Vol. 51, No. 10
By including employees in branding initiatives before they are launched, you can ensure that everyone is on message.
When an executive recruiter contacted Rob Hallam two years ago about the prospect of working for Pitney Bowes, he responded: "Why would I want to work for a postage meter company?"
Hallam, who went on to become vice president of employee communications, a function that "lives in HR and also counts HR as a client," at Pitney Bowes in Stamford, Conn., now understands that the global "mail stream" leader offers much more than postage meters. But, he admits that many people inside and outside the company haven't gotten the message.
Today, he leads an ongoing effort to educate the company's 34,000 employees on how Pitney Bowes is "engineering the flow of communications" for customers. The internal re-branding process helps employees serve customers better, and helps the company market more effectively while also expanding employee awareness of career and development opportunities, says Hallam.
As with Pitney Bowes, many companies must adapt their products and services to keep competitive in the marketplace. When those changes are vast, a company's brand may no longer accurately reflect what it offers—requiring a major brand overhaul. The cost of re-branding ranges dramatically. A small nonprofit may be able to re-brand for a bit less than $10,000. A re-branding effort at a multinational consumer product company can cost as much as $300 million. Mid-size companies can expect to invest roughly $500,000 to $3 million for a re-branding effort that does not extend beyond U.S. borders.
That kind of full-scale re-branding is a risky endeavor, however, one that potentially involves changes to fundamental company elements such as mission statements, values and widely recognized logos. And it gets even riskier when companies make the mistake of embarking on a re-branding campaign with customers before selling employees on the new brand.
"An enterprise would be insane to try to conduct a massive and expensive external re-branding effort without finding a way to set the table internally," asserts Michael Dunn, CEO of Prophet, a San Francisco-based marketing and branding consulting firm. "Grabbing marketing ideas and creating new communications around those ideas is the easy part. The hard part for most companies is actually figuring out what needs to change in terms of the value equation, service levels, and the behaviors of front-line employees who actually deliver against the new ideas."
Getting employee buy-in for the new brand is where HR takes the reins. In fact, when Brad VanAuken, president of BrandForward Inc., a brand consultancy in Honeoye Falls, N.Y., ticks off the ingredients of successful branding and re-branding initiatives, they read like a litany of HR functions: recruiting, internal communications, training and development, and rewards and recognition.
Definition and Drivers
A brand represents a company's promise to its customers, say brand experts. It articulates to the world who the company is and what it delivers.
"Some people would relegate branding to an advertising agency or the marketing department, but that's just a piece of it," adds VanAucken, author of Brand Aid (Amacom, 2003). "The larger part of branding is how an organization delivers on its promise that really differentiates it from the rest of the marketplace."
And the people who deliver on that promise are employees. As a result, making sure they understand and can deliver the brand to customers is vital—especially for companies within the service industry, where the relationship between employees and customers essentially is the product the company sells.
"We are a service company; we are about people," says Allan McKisson, vice president of human resources at Manpower in Milwaukee. "Re-branding is about what our people need to do differently and the insights and thought leadership we need to provide to effect those changes." So, when the time came to launch the brand to employees, he says, "it wasn't a matter of 'Gee, should HR be involved?' It was natural for me to participate in the planning, strategy and rollout."
McKisson and Manpower's president designed and now co-lead workshops that seek to identify how the company's U.S. workforce will adapt their processes and behaviors to the new brand—and the new brand's implications on sales, finance and HR.
A large quantity of acquisitions drove what Manpower's public relations department describes as the "most extensive re-branding process since the company opened its doors in 1948." As a result of those acquisitions, Manpower moved from a temporary employment agency to a broad-based employment services company that specializes in recruitment, assessment, training, outsourcing and consulting.
Other re-branding initiatives happen because the company's brand does not reflect the evolution of products and services, as in Pitney Bowes' case. Despite its "postage meter" beginnings, it has long offered customers a broad range of products and services related to document and mail management. Its software powers MapQuest and GM's OnStar, for example, and its digital and physical solutions support direct-mail movie rental company NetFlix.
Similarly, a change in services prompted a re-branding of Racquetball and Fitness, a San Antonio-based chain of nine health clubs that is now known as Spectrum. Over the years, it began to offer many more activities, differentiating itself from competitors on the strength of its children's facilities, state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment, plush locker rooms and other customer amenities.
All of those reasons represent common drivers for re-branding, says Dunn. "In most cases, people are saying that the brand that we have now and what people believe it stands for no longer is fitting," he adds. "If you are serving customers in a different way, or with a different attitude or belief set, it will require a fair amount of internal preparation work to minimize the chance that you will have a PR disaster on your hands." (For an example of a failure, see " Failure To Launch".)
While a brand that overpromises creates PR problems, a brand that under-promises can reduce a company's revenue stream. Pitney Bowes, for example, does much more than provide postage metersand wants more people, and more potential customers, to understand that.
