The truth about brand programmes, value systems and mission statements

A global multinational went through a rebranding process and came up with a typical set of corporate values: communication, respect, integrity and excellence.

All good stuff right? Well, yes, but truly valuable to the organisation? In this case, no. These were the values of Enron circa 2001 – and we all know how that story ended. You can’t read the management press and not come across a company trumpeting how it engaged its employees in its exciting rebranding programme – unfortunately, most of us have had to sit through what this engagement usually involves.

Step one, of course, is an expensive executive retreat where senior leadership – with the help of a clutch of smooth-talking consultants – brainstorm some values and uncover the new ‘soul’ of the business that will triple the share price or help it act as ‘one company’. Step two is to create a snazzy logo and brief middle management, and step three to communicate the values to employees and get them all ‘on board’.

The problem is that by this last stage, the inspirational ideas that had executives falling over themselves have become abstract concepts. What lands on the employee’s desk is a branded mousemat, a DVD and a special issue of the company newsletter. It becomes instant wallpaper and the initiative bites the dust.

Avoiding the pitfalls
A PR-style approach to a brand that is thrust on employees will be doomed from the start. Giving everyone an ‘Integrity’ mousemat or a mug with ‘Respect’ written on it won’t engage, encourage, motivate and inspire them. Being customer focused is great if you are a client account manager, but how does it relate to the guy in despatch? Being commercially minded is fine for a business manager, but how is it relevant to HR?

What would we do? Take the time to have real conversations with your staff, get them thinking about how they can contribute in their everyday working lives to the process of embedding your brand into your business.

‘The New Us’ leaflet will find a place on your agency's portfolio page no doubt, but getting a brand to stick takes time and a managed internal programme of involvement (not ‘engagement’ – a word that is at best neutral and at worst meaningless) that slots into the processes of your HR team. And this requires communicators with tenacity and resilience – making it all relevant is not easy, but done well, it is worthwhile.

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