As the period from the mid-1980s to the present day has defined the contemporary global economy, corporations worldwide are engaged in the battles for market and mind share, competitive positioning, and global dominance. Today, businesses are still progressing through a series of environmental upheavals impacting business activity around the world. In today’s rapidly changing environment, organisations find themselves scrambling for competitive advantage. The deep realisation coming to the fore is that for them to be successful and competitive, they must continuously improve the way they organise and manage themselves. Not a hoax, but the truth is that organisational competitiveness will ultimately depend on their capability to configure people and design a system for optimal strategy execution.
For decades, one of the key levers organisations have pulled is being deliberate about their corporate brand to assert themselves in the market and beat competition. Corporate branding is one of the most fascinating phenomena today. ‘Who are we?’, ‘What do we stand for?’ ‘What do we want to become?’ These are some of the universal question’s organisations have wrestled with for a while. In a time of rapid technological development, global agendas, and changeable market conditions, it has gradually become more difficult, and far more important, to answer these classic questions.
In referring to the first wave school of thought on corporate branding, Schultz et al. (2003) noted that for some authors, the idea of an organisation as a brand was an extension of the product branding approach, with its focus on brand essence, benefits, and individual visual identities. Others were more concerned with positioning corporate branding as a strategic concept that fleshed out how an organisation could formulate an enduring identity relevant to its stakeholders. The field of corporate branding became divided into two camps. One camp was characterised by a product-driven tactical and visual focus, while the other camp emphasised corporate branding as a strategic and integrated field. The tactical and visual approach ended up largely dominating both corporate branding literature and practice. It also formed the foundation for what we call the first wave of corporate branding. With its focus on tactics and visuality, the first wave of corporate branding was carried forward as a marketing and campaign-driven approach.
Consequently, the responsibility for corporate branding was anchored in the marketing function. While the first wave of corporate branding differed fundamentally from the strategic and integrated approach, both directions did agree that the most important role of corporate branding was to give greater focus to the organisation as a force for differentiation. Many organisations gained experience with corporate branding during the last decade. International brand measuring systems (such as Interbrand and Business Week’s annual survey: The Best Global Brands) confirmed, time and again, the impact of corporate brands on companies’ financial performance. These surveys often ascribed corporate brands such as Disney©, Coca-Cola©, Nike© and McDonald’s© a central place as ideal corporate brands. Due to the charisma and broad public exposure of these organisations’ leaders, and the strength of these brands as icons and universal symbols, corporate brands such as these came to stand as practical examples of the approach and practice that characterised the first wave of corporate branding. Their global, outward-looking practices, and often quite considerable marketing budgets, created a feeling of omnipresence.
In all these, the employee’s place as a brand, if not an organisation’s greatest brand was not considered in-depth. While a corporate brand provides a source of competitive advantage by bringing together the company vision, culture and values, with organisational systems and networks, to form a unique organisational value proposition for customers (Knox et al., 2000; Hatch and Schultz, 2003); we would be doing the corporate brand philosophy a great disservice by not considering the people factor in the discussion. While products can be great and logos can speak, the organisation’s employees speak the loudest about the brand we so diligently strive to build and protect. Branding transcends what the marketing function does to what becomes everybody’s business within an organisation. It is as important, HR’s responsibility as it is Finance and the salespeople’s work. When an employee appears or interfaces with a customer, stakeholder, or shareholder, that employee is projecting a brand. Hence, it would be safe to say in the corporate brand conversation, our culture is a brand identity our employees exude. An organisation’s people are either empowered to be brand ambassadors or brand discouragers. If it is true that the most important asset in an organisation is its people, then converting regular employees to brand advocates/ambassadors must become an intentional act.
From our 28 years of experience working with clients, we have discovered that the promotion of an organisation’s brand through its employees starts from how they are recruited to how they are managed. Hence, Talent Acquisition, Management and Development become a critical aspect of Corporate Branding. You can contact us through firstname.lastname@example.org to take this conversation further.
Head of Advisory, People Transformation
Schultz et. al. (2003), Bringing the corporation into corporate branding. Copenhagen Business School, Copenhagen, Denmark, 2001