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September 23, 2018

Marketing Medicine: Bridging the marketing and HR divide

A critical shortcoming that many organisations face in developing powerful brands is the disconnect between the HR and marketing functions. While marketers are out championing the brand, very often HR is responsible for commoditising the firm’s products and services by having a generic people process.

In a recent study by consultancy The Brand Inside, 60 per cent of respondents were unclear who in their organisation was responsible for communicating the brand promise to internal audiences. It also revealed that marketing and HR rarely come together to synchronise their efforts. Take a look at recruitment advertisements in the display sections of the press and online. Very few of these look and read differently. Most feature generic copy with near identical pictures of happy young people, signed off with the company logo.

As Jeff Bezos of Amazon said: ‘A brand isn’t about what you say … it’s about what you do.’ Employee behaviour can make a brand, but it can also destroy it. Various measures show that over two thirds of customers defect to other companies because of the way they were treated by a company employee.

The solution is simple to say, but harder to achieve. It requires a business to align the ‘three B’s – business, brand and behaviour. This in turn asks marketers to look inside their organisations and drive brand inspired behaviour change across functions, in collaboration with the HR team.

Professor Nader Tavassoli of London Business School recommends that employees should be taken through a process that he calls the six A’s. Starting with appointing brand champions in the organisation to win the Attention of staff. Then moving through Awareness, Acceptance, Advocacy, and Action to Adherence. He notes that, " the action needed to engage your people at each stage depends on the particular situation, for example business as usual, a brand turnaround or a merger."

Consider MD Anderson, the world’s leading cancer treatment centre. A new induction programme based on its corporate brand values more than halved its first year employee turnover and increased patient satisfaction. This result echoes findings from research firms such as Gallup and the Corporate Leadership Council, which have identified that employees’ understanding of the link between their work and company strategy is the biggest single driver of their engagement at work.

Nearer to home I recently visited one of East Africa’s biggest public universities and was staggered to learn that the campus served over 50,000 students. I went to talk about helping new graduates prepare for the workforce, but ended up discussing the need for an induction programme for new staff. Imagine joining an organisation so huge, and yet having to learn what you can about its culture and values ‘on the job’.

Professor Tavassoli says that: ’With a top level sponsor in the organisation, and a commitment to a long term programme, companies can align their organisations and culture to deliver the brand promise from the inside out.’ He describes the outcome of this as Brand Traction.

As we all know, traction requires a powerful engine. Is this better done as marketers alone, or can HR professionals be persuaded to collaborate?

Chris Harrison has 30 years experience of marketing and advertising. Most of it in African markets.

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Copyright Chris Harrison. PO Box 15756 Nairobi 00509 Kenya

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