Building Your Brand -- Inside and Out

To be effective, a brand must work across many diverse cultures and generations, but ultimately, a strong global brand must resonate with all of its stakeholders -- internally and externally.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009
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It's a long journey from approving a new brand identity to having it successfully represent your company with both internal and external audiences -- and there are often stumbling blocks along the way.

At the start, it's important to remember that every corporate-branding effort must achieve two overarching goals. First is the obvious business goal of increasing market share, building name recognition and enhancing corporate reputation. Second, and just as important, the branding effort must also become a source of pride for employees -- a catalyst for building enthusiasm throughout the global workforce.

For example, when we launched Accenture's High Performance Delivered branding campaign in 2003, our goal was to link our brand to our business strategy and make it stick. We wanted Accenture and "high performance" to become synonymous.

Our message was simple: We understand what it takes for high-performing companies to become the best of the best. What's more, we put our knowledge and experience to work to help companies achieve high performance, not only in their particular business category, but in every aspect of their business.

That message started to resonate with our external audiences, and it soon became apparent that we needed to extend the brand -- into our own business. It is the people of Accenture, after all, who exemplify high performance, and it is essential that they embrace the brand and promote it every day.

As a key part of introducing the brand inside Accenture, we made a direct link between the branding campaign and our HR program in a number of ways.

High Performance Delivered messaging became a focal point of our Accenture Career Experience Web site, which communicates our core employee values and messages around opportunity, potential, growth and high performance. We also embedded the brand messages within our global training and "new joiner" programs, and featured them prominently in recruitment advertising and communications.

In time, High Performance Delivered became part of the Accenture vernacular. As our internal promotion evolved, all of our people around the world -- from HR to our consultants and our finance team -- realized that they played a vital role in delivering high performance. They believed in high performance; they lived it every day and practiced what our company, though our marketing and advertising, promised.

Today, our brand is fully integrated across our business and our research shows that Accenture and High Performance Delivered are, indeed, synonymous.

This experience has resulted in a number of key takeaways that I believe can be applied to any global company, regardless of industry:  

* Whether you're selling professional services or home appliances, achieving customer loyalty requires staying close and relevant to your customer. 

It's about flexibility and responsiveness -- anticipating your customers' needs ... and acting on them regardless of the current market conditions. In fact, a recent Accenture study of consumer attitudes toward customer service -- one of the most strategically important components of brand reputation -- found that 87 percent of consumers in Brazil, China, India and South Africa had switched service providers in at least one industry sector in the previous 12 months due to poor service. So it's clear that companies must be vigilant in protecting their brand promise.

* You can't hold on to customers if your employees don't live the brand.

Your brand must permeate every aspect of your business, starting with your recruiting efforts. You want to hire people who aspire to do great things, who wake up every morning excited about their work and believe in the brand.

Nothing will help you acquire and retain customers better than the employees who breathe life into your brand. As a result, one of the keys to building a successful brand is developing a solid communication channel between a company's HR and marketing professionals. 

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This should start with the most senior people in those organizations, who should be responsible for filtering information to all their employees.

* To be effective, a brand must work across many diverse cultures and generations.

The rapid rise of emerging markets -- with millions of new consumers in places like China, India, Indonesia and Brazil -- combined with the pervasiveness of digital communications and social media is putting tremendous pressure on companies to continue to shape their brands in order to stay relevant to Next Gen customers.

After all, these millennials (born after 1979) are not only your customers ... they're also your employees. Surveys indicate that they expect to have eight jobs between the ages of 18 and 32, so the corporate brand has become the glue for creating a cohesive workforce.

Considering that social networking -- the communication of choice among millennials -- has barely hit its stride, the implications for a company's brand are enormous.

It's not just because of what can be communicated on Twitter, but who is communicating the messages: younger, tech-savvy emerging-market consumers who are comparing your brand against all the others. Their brand loyalty is still being shaped and tested, and smart marketing professionals should be doing everything they can to ensure that their company scores well with all potential buyers of their products, especially with new consumers.

Trust, transparency and authenticity have always been important to a brand, but these corporate attributes are taking on even more meaning as people from all demographics expect to participate in their brands -- especially new recruits and Next Gen leaders in the pipeline.

Ultimately, a strong corporate brand differentiates a company, delivers a benefit -- including emotional benefits -- and provides consistency across geographies and product/service lines. A major global brand should resonate with all of its stakeholders, which means that all of its messages must be consistent -- internally and externally.

Once you've achieved that, you've made the leap from brand launch to successful brand recognition.

Roxanne Taylor is chief marketing and communications officer at Accenture.

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