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The importance of alignment.

By Brian Odell   

It’s May, but here in New England we’re often left to deal with the remnants of winter long after the calendar tells us that spring has arrived. One of the most troublesome, and annoying, is potholes on our roadways. Despite the DOTs efforts to fix them, the problem always seems to linger.

If you’ve ever hit one of these craters, you almost certainly would have experienced tire or alignment problems that caused your car to vibrate or drift left or right on its own. Obviously, this makes it hard to keep the car traveling in a straight line. And at its worse, it can even cause drivers to lose control of the car.       

This is sort of like organizational alignment. If not controlled, it’s hard to keep the company moving in the right direction. At its worse, employee misalignment makes it hard to generate progress at all. That’s why it’s so important to think about alignment in the branding process.   

The most enlightened organizations now consider employee alignment as a core element of their brand marketing campaigns – as they should. It is easy to get caught up in the language of brands as if they are somehow separate from the organizations they represent. But brands are only sustainable when the things they stand for are consistently brought to life by employees for the customer. The truth is that investing in external brand awareness is a false economy if the customer experiences something different from the communicated message.

In the battle for customer loyalty, the companies that are in front are those that are constantly nurturing a business culture that expresses their brand values every day through a workforce that understands the brand, its value, and their role in delivering that value.

There are several critical factors in aligning the organization with the brand promise:

Bringing the brand to life inside the organization requires more than just integrated marketing.

It’s great to expose employees to the campaign elements, but this alone is simply a brand awareness exercise – not brand alignment. Sustained commitment to an organization and a brand requires a more fundamental cultural transformation in which employees:

  • Have a clear understanding of what the corporate brand stands for, where it is going, and what the employee’s own individual contribution towards its success should be.
  • Know how to deliver on the brand promise everyday.
  • Experience a sense of involvement in change and ownership of efforts to improve things.
  • Have genuine confidence in their leaders.
  • Feel supported by the processes which define their roles, develop their careers and assess their performance.

Engagement with the brand cannot be conscripted – it can only be volunteered.

  • The challenge is to shift the employee’s experience of the internal branding effort from a pre-packaged, off-the-shelf solution to a learning opportunity.
  • Use every opportunity we can to educate employees about the brand and expected behaviors.
  • Help employees see how their contribution supports not only the organization, but their own ambitions as well.

Brand consistent leadership behavior is crucial.

  • Company management and supervisors must demonstrate a care for the brand and create an environment where others can make it come alive every day.
  • We cannot assume that leadership understands the brand and what they need to do to perpetuate the right environment. We need to find out where they stand and, better yet, how they are perceived.
  • Often, some level of leadership training is required.

An engaged organization is one that communicates (talking, listening and learning).

  • Organizations that are good at communicating internally find it easier to engage in the brand and its proper delivery to customers. Immediate supervisors are an important group because they set the mood for the working day through establishment of channels of communication and strong feedback loops. They also have to set a good example to follow.

We must differentiate the brand and its values.

  • The key to differentiation lies not in what we simply TELL people, but HOW the employees bring the brand experience to life and reinforce it through consistent behaviors.

A key to success is the alliance between Marketing and HR.

  • HR is always well connected and usually highly respected. Marketing has expertise in messaging and its delivery. The goal should be to exploit this alliance because of the natural management link between these two functions.

If it feels like you’ve run into an organizational pothole, give us a call. We help you apply the right tools for alignment.

Brian Odell

About Author

Brian Odell

30+ year veteran of B2B branding and marketing communications. Started out as a technical copywriter. Worked in PR. Eventually moved to account service. Founded Catalyst to serve B2B marketers looking for ways to leverage their brand as the stimulus for company transformation. Lots of experience, but definitely new age when it comes to brand strategy and activation.