Delivering the brand promise - The role of HR
New entrants & intense competition continue to create the need for improving the brand presence of organisations as well as fine tuning their brand focus. However, there is always a gap between the external market dynamics and the internal people-management systems.
When consumers find that the Marketing stance of an e-commerce company is totally different from the purchasing experience, it can spell trouble. Why does this happen? What's happening inside an e-commerce company that creates visible cracks for the customer to see? Let's take a peek inside.
Typically, the IT function rules the roost in an e-commerce organisation. It keeps the company's most important touchpoint with the customer - the website - up & running! And the IT team know their stuff! They have a goal to reach - get the user to the data. The Marketing function, on the other hand, probably lacks the technical expertise but they too have a goal to reach -attract the shopper & convert her to a buyer. The Customer Support function most times, frantically tries to keep pace by responding to user enquiries. Its goal? Resolve the query. What are the other functions saying/ thinking/doing? Let's tune in a bit more. Logistics says 'expedite the order'; Warehouse Operations thinks 'stock it right'; Product Management goes on 'perfecting the product mix'; Vendor Management obsesses about 'tapping the right sources’ and HR Management is busy with 'getting & keeping talent.' The daily demands of running the business are top-of-mind for everyone, and so each function, each individual follows its own goal. Do these multiple goals always align with the Brand Promise? Not necessarily! For example, IT can very well follow its goal by providing endless rows and columns, tables, and forms to fill out. But if it does not support a Marketing stance of, say, 'quick payment and check out', complete disappointment would result at the point of purchase. Customer Support can excel in resolving queries, but if it is not supported by logistics in terms of regular order updates, the responses can only create irate customers. Customers and end-users would then receive mixed messages and the overall brand experience may fall terribly short of expectations.
According to a Forbes Study, less than 50% of employees believe in their company's brand idea, and even less are actually equipped to deliver on it. The old model of focusing primarily on the external message and media at best leaves the team disconnected, and at worst dismissive or cynical. So then, how do you get each and every one in your organisation live the brand? How do you get the functional and emotional experiences promised to a customer by a brand, permeate the functional and emotional values espoused by employees across departments/functions and levels? The answer lies in building an organisational culture that engages employees and motivates them to continuously deliver on the brand promise. The answer lies in internal brand alignment - an endeavour that establishes a synergy between the brand equity and people equity of an organisation.
How is it done?
A sure-fire way would be to develop a 3-D Alignment focus inside your company that understands and develops people as individuals, functional-team members and as organisational citizens.
Individual Alignment is all about creating a felt need to live the brand. Let us start from the top. Is the leadership aligned? Are they committed to the brand cause? Do they act as brand champions? Do the individual employees understand how they can contribute to the brand promise, irrespective of whether they are in customer-facing roles or support roles? It would be good to devise systems that help employees discover their strengths, blind spots and preferences that support the brand values and those that don't. The next step would be to evolve action plans that can help them leverage their strengths and mitigate their blind spots for better alignment. Build brand champions and brand loyalists from within. Functional Alignment is all about identifying the critical work processes of each function and how they connect up to other functions in delivering the brand promise. Develop function blueprints that increase the contribution of each function in enhancing the brand experience for the customer. Organisational Alignment is about ensuring that the organisation's culture is defined by the desired brand promise.
So then, is internal brand alignment a one-time activity? Can we have a one-size-fits-all strategy? Not a chance! Internal Brand Alignment is a dynamic process that keeps evolving with your market, with your people, with your brand. Just think about internal brand alignment as a journey, not a destination. So measure your progress at every milestone and explore forks and detours that enhance your connect to the brand. Think of it as a movement that builds brand champions and helps the brand promise gather its strength and momentum from its core - the inside.
So then, how can the consumer experience the brand promise as a continuum right from the time she enters your website to the point when she receives her delivery? And if there are cracks, do we patch them up from the outside or prevent them from the inside?
The answer lies in internal brand alignment.
Sowmya Raghu Raman heads VEncompass, a Vertebrand Group company that focuses on the people side of branding. Encompass' proprietary process Entropy™ helps measure, establish and enhance the alignment between the brand equity and people equity of organisations. (Article first published in Human Capital magazine, Nov 2015)