Brand alignment: Getting it right

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Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the process of brand alignment and how so many companies get it wrong. Often we see that aspects of brand alignment—loosely defined as educating employees about the company’s brand story and their role in bringing it to life—are either entirely ignored, or, at best, relegated to a small part of a new employee’s orientation program.

The typically ineffective employee brand alignment process usually goes something like this: the working herd is guided into a cold, soulless auditorium for a two-hour “workshop” featuring a marketing communications drone reviewing generic slides about branding, a cursory review of the company’s identity elements, and the inevitable “inspirational” brand video set to the latest Ke$ha song. (“Don’t stop, make it pop, DJ blow our brand UP!”)

Maybe there will be a workbook to take notes in. Or better yet, a new ID badge with the brand promise embossed on the back. Most companies think that this is enough to arm their employees with enough information to be strong brand ambassadors. They couldn’t be more wrong.

Companies who truly understand brand alignment know that it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, or something that happens at a single moment in time. Rather, they recognize that to be effective, the process of alignment must be customized to the particular idiosyncrasies of the organization and its employees. Simply put, it must “fit” the way the organization works. The information shared must be clear, credible and compelling, and people need to understand how to take action and “live” the brand when it’s over. Employees need to feel invested and part of something larger than themselves.

Smart companies know that alignment takes a significant amount of time and investment—not always in the form of dollars—to get it right. The process must be baked into the company’s unique culture and be refreshed and repeated on a regular basis. It also has to have internal champions who guide it over the long run.

Alignment also needs to be integrated into the human resources practices of the organization. Employees need to be given clear direction and tools to be brand champions in their everyday jobs. And they should be evaluated for how well they’re representing the brand. We practice what we preach here at Siegel+Gale—employees are evaluated twice a year for how we live our brand values.

A current client took a very personalized approach to its brand alignment process. The challenges: a large and largely siloed workforce, an employee base cynical about branding and a widely spread out campus footprint.

This client approached brand alignment as a process rather than an event. Prior to the internal brand launch date, more than 150 key personnel were provided with in-depth training on all aspects of the branding program. The idea was to have leaders with boots on the ground ready to model brand behavior and to answer questions from employees. The actual brand launch was a three-day affair that began with executive leadership announcing the changes in multiple presentations. Day Two featured inspirational talks from famous faces. Day Three was all about celebrating their unique employees and culture through concerts, an art show and other inspiring and fun activities.

In the weeks following the internal launch, this organization began to transform from within. Employee environments were dressed with banners and wall art reflecting the new brand promise. The intranet was updated with every new brand asset employees could possibly need. And yes, the ID badges were updated to reflect the new brand promise. Most importantly, since the internal launch more than 2,500 employees have been provided with proper training to understand the brand transformation and their role in keeping the brand promise alive.

So, when it comes to brand alignment—rather than merely expecting your employees to “get on board”—take the holistic approach. Create a deliberate plan that considers and accounts for your organization’s unique situation. Take it far beyond surface messages and ensure that your employees understand their role in the brand story, and what actions will make the brand come alive. Codify brand behavior and make it part of the fabric of your organization. And most importantly, create a long-term plan for keeping brand momentum going.

Kathleen Kindle is a strategy director for the Siegel+Gale Los Angeles office.

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