Re-Branding Takes Time
The planning process that produces a new brand can take as long as two years. Educating employees about the new brand, and its implications on the company and their work, can also last years. That effort typically starts several weeks to several months before the new brand is unveiled to customers and continues after the official unveiling to external audiences.
Manpower began external re-branding across the 72 countries in which it operates in late February. But, the internal re-branding started much earlier and continues.
"This is not a program we do for 90 days," McKisson notes. "It's a three- to four-year process." It also requires exhaustive planning: The company's 3,000 U.S. employees first learned about the re-branding last October, and have participated in training and internal communications efforts since then. Those efforts, as McKisson reports, will continue for several years.
Pitney Bowes' 2003 re-branding effort is in its third year and is progressing steadily. A baseline survey conducted before the effort was launched three years ago found that only 28 percent of employees could accurately describe what the company offered to customers. That figure nearly doubled to 55 percent in a similar survey conducted in May. In an effort to lift those numbers even higher, the company launched another re-branding effort last year to further clarify the brand as it fits into an evolving "mail stream" marketplace in which the company operates.
For smaller companies in one location, the time and effort will likely be less involved. Spectrum spent less than three months planning an intensive one-day training and communications event designed to educate and excite 500 employees about its re-branding effort and new name.
The ultimate goal is sustainability. "The real point of launching internally is that customer-facing employees deliver the brand experience to customers every day," says Christine Donahue, Pitney Bowes' director of customer communications. "You don't want to take any risks with that. We have 34,000 employeesall of them have potential to be ambassadors for the Pitney Bowes brand. That is the most powerful marketing tool any company can hope to have."
The first step in getting employees on board is to get leadership on message.
As soon as the possibility of re-branding gained momentum in 2003, Pitney Bowes held a series of meetings with the company's top 60 managers to gauge their interest, collect input and, ultimately, secure their buy-in.
Likewise, the foundation of Manpower's re-branding effort was hatched at a "thorough and time-consuming look at our future and strategy," McKisson notes, during a one-of-a-kind strategic planning session held by the company's dozen or so top executives. The session produced a new vision: "Manpower leads in the creation and delivery of services that enables its clients to win in the changing world of work."
That vision had implications on the company's mix of businesses; essentially, the company would move toward a more full-service offering. Addressing how the company would communicate its new vision and strategy to customers naturally led to internal re-branding.
Dunn says HR can play a major role in stimulating a lively debate among the executive team about the re-branding effort's drivers, objectives and execution.
McKisson is helping to extend that debate to Manpower's entire U.S. workforce; the new brand has already been established, but Manpower believes in giving its workforce some discretion in determining how the tenets of the brand are woven into business processes and behaviors. The workshops that McKisson helped design seek to do just that.
And that debate can help all employees agree on the brand and how it should be demonstrated. That's important because when executives understand and "live" the company brand, employees are more likely to understand their role in delivering high levels of customer service, according to a Mercer Human Resource Consulting survey. Of the 85 percent of senior executive respondents who indicated that their behavior demonstrated their brand, 87 percent believed that all or most of their employees were fully aware of their role in providing a positive experience to clients. However, of the 15 percent who said senior executive behavior does not align with the brand, only 58 percent said employees understand their customer service roles.
Once the leadership has been engaged, HR can begin to disseminate the new brand into lower levels of management.
"If that's done well, good things start to happen," says Dunn. Executives planning the effort "gain an initial awareness around the need for change and why the strategy makes sense. You also start to identify some trouble spots that the marketing or re-branding teams did not anticipate."
Those realizations can result in changes to the effort's priorities, points of emphasis or sequence that ultimately should improve the communications effort's success, as in Pitney Bowes' case.
The objective of the internal communications effort is to inspire employees to embrace and own the new brand. "You want employees to hear first what their customers will eventually hear," says Donahue. "It was very important that we showed our salespeople the advertisements and direct-mail pieces that their customers will receive so that they can be prepared for questions."
Nicole Jones, Spectrum's director of marketing, says a central objective of the internal communications effort was to help employees internalize the new brand. "Now, when members ask employees about the changes, our employees tend to respond with ease and in their own words," she says. "That helps demonstrate a sincere support of the change to members."
Internal communications efforts are often handled primarily by internal communications (or internal marketing or internal branding) departments in large enterprises. In those cases, HR tends to concentrate on training. The efforts tend to mirror the strategies and tactics employed by advertising and marketing firms: Banners, speeches by executives, screen savers, e-mail campaigns, intranet pages, voice messages, blogs and other tools are commonly used to get the message out to employees.
"In the branding community, there are all sorts of little tricks," says VanAucken. "Where's the hallway employees enter from the parking garage? Let's put the brand promise on a sign there."
