Why brand consultants need critical understanding of emerging management practices for building sustainable reputation for their clients.
In the push for companies to take up branding as an important management practice, branding consultancies have laid strong emphasis on the aspect of brand behaviour. In fact, most consultants seem to highlight brand behaviour 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 behaviour of companies.
However, the critical question is, can branding consultants sufficiently handle brand behaviour 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?
According to Chernatony, 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 behaviour. Olins also share this view when he states that 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 behaviour?
Companies need to develop employees into knowledgeable brand ambassadors, cites Jim Mathewsman of Mercer Human Resources Consulting. However to be successful brands need to be more than rhetoric, but reflect the real experience of working for the organization.
Brexendorf and Kernstock, argues that to deliver on the brand promise, employees might have to smile, even if they are frustrated and behave as if they have been programmed. However stakeholders on the other hand want to deal with real people. This creates a conflict where the organization wants to produce a homogeneous staff that reflects their values while the stakeholder wants to deal with a person who is not plastic. How can an organization achieve this without sacrificing some level of brand incongruence in their staff’s behaviour? Also, how different can the brand behaviour be between two companies competing in the same line of business? How many successful examples of brand behaviours can brand consultants demonstrate that clearly differentiates between two competitors in similar fields?
Employee branding strategy is a delicate balance between the company’s need to understand their employees’ implicit needs as well as the organizational culture in which a brand behaviour strategy will operate. Chances of misalignment are quite high.
One of the popular examples of such misalignment of corporate vision and corporate behaviour is that of British Airways and its attempts to project itself as the “world’s favourite airline”. According to Hatch and Shultz it is not the brand platform itself comprising of the vision, values, culture and image, but the relationship and interplay between them that determine the success of corporate branding.
The difficulty of developing a cohesive and unified corporate behaviour 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.
According to consulting firm Deloitte, major difficulties can arise through differences in decision making styles, leadership styles and employee integration. A shift in leadership style can often lead to top talent leaving as they may object to the change. Working together of employees becomes 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 behaviour is its corporate governance. According to KPMG, the variety and complexity of sustainability related risks contribute to the difficulty of building and maintaining corporate reputation successfully. Some of the areas they cite are; legal and regulatory compliance, human rights, environmental management, supply chain issues by way of labour 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 behaviour becomes the single most visible aspect of how well a company takes its reputation seriously. It therefore becomes imperative for brand consultants to develop specialised areas of expertise that encompasses critical management concerns that reflect on the reputation of their client’s corporate brand. This is more pronounced at these times when people tend to loose 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.
Wally Olins, The Brand Handbook, 2008
Jim Mathewsman, Mercer Human Resources Consulting. “Most senior managers live the brand”, HRM Guide, January, 2007.
Brexendorf and Kernstock, (Corporate behaviour vs brand behaviour: Towards an integrated view), Brand Management, vol 15, No. 1, 32 – 40, September, 2007
Mary Jo Hatch & Majken Schultz, European Journal of Marketing, 2003, Vol. 37, issue 7/8
Cultural issues in mergers and acquisitions”, Leading through transition: Perspective on the people side of M&A – Deloitte, 2009.
Governance, risk and reputation, www.kpmg.com/ca
About the writer:
Fermi Kuruvilla is a brand consultant working in India and the Arab Gulf states. He is a partner at C&C Consultants and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org