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The inside story: why your people shouldn't be just passengers on your brand journey.

Ellie Hennessey

The world is constantly changing. As new technologies emerge and audience priorities shift, businesses have to adapt. Often, this adaptation takes the form of a rebrand: typically a lengthy process that consumes significant time and resources: no one undertakes a rebrand on a whim. But despite all the planning and preparation, too often brands make a crucial mistake: ignoring their employees.

As clichéd as it sounds, your employees really are your most important asset. And when you’re undergoing a rebrand or creating a new identity, having buy-in from your employees will help to cement the change.

It will also help you avoid another cliché – the empty claim of being an “authentic” brand. Only brands that are rooted in the genuine experiences of employees and customers can make that claim.

The way to build an authentic brand is to involve your employees right from the start of the process. A brand identity that your workforce can genuinely get excited about is more likely to strike a chord with your audience than empty platitudes.

The inside view

At The Frameworks, we begin all our projects with a research phase. We go deep into the client’s world and interrogate their challenges from the inside out. We can’t do this without speaking to employees at all levels of the business, from the factory floor to customer service desks to the CEO’s office – and around the world.

We ask for their views on where the opportunities and challenges for the company lie, what qualities the brand should be associated with, and what makes them feel proud of their work. We ask what they know about their customers’ pain points. Then we present our insights back to the client, confirm the direction they’d like to go in and turn our findings into a creative brief.

Our strategy and creative teams collaborate to build a new or refreshed brand for the client, safe in the knowledge that it will resonate with those all-important internal stakeholders, as well as their prospective customers.

A brand that’s built on these solid strategic foundations can genuinely say its employees are its greatest asset. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it: human-centric organisations are ten times more likely to achieve revenue growth rates of 20% or more.

Yokogawa wanted a brand refresh to highlight the fundamental role that reliable, accurate measurement plays in helping engineers to innovate. We positioned our concept around their people: The Precision Makers. It helped to transform Yokogawa Test & Measurement from being seen as just a supplier of instrumentation to being a trusted partner across the industries it serves. Internally, employees embraced the new brand with pride and commitment as they recognised it as a reflection of themselves. In fact, a recent new hire said the brand video directly led to them joining the company.

Along for the ride

As well as providing us with vital insights, engaging directly with employees also allows us to educate them about the brand development as it happens. Without any background on why the change needs to happen, it can feel like an abstract management project. But if we take the time to explain what the new brand will help them achieve, and take on board their ideas and concerns, scepticism or apathy quickly transforms into enthusiasm.

This consideration was an important part of our work with Price Forbes when we rebranded the insurance broker as part of a consolidation exercise within Ardonagh Specialty. Aware that employees were going to have concerns about what this would mean for them, we involved them in the research phase and developed materials to explain why the approach had been taken and how vital they are to the vision for the brand’s future.

When employees aren’t included in the process, they can be left feeling frustrated and alienated. I recently spoke to a designer whose company had undergone a rebrand but hadn’t given her the assets she needed to implement the new guidelines into the existing app, the main part of the brand’s customer experience. Instead, they’d focused all their energies on creating materials that were only useful for the marketing team - because they hadn’t let designers be involved in the thinking of the new brand.

And it’s not just about keeping employees informed. Your visual identity almost certainly includes photography; instead of reaching for the same stock photos everyone else uses, you can take photos of your actual employees. The results will be unique to your brand.

For our work with First Names Group, we took this a step further and created a visual language and brand identity that drew on the first name of every employee. The result was a brand built around the bold statement that First Names Group is a business defined by the confidence and trust that its people instil.

Creating a sense of pride and belonging among employees isn’t just a powerful tool for communication. It also directly benefits productivity. Research by Siegel + Gale found that 93% of employees who understand and are committed to what their company stands for feel productive on a typical work day. And 94% actively look for ways to improve their work.

A rebrand offers a unique opportunity to create a renewed sense of direction and purpose for a company that helps it connect with its audience. But for this potential to be realised, the brand needs to capture something that employees are motivated and inspired to invest in on a personal level.

Before you begin the process of building a new brand, consider how your employees could strengthen your efforts, and how they will be impacted by the change. That’s how you show your employees that they really are your most important asset. And it’s how you create an authentic brand.