During a six-day internal communications blitz last fall, Manpower employees found a different postcard accompanied by a small gift on their desks each morning. The postcard contained a key brand attribute ("Fresh Thinking"which relates to the collaborative, solution-oriented services Manpower provides) on one side and a related question ("How can you freshen up your ideas and challenge the norm?") on the other, and the gift (in this case, breath mints) provided a playful illustration of each attribute theme.
Pitney Bowes' internal communications package supporting the company's re-branding contained a dozen pieces of information, including frequently asked questions and copies of external print ads. Pitney Bowes CEO Michael Critelli discussed the re-branding effort in his "power talks," which are weekly voice mail messages to employees.
"We have relied on the power talks as one of the key ways to show the CEO's support behind the re-branding," says Hallam.
Every U.S.-based Pitney Bowes employee also received an e-mail with an enticing subject line: "Test your knowledge of the PB brand and win an iPod." Quiz-takers were automatically registered to win the iPod and other prizes, like digital cameras, which Donahue points out represented componentstechnology and innovationof the new brand.
Manpower infused its internal re-branding process with global train-the-trainer sessions, which accomplished two goalsleadership development and global knowledge management.
First, line managers and HR managers were trained to be trainers; that provided line managers with a development activity and greater exposure to the global organization. Second, line managers from different business units of the company and from different locationssuch as Mexico, Argentina and the United Statesparticipated in half-day training sessions together.
The sessions covered the reasoning behind the change and examined how the participants could alter their jobs and behaviors to fit the new brand. All trainers-in-training also designed individual placards with words and symbols to represent what they would do differently to help drive the brand.
Pitney Bowes presented separate training sessions to customer-facing employees and non-customer-facing employees.
Manpower's executive team is currently considering a similar training segmentation, and the company already has developed separate brand training for account executives because of that group's frequent and intimate interactions with customers. McKisson has sent his HR staff through the account executive training to give them a better feel for the sort of skills and experiences they should seek out when recruiting these executivesand the skills they should cultivate when conducting training and development activities.
Although training tends to be most intense in the months and weeks leading up to the external launch of the new brand, it does not necessarily end after the public unveiling. For example, when VanAucken was the director of brand management and marketing at Hallmark Cards, he spoke to newly hired employees about the Hallmark brand's essence, promise and personality during every orientation session; he was always the second speaker following the CEO's presentation on the corporate mission, vision and values.
Engaging events to commemorate a launch are often a component of internal re-branding efforts, and they usually occur immediately before the new brand is unveiled to customers and the public.
Spectrum condensed the bulk of its training and communications effort into a fun-filled day at Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio. All 500 Spectrum employees and their families were given free tickets and parking passes to the theme park. In the evening, the employees attended an all-staff meeting in the park's theater and were divided into three groups that rotated through presentations by Jones, Director of Human Resources Christina Guillet and COO Andy Gillen. Their 30-minute sessions communicated the reasons for and effects of the effort from three perspectives: marketing, operations and HR.
Employees received T-shirts, water bottles, backpacks and other swag featuring the new Spectrum logo. And, as Guillet emphasizes, all employees received the same information.
That approach makes sense at Spectrum because the majority of employees interact with customers. At other companies, particularly larger companies, it makes sense to provide slightly different information and training to customer-facing employees; non-customer-facing workers may not need as much training because they will not field questions about the new brand from customers.
The Spectrum event was designed to create energy and excitement, which the employees carried with them when they walked through their clubs' freshly painted doors the following Monday.
Not all internal re-branding events need to be off-site. The employee communications staff at Pitney Bowes held an on-site session featuring songs about the brand and a knockoff of a popular game show designed to impart key brand attributes. When communicating about a new brand, remember that no one way is right for every person. So, deliver the message in as many ways as possible to reinforce the message.
While McKisson notes that events and internal marketing collateral are helpful and necessary, his interests clearly reside in more strategic facets of the process.
"The brand is about our client's interaction with us," he says. It's a small but crucial distinction. The aspect of the brand that matters most inside the company is an intangible one: how employees' understanding of the company's brand influences their behavior, whether they interact directly with customers or not.
"When we have candidates [interview] to work for Manpower, we need to think about what their experience should be so that it parallels our brand," McKisson explains.
Achieving that sort of objective requires the integration of brand management consideration into a wide range of business processes. McKisson now looks to hire qualified HR employees who have worked in companies with well-known brands because those individuals are more likely to understand the importance of aligning their behaviors with the brand. As Manpower's nascent re-branding effort matures, he says that "brand-related involvement and concerns touch everything that we do in HR." For example, he and his staff are designing brand-friendly assessment and selection criteria for the entire global organization and evaluating how brand considerations can be knitted into incentive plans.
VanAucken says those considerations are signs of enlightened, and successful, re-branding, which cannot happen without HR. "The CEO's support is probably the most critical," he adds. "HR is probably the second most important player in terms of who needs to be there to make it successful."
Eric Krell is a business writer based in Austin, Texas, who covers HR and finance issues.