The Real Test of a Great Brand
Saying that brand is important to a company is like saying operating capital is necessary to get a business up and running. Of course brand is important. It's the distillation of a customer's experience of what your company is and does. It exists whether you wish it did or not, and no amount of advertising can reshape the brand.
But there's another aspect of brand that is just as important, only far more subtle. There are hints in two recent events: a memo sent from PayPal CEO David Marcus chiding employees for not using the company's products--telling them to hit the road if they won't change--and the AOL conference call during which CEO Tim Armstrong fired a creative director who took photos during the event.
According to author Christina Trapolino, both instances were examples of what can happen when companies forget that there is effectively no such thing as private communication that stays within company walls. Although such communications could be released to the public before, doing so these days is so much easier. When it happens, what should be an internal issue becomes a public one, potentially hurting the brand.
Your Internal Brand
All true. But there's another angle to the PayPal and AOL stories--the impact on the employees. Retaining good and valuable employees is an important responsibility of management. It helps protect relationships with customers and suppliers, keeps important experience and knowledge in the building, and prevents the expensive process of replacement.
Now consider that employees also have a relationship with your company through another aspect of brand. Forget the public outcries and reactions to the PayPal memo and AOL meeting. Instead, consider how the employees experienced it.
You can blame people for not using a product, but if your own employees don't, it's not their fault. It's your fault. Either your products are so bad that the people who work there can't be bothered with them, the people who work there aren't in your target audience, or there is a repelling atmosphere around the company that makes employees want to keep their distance.
Workers don't become antagonistic for no reason. If they keep their distance, it's because the company has created an atmosphere in which employees are uncomfortable. This is the internal brand, because it is the distillation of how the employees experience the company.
Sometimes companies that spend tremendous amounts of money on their external brand forget their internal brand and assume they can do or say anything and employees will put up with it.
That is true to some extent when unemployment is high and people are worried about losing a job. But the employment landscape is changing. A recent CareerBuilder survey found that more than one in five plan to change jobs in the next year or two. As the job market strengthens, common sense suggests that number could climb. Also, don't bet that the will to wander is equally distributed across all companies. Chances are, the ones with a poor internal brand could see more than the average share of departures.
To keep valuable staff and attract new talent, it's important to pay as much attention to the internal brand as to the external one. If you can't satisfy your employees, on whom the entire business rests and moves, how are you going to satisfy your customers?
ERIK SHERMAN | Columnist
Erik Sherman's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.