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Inside out: How HR can play an essential role in building your brand

May 26, 2014, Emily He - The rules of brand building are experiencing seismic shifts – changing in ways that offers HR a strategic opportunity to get in the game like never before.
Inside out: How HR can play an essential role in building your brand

The rules of brand building are experiencing seismic shifts – changing in ways that offers HR a strategic opportunity to get in the game like never before.

Fast-changing market dynamics and evolving consumer expectations have made building and advocating an authentic brand more important than ever. Gone are the days that brand can be viewed merely as a catchy tagline. Consumers and employees have become dramatically more sophisticated and aware of whether a Company’s words and actions align with the brand it promotes. If you don’t pass the sniff test, both will quickly look elsewhere for a Company that does.

For HR professionals this offers unprecedented opportunity to help develop a convincing “employer brand” – while also repositioning the HR function as a critical strategic partner within the organization. That very process is evolving here at Saba as we seek to draw on insights from across the enterprise to help re-invent our culture and craft a brand promise that resonates both in and outside the Company. Throughout this effort, I’m increasingly struck by the potential HR has to play a vital strategic role in this process. Here are four ways HR can help drive transformative change through building brand.

Build brand from the inside out: 

The old brand building approach: Get some marketers and consultants together, convene a few focus groups, and hope to cook up core brand messaging that rings true with your customers and employees. This worked reasonably well in the era in which companies spoke at customers and employees as opposed to speaking to them. Not so much any more.

The new paradigm: Build your brand from the inside out as a means of defining and leveraging your Company’s core essence in authentic and dynamic ways. Achieving that requires stepping outside the marketing department to elicit insights and analyze data from throughout the organization.

From an HR  perspective, it’s critical that employees are engaged in this “inside out” process to gain the diversity of perspective that assures the brand is aligned with the reality of the workplace and culture. When this alignment occurs, employees can sense they are working for an organization they can trust and believe in – critical when it comes to retaining and attracting top talent.

Think like a marketer:

Too many HR professionals have resigned themselves to more transactional and compliance roles, focusing on pushing paper and keeping the Company out of trouble, but squandering their opportunity to lead transformational inside-out change.

To combat this requires adopting a marketing mindset, focused on identifying your Company’s strengths, culture and character and then finding ways to build on and promote those attributes in ways that deepen employee engagement and advocacy.

At its core, successful marketing is focused on maintaining ongoing communication and connection with key stakeholders in ways that build trust and affinity. Applied internally within an organization, that same approach can generate enthusiasm and buy-in to create a contingent of brand advocates from every part of your Company. There’s an easy way to measure the success of this effort – track what current and former employees say about your organization on Social media and sites such as Glass Door. There, you will quickly see the unvarnished truth of whether your brand holds authenticity. 

Invite yourself to the table:

Having spent my career in various marketing roles, I can say from experience that a decade ago the function garnered little respect at many organizations. Marketing was viewed as a necessary evil, and was often the first to face the chopping block when hard times hit.  Fast forward to 2014, and at a growing number of organizations marketing has become a vital strategic partner within the C-suite. While changing market dynamics have played a significant role in driving this change, another major catalyst has been the proactive efforts of marketing professionals who knew they could deliver significant strategic value and weren’t afraid to make it known.

In many ways, HR today finds itself in a role similar to that of marketing a decade ago. The fast moving shifts in employee and consumer sentiments  have created an environment in which HR are ideally positioned to play a transformational role that can ripple through the entire organization. Yet, the reality is HR isn’t on many business leaders’ radar – at least from a strategic perspective. You often have to invite yourself to the table to present a value proposition and insights that are compelling enough to assure that you are more than welcome to stay there.

Enlist employees as brand advocates: 

There’s a sleeping giant in every organization – the employee workforce. If you actively engage employees in the process of defining and promoting a brand that effectively aligns with your culture while presenting an authentic view of your Company, nearly all of them will organically join what amounts to an de-facto sales force. They will sell your Company – and its products and services – simply through their engagement and enthusiasm.

The key, however, is to make sure you are sincere and committed to hearing what they have to say and open to their insights before you roll out a brand campaign. Shortly after Shawn Farshchi took over as Saba CEO last year, he and I had a conversation about revisiting our brand messaging. Shawn rightly observed at that time that as an organization we still had some work to do before we could confidently define and promote who we are, what we offer employees, and how we are differentiated in the market.  We were immersed in the sometimes-messy process of redefining our corporate culture and proclaiming our brand promise risked coming off as disingenuous or out  of touch.

Today, our organization has evolved to the point in which I have full confidence we can clearly define and advocate for a brand that both employees and our customers can believe in. We have gotten there by engaging people across the organization – and tapping the expertise of HR – to build a brand that feels just as authentic inside the organization as it does outside to our customers.

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