Your future is bright young things. So invest in your brand community.

I hate to be repetitive, but for the second time this week I find myself shouting “hear, hear!” to a piece by Graeme Codrington.  This time he’s talking on the subject of employee relations.  In particular the challenge of holding on to the bright young things that represent the future for all of us.  But, while I agree with what Graeme says, I see this from another perspective – the perspective of “brand community”.

Graeme, as usual, is right (don’t you just hate folks who are always right?).  Too few organisations focus on creating an environment where employees feel they really belong – a community.  In this article he talks about the old days of outback mining companies that established towns and provided all the facilities their employees needed to live with their families, because they knew that without this infrastructure they simply wouldn’t have any employees.  He also points to the fact that initiatives like these were early victims of the bean-counters, looking through distorted spectacles for ways of squeezing more profit from a business.

So, what has an outback mining community to do with a modern business?  Well, it’s not as different as you may think because whether they are rock-face workers or the smart graduates that an international business needs to build its future on, when there’s a shortage, there’s a shortage, and belive me, there are definitely not enough bright young things to go around.  If you doubt that, just give a thought to the last time you marvelled at some meaningless procedure a business that you were dealing with insisted on taking you through – smart people don’t waste your time (or theirs) with stuff like this!

Graeme talks about investing in the things that make work a great place to be.  A while back, I visited an organisation whose offices were so much better and more comfortable that the homes where the employees lived, that they socialised there too.  In fact it was sometimes difficult to persuade them to go home at all!  However, it isn’t quite as simple as office bars, sofas and a few pot-plants.  My real interest in this subject comes from my passion for brands and my belief that while, as Graeme says, there’s a cost involved in making yourself the employer of choice for smart people, it doesn’t have to be as big an investment as many might think.  I see this as a part of the marketing function and in most organisations there a budget for this and, if you do it right, it is guaranteed to bring a handsome reward.  What’s more I know that with the technology we have at our fingertips today, you can measure anything and that includes the return you get on investment in your “brand community”, so the proof that this kind of investment pays-back is there.

In fact, one of the founding principles of my Full Effect Marketing is that a small proportion of your total marketing investment re-directed to internal marketing will bring a disproportionately high return.  And, have no doubt, what we are talking about here is “marketing”; specifically building a brand community where all stakeholders (investors, partners, suppliers, customers AND employees) feel a sense of belonging and ownership.  It works like this:  great brand community = happy and dedicated employees = consistency over time because they stick around = improved return on training investment = better decisions = smarter (and more efficient) execution = happy customers = job satisfaction … you get the idea.  Its called “Brandship” and yes, you have individual Brandships with every one of your “stakeholders” (I hate the word “stakeholder” too so let’s just talk about “community”).

The chance of you being a lighthouse organisation in the future (or even being around at all, given the competition we are all going to face) is very much based on the desirability of your “Brand Community”, not just for customers, but for employees.  But there’s another aspect to this.  A brand community isn’t something that’s dictated from the boardroom.  Employees aren’t going to respond to a community that YOU think they should like.  It has to be a place where they genuinely feel “at home”.  A place that they have created.  In fact, the organisation doesn’t even own the brand community.  You just get to be caretaker or janitor.  A powerful brand community is a product of and owned by its members so if you want to create the real thing (and I suggest this should be your objective) you are going to have to engage another Full Effect Marketing idea, which is that all your communications should be two-way, because you are only going to get it right by listening.

Who has come across a large organisation where all the employees get a free pair of Replay jeans?  I have, because we did it at Oskar Mobile in the Czech Republic that not only became the world’s most successful third operator ever, but, against awesome odds, were nominated World’s Best Mobile Operator; success that was driven entirely by their brand community.  This and many other initiatives like it were prompted by employees themselves, who also made a movie themselves about what a great place Oskar was to work.  The movie in turn was distributed to recruiters and shown at conferences and job fairs as well as posted in the Internet and as a result they were getting thousands of unsolicited job applications every week.  The original Saatchi & Saatchi was a community that worked and played together and it was this that drove our international growth.  I remember walking into a recently acquired agency in Helsinki and being bombarded with questions from everyone about the people and happenings in our London Charlotte Street offices.  Our London softball team had shirt with “Official softball team of the biggest advertising agency in the world” printed across the back and people in our offices around the world wore it with pride.

This is what I mean when I talk about Brand Communities and it’s why I created my Brand Discovery programme.  Every day the idea of the central role of “brand” in any business is gaining more credence.  If you aren’t focussing on this already you should be.

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