The National Center for the Middle Market (NCMM) has done some studies that confirm what everyone reading this will already know. The primary concern of middle market companies in the US today is finding and retaining qualified people to get the work done. It’s a problem, in fact, that’s approaching crisis-level concern. But the NCMM isn’t content with simply restating the obvious. They’ve looked deeper to determine why this is such a chronic problem and what middle market businesses can do about it. They’ve found that most of these companies have neglected to build what they call an “employer brand” and an “employee value proposition”. But is building a completely new brand, specifically designed to appeal to job candidates, really the answer?
I recently met a woman who is a conflict resolution professional. She works with management and employees to address disparate approaches to corporate culture. When is an employee just not fitting in? Who needs to change to achieve a better fit? How can we mediate that change to everyone’s satisfaction? Add to that, over the holidays, I finally got around to reading Fusion, an excellent book by the inimitable Denise Lee Yohn. In it, Yohn shows how good companies fuse their external brand with their internal cultures to become great companies. (That goes along with what I continually preach – The same brand strategy that attracts your best customer also attracts your best employee.) These occurrences, so close together, made me want to revisit the very nature of corporate culture and improve my understanding of what it is, how it relates to branding, and how brands and cultures can be used to transform one another.
Every business has a brand. Good, bad or indifferent, every business has its market. And that market has opinions, perceptions and feelings about the business. That relationship is the brand. But it’s easy to forget sometimes because very few businesses actually work their brands to add value. Most small and middle-market businesses just stick to their knitting and let their brands “just happen”. They spend little or no time figuring out how to make their brand relationships better and more valuable. They feel they don’t have the resources to review their brands and make them stronger. They feel that is the domain of much larger companies. To an extent, that’s true. Larger companies do have more resources. But part of the reason they’re large companies now is because they devoted resources to brand-building when they were smaller. It’s no accident that market leaders in every sector have strong, well-managed brands. At this time of year, when businesses are planning their investments for the coming year, let 2019 be the year you finally leverage your brand for competitive advantage and economic gain.
When companies reach a certain size, they do well to set aside one day of the year to take everybody, or at least a key group, away to a different venue. There, with everyone assembled in a casual setting, and away from ringing telephones, it’s possible to focus. The group can bring its collective mind to bear on big-picture issues that face the company. Because of the lack of distraction, offsite assemblies are usually more productive than the everyday meetings back at the office. Getting to know one another in a different setting allows team members to, well, become more of an actual team. Taking people out of their routines allows for socializing, camaraderie and more creative thinking. And there are exercises and games that promote all of the above. To be successful, offsite meetings have to have clear objectives. Otherwise they become disorganized and a waste of time. But, for those meetings where it makes sense, offsites are a brilliant opportunity to get the team to refocus on the company’s brand promise.
This subject has come up frequently in the last couple of months so I thought I’d pull up an old blog post to see if it still holds up. It does, more or less. Branding, marketing and selling are three distinct professions that require completely different mind sets. I grow apprehensive when I see titles like VP of Branding and Marketing because those are two completely different jobs! It may be manageable if there’s only one brand at stake. But, if there are two brands or more to manage, two professionals will be necessary. Same thing with VP of Marketing and Sales. A marketer does not think like a salesperson. And a true salesperson is built for sales, not marketing. Still, at the end of the day, commerce requires somebody to sell something to somebody. Let’s look at how branding and marketing set the stage for that to happen.
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