talking to customers about their experiences and working with professionals who have a real passion for delivering great customer experiences.

The phrase is 'the insides of an organisation always leak out' - you can't stop it, it will happen.

It happens at Pets at Home, it happens at Alton Towers, it happens at Apple stores, it happened many years ago at M&S when the staff knew they were in trouble before the management did, and look what happened to them!

The key to getting great stuff leaking out so often lies in the hands of HR professionals and how they marshal and inspire the talent of the organisation - it could be argued that HR and operations are the real custodians of sustainable brand promise delivery and should be encouraged to not shirk the challenge.

The truth of the matter is that in today's connected customer world, brands are not purely the responsibility of the marketers. They need to seek out effective collaborations with HR in order to help focus the talent of the organisation and deliver consistent and sustainable brand promises.

This is the challenge that gets my colleagues and I out of bed in the morning and the results can be extraordinary, from improvements in employee and customer satisfaction and customer retention to repeat business and improved cost efficiency of delivery.

Whatever your sector, HR and brands need to get up close and personal, because without the talent of the business on board, brand promises will remain unfulfilled and customers will naturally look elsewhere for brands that actually do what they say they are going to do.

So be a part of the new era of branding and make sure your people are helping to keep, not break, your brand's promise - otherwise your company might be branded by your customers in ways you will end up paying a real price for.

Andrew Stothert (pictured) is CEO at Brand Vista