In fact, most consultants seem to highlight brand behavior as the most important component of branding as it is the axis on which brand image and reputation is directly hinged on.
According to the 2009 Edelman Trust Barometer, 62% of respondents across 20 countries said that they trust companies less now than they did a year ago. And this reflects directly on the behavior of companies.
The critical question: can branding consultants sufficiently handle brand behavior aspects by managing the complex nature of a company’s management? Or is it a rhetorical fad that sounds exotic and appealing but is beyond brand consultant’s area of expertise?
Internal brand engagement is key. Employees are the most significant feature of a corporate brand and therefore, the values of the brand must be linked to the corporate culture so that it reflects those values to the external stakeholders. Corporate behavior is therefore reflected through employee behavior. Particularly in service brands, the people who work for the organization are the brand.
This raises serious questions on how an organization can enact it successfully. Which department will manage this function? Will the human resources strategy be aligned to the brand values? Do brand consultants have the tools and the know-how to enhance an organization’s HR strategy and practice so that it achieves cohesiveness in brand vision and behavior?
Companies need to develop employees into knowledgeable brand ambassadors. To be successful, brands need to be more than rhetoric, but reflect the real experience of working for the organization. As anyone who has worked in a customer-facing role can attest, not only is the customer always right, but employees have to smile, even if they are feeling frustrated. Customers, of course, want to deal with real people, not automatons.
Brands are also forced to reconcile their corporate culture and employee behavior with other brands, whether they’re being thrust together through a merger or acquisition, or competing against a brand in the same category. The difficulty of developing a cohesive and unified corporate behavior is even more pronounced in the case of mergers when two companies decide to merge or unite through acquisition or strategic alliance. Employees of the companies that merge are humans who are driven by their shared culture and individual personalities.
There will be inevitable differences in decision-making styles, leadership and employee integration. A shift in leadership style can often lead to top talent leaving as they may object to the change. Employee collaboration and teamwork become difficult if the cultural background of the two merging companies is inconsistent with each other.
Given the constraints for time during mergers, companies cannot afford the time for detailed cultural diagnosis. In such a context, can a new vision run deep enough to overcome existing differences? Can the organization successfully engage its employees in the new vision and culture? Can the new organization meet the stakeholder’s image of what this company should be? More importantly, can brand consultants ensure a smooth flow of the corporate vision to the new or the dominant brand culture?
Another area that directly reflects corporate reputation, especially manifested through a company’s brand behavior, is its corporate governance. The variety and complexity of sustainability related risks contribute to the difficulty of building and maintaining corporate reputation successfully. What must be considered: legal and regulatory compliance, human rights, environmental management, supply chain issues by way of labor standards and practices, government regulations by way of anti corruption and public sector procurement.
All these aspects are reflected through brand behavior and a single inappropriate action can cause severe reputational damage. How competent are brand consultants to advice companies on aligning their corporate governance to their behavior?
As more mergers and acquisitions take place, as more complex management of human capital strategies are being adopted, and as more stringent forms of corporate governance comes into practice, brand behavior becomes the single most visible aspect of how well a company takes its reputation seriously.
It therefore becomes imperative for brand consultants to develop specialized areas of expertise that encompasses critical management concerns that reflect on the reputation of their client’s corporate brand. If they don’t, they might as well call it a day!
This is particularly pronounced in these times when people tend to lose their trust in businesses to do anything ethically and every initiative that companies make to improve their reputation is being looked at with cynicism. The way companies behave will have to be looked at with much more critical understanding so that business decision makers can rely on the expertise of brand consultants to develop strategies that truly reflect their brand and protect their reputation in a sustainable manner.