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January 19, 2019

Limited companies are limiting their brand value

Employees must be able talk the brand


Have you noticed how few people are able to say, simply and memorably, whom they work for and what they do?

I was in a series of public workshops last week, facilitating discussions on brand. My host began the first day by asking people to introduce themselves around the table. He did it in an interesting way. Tell us who you are and who you work for. Then give us an example of a brand you aspire to be.

Very few people were able to describe the business they worked for. Indeed for most even getting the name out clearly was a problem, as they seemed to swallow their words.

Funnily enough the only word most people said with clarity was ‘Limited’. For example "My name is X, I work for (voice drops to a mumble) East African Vegetable Polymer Extrusions LIMITED". When pressed to say what their employer actually did, most were floored or offered a short, self-effacing ramble along the lines of "we’re just in vegetable systems integration."

There were three notable exceptions – a gentleman who was the MD of a construction business who, given the chance, told us everything he knew including his market share assessment. Plus two ladies who were unusual in being well-briefed ambassadors for their organisational brands. They said the brand name clearly and were very clued up about what their brand was there to do. One of them even went on to articulate the company brand values and say which of them was most useful to her. I was impressed.

But still, 80 per cent of this audience were not able to represent their company brand properly in a simple exercise. This is symptomatic of business cultures where business direction is not shared clearly, or bought into by employees.

I always say that such direction is more succinctly expressed and better understood when written as a brand promise. To give an international example, Starbucks’ brand promise is “To inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.” Much easier for an employee or a customer to understand than a typical mission statement that might read: "To dispense a range of coffee products effectively and efficiently at a market-acceptable price, with due regard for our stakeholders."

After this disappointing experience I hesitate to guess what most East African employees would say when asked to describe their employer brand. Employer branding is the current HR buzzword for being able to describe why you work for a particular organisation. As such, as well as describing the business offering it required that you state the WIIFM factors.

WIIFM factors (What’s In it For Me) are the benefits - material, intellectual and spiritual - that an employee reckons she is receiving for clocking in at 9am and out at 5pm. These include, but are not limited, to salary, taxable benefits, training and development, networking opportunities, work environment, reward and recognition, community involvement.

Taken together, the WIIFM factors plus the company’s business direction and brand position form what HR professionals call the Employee Value Proposition. If you are a CEO and you suspect that many of your employees would summarise your EVP as "We’ll, its a job, isn’t it?" then you may need to do some work on this.

Not to pass any certification. Not as a requirement of corporate law or a statutory requirement, but for a much more important reason. If your employees don't "get" why you are in business, or how you "do things around here", then neither will your customers. And that will reduce the value they place upon your brand.

If you are looking for inspiration at this point, here’s a reminder that there are only three weeks to go until Professor Nader Tavassoli’s five-week open-access online course begins. Nader (from London Business School) is a thought leader on brands being built by people - not just marketing.

His Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) is entirely free, or you can obtain a certificate of completion for a nominal fee. Learn more by visiting the course webpage where sign-up is now open for an October 7 start –

Use it to take the first steps towards a truly valuable employer brand for your business.


Chris Harrison has 30 years experience of marketing and advertising, most of them spent in Africa.

He leads the African operations of The Brand Inside, an international company that helps organisations to deliver their brands and strategies through their people.

Join Chris this and other discussions about business, brands and behaviour by liking The Brand Inside Africa on Facebook.







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