As professionals, we gain a deep understanding of the values, purpose, and promise of a brand, as we work to develop them. But what about the people we rely on to deliver them? Do they understand these concepts? Do they feel at all engaged in the process of activating brand strategy? Everyone claims a brand’s people are its greatest asset – so why are they so often not involved?

Many companies struggle not with the articulation of brand promise, purpose, and values – but with engaging their people in activating them. This can be overcome by involving more people in their creation, from the internal workforce to the customers themselves.

Consumer brand ‘collabs’ are known for tie-ins that are intended to capture multiple audiences. But visionary brands are looking beyond the high-profile collaborators who bring obvious benefits and engage people in the widest sense – employees, customers, and communities.

Adidas is a case in point. In 2015, it made a commitment to “open source” – working with partners to co-create designs, products, and services. Since then, it has launched many creative collaborations that spark new conversations with experts and consumers. A current Adidas partnership sees students at Pensole Lewis College in Detroit benefit from the expertise of legendary entrepreneurs Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine. The students are supported and inspired to design their sneakers all the way up to production in an initiative that sets out to empower them to pursue a career in design.

Today, strategy needs to be conceived and enacted to be fast, and that means getting insight straight from the place where it happens. Too many businesses plan based on assumptions. And too many organizations are still working with the industrial top-down style of management that is bound to fail at innovation in today’s integrated world. There’s a lot of talk about people, but when we look closer, the same old divisions remain: blue-collar vs. white-collar; sales vs. marketing; them vs. us. The most successful firms are those in which everyone pulls together in the same direction, driven by a shared purpose and clear vision. And to do that, it’s crucial to overcome these divisions.

We recently undertook a 10-week CX pilot with a B2C global home security business that had gone through a successful rebrand but didn’t find their products were living up to brand expectations. The project invited participation from people in marketing, brand, tech, product, customer service, across multiple territories and time zones. Run completely online, we were able to help teams solve problems by engineering situations where they really listened to each other. One valuable exercise was comparing assumptions about the customer gathered from within the business with real comments from customers at different points in their journey. We made rapid progress by prototyping, which quickly brings new opportunities to life and shows how they can be implemented effectively. The project culminated in the collaborative production of a CX manifesto – a clear explanation of the company’s customer experience principles, objectives, and actions for every function. Employees will buy into a CX manifesto when they’ve had the opportunity to contribute to it in a meaningful way.

In another project, during the early stages of the pandemic, we worked with a B2B firm in IIOT (the industrial internet of things). Like others, they had lost the option of travel to face-to-face meetings, so decided that they needed to digitalize the brand. But their salespeople didn’t see their role in this and considered it to be marketing’s job. We invited input from both teams and cultivated situations where they could help each other. This awoke the sales team to seeing their relevance for the branding and marketing efforts. Now, sales help marketing with content and ideas, and content production has increased by 200%. The brand has come out of the pandemic in better shape than before and has begun closing deals remotely.

“Successful companies are those in which culture, strategy, and brand are aligned.”

In my experience, the best outputs come from projects that are cross-regional, cross-functional, and cross-hierarchical. It can take a bit of time for people to understand others’ perspectives and, at first, it can feel like opening a can of worms, as uncomfortable truths are confronted. But the alternative is keeping everything under the lid! With the right approach that facilitates different perspectives to builds a common vision, motivation, performance, and innovation will thrive. And just as making assumptions about customers leads to bad products, assumptions about your people lead to attrition and, at best, cynicism and apathy. At worst, it leads to disillusionment and, ultimately, they leave.

Successful companies are those in which culture, strategy, and brand are aligned. Culture and strategy must be aligned in order for things to get done. Brand and culture must be aligned to satisfy consumers, who demand authenticity. Brand and strategy must be aligned in order to have an impact. Inviting more of a brand’s people to have input into its development releases huge potential and helps all functions. The days when a few people could decide what everyone else should think are gone. If you want to have your people on board, don’t just tell them – involve them. What’s needed is a participatory approach. The healthiest brands are those that are co-created anew, every day.

Four key takeaways for involving people in brand initiatives:

1. Think of branding as a change program;

2. There is an abundance of knowledge in your organization – make use of it;

3. In a fast world, collaboration is key;

4. Think outside your silo. People in other functions and particularly those who serve customers, can bring valuable input and learning.


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Cover image source: ThisIsEngineering

Gilmar Wendt is the Founder and Principal of GW+Co.
Contact him on @gilmarwendt