By Bruce Bolger, Publisher
Since the dawn of the post-World War II marketing era, advertising has reigned as the most important branding tool in Corporate America. And it remains one of the best ways to inform people about a new product, service, or to reinforce the brand proposition. Ad agencies continue to have some of the tightest relationships with corporate marketing titans and, despite many challenges, have done an excellent job of adapting to changing market conditions. However, with the emergence of the Enterprise Brand, agencies face perhaps their greatest challenge yet.
Most advertising executives – even the so-called “customer engagement” agencies – don’t appear to have a clue about the Enterprise Brand, despite the fact that the latest research and findings from social media show that “internal” branding (employees, distribution partners and vendors) is as important to an organization as “external” branding (customers and advertising). However, ad agencies have little or no experience with the tools that link the two.
Despite the fact that a cursory web search will yield lots of results related to internal branding, the mainstream marketing community doesn’t yet seem to have fully caught on. None of the major business media I know of has focused on this emerging trend, and the topic of employee branding barely figured in the agenda of Forrester’s Forum For Customer Experience Professionals held recently in New York City. Many other excellent programs also cover customer experience management or customer engagement with little focus on the employee, and many of the new customer experience management positions being created at U.S. corporations don’t provide direct authority to these individuals to manage the internal brand.
How could so many smart people miss the employee connection when so much research indicates that employees are critical to maximizing customer relationships? Chalk it up to 20th Century process-oriented, siloed organizational models that focus on finding the cheapest, fastest process for accomplishing any task, often at the expense of customer satisfaction.
Entrenched interests don’t help either. When Stuart Elliot of the New York Times reported in a 1993 article on efforts to link external and internal marketing, one well-known ad agency executive just couldn’t abandon his customer-centric thinking, saying, “You must bring new people into the tent because current customers are spinning in and out all the time…If we walk away from that, we destroy the advertising industry.”
Twenty years later, we know that it’s foolish to ignore customer churn, but addressing the issue isn’t as simple as merely bringing new people into the tent. Most organizations have yet to discover the customer-employee-brand connection. And they aren’t aware of the new framework that’s necessary for implementing the Enterprise Brand or how to integrate all of the tools of engagement to align the brand across the organization – things like leadership training, culture change, learning and content strategies, face-to-face communication, collaboration, innovation and rewards and recognition.
These tools aren’t in the bailiwick of traditional ad agencies, or even their customer engagement agencies, and most management consultants still focus on specific areas of engagement, from assessment to training to total rewards.
Ironically, these broader needs are increasingly being met by some of the major incentive companies that I’ve heard dismissed in the past by ad execs and consultants as “purveyors of trips and prizes.” Those ad agencies may want to reassess that position when they learn that the budgets for some of these internal branding programs can total tens of millions of dollars in fees and services, and that some of these dollars may come out of traditional ad budgets.
However the engagement marketplace shakes out, the growing recognition that our employees, vendors and distribution partners hold the key to our brands will force significant changes in how businesses define branding and implement marketing programs, and which players benefit from this shift in focus.