I recently met the CEO of a sizeable business that operated, among other places, in a few African countries. We were talking about attracting top talent and the role brand community, the promise your brand makes to your brand stakeholders and how that influences recruitment, employee engagement and therefore the success of a business.

He remarked that his brand meant different things to employees in different countries. This is very often the case. A brand promise must remain consistent and relate to each of the six stakeholder segments common to every business. That’s why, when I develop my clients’ brand models, the promise is one of the hardest things to nail down . However, any promise will always be interpreted in different ways, by different stakeholder segments. My process ensures this is thoroughly checked out, but it often means different things to different sub-sets too. Take the various sub-sets of “employees” for example.

The CEO I was talking to told me that his African employees mostly valued the breakfast they were given every morning when they arrived for work. For many of them it might be the only meal they have all day. As such, this is an affirmation of the community’s social responsibility and it reinforces the promise the brand makes to all its stakeholders, to enhance their lives. As such, this gesture has become critical to the the businesses ability to employ top talent and the relationship they have with the brand.

Until recently the social responsibility of brands hasn’t been at the top of the list of brand must-haves. However, I reported a few months ago and have raised again this week, we have already been forced to recognise the need for a brand to have green credentials. Now the consumer inflation crisis promises to elevate household and family security to the number one essential for brands intent on hiring top talent.

This isn’t only a matter of employers providing breakfast for their employees though. The inflation we are witnessing at the moment is prompting changes to the needs and concerns of employee everywhere and businesses seeking to hire top latent, should take heed.

It’s not just about employees either. The changes we are witnessing will, both directly and indirectly, challenge the relationship businesses have with their employees, distributors, partners, investors , suppliers and customers.

Switched-on businesses are already busy repairing the damage inflicted on their brand by the layoffs that lock-down forced many of them to make. We know employees suffered, but we’re also aware of the impact this in turn had on supply and customers service and support, not to mention innovation and productivity. Today’s need for change represents an opportunity for smart businesses to revisit and strengthen their brands and steal market share from competitors who are struggling to maintain the unity of their brand community.

I recently met the owner of an SME who had paid her employees from her own pocket during lock-down. She was luckily that her employee head-count was small enough for this to be possible, but it has more than paid off because, now restrictions are lifted she had employees who are ready and more than willing to go the extra mile to get the business ticking over again. As a result they have hit the ground running and have expanded, taking share from some of their less-ready competitors. She’s recruiting again and discovering that word has spread and she’s now able to hire the top talent she needs to take her business to the next level.

So, what are you doing about the current cost-of-living crisis?

One of the most common themes of UK news recently has been “the cost of living crisis”. A survey this week has revealed that we are now more worried about our finances than catching Covid. But the UK are not alone in this. It’s a subject that’s uniting the world.

I know that any of you who are on-the-ball will be working on ways to trim overheads from your production process and deliver “more for less” (the mantra of the digital age) to cash-strapped customers. If you are already a transformed business you’ll be in a better position to respond to this challenge than a business that isn’t — another emerging consequence of “transforminertia”. However, the pressing need and therefore the real opportunity is far more intimate than that.

Some years ago my daughter went to school in Dubai. Schools in multi-cultural communities, with high numbers of ex-pats, like the UAE, are far more than just a centre of education. They are a community to which pupils and their families, as well as local businesses all contribute and belong. This school was no exception. My wife and I were encouraged by the school to participate in their events. We used their sports facilities, attended adult classes there, ran the coffee shop and contributed to craft fairs that the school organised. 

The relationship we had with teachers and management was far more meaningful than anything we have experienced within European schools, before or since. So much so that when my daughter, who was a bit of a mother hen, turned up at our door one evening with a Saudi girl who had run away from home, apart from my concern for the girl, I was more than a little worried about the reaction of her father once he discovered we had taken her in. I called the school and they immediately stepped in and, over the course of the next few days resolved the issue, providing counselling, holding meetings with her parents and generally setting the family on a new course.

A relationship like this is two-way and works whatever kind of organisation you are. Stakeholders who feel part of a brand will become advocates. That will reduce the brand’s reliance on paid-for advertising and promotion. Employees, suppliers, partners, investors and distributors will go that extra mile to maximise the performance of the business, contributing ideas, being more productive and avoiding waste. Better service creates happy customers. They too become advocates … and so it rolls on.

None of this can happen though until you have defined your brand and started building your community, and this starts with the creation of your brand model. 

A brand model in many ways is the most important document any business will create. It defines your brand and, among other things, what it stands for and its purpose. Brands are communities of people who share values and beliefs, so, unless you establish what your brand values are, you can hardly expect people to identify with it and want to be a part and that goes for top talent too. I tackle that with a programme I have called “Brand Discovery” that creates a brand model comprising twelve coordinates that pin-point your brand.

It’s not a simple process and few businesses will have the detachment to be able to do this themselves. For one thing a community is the product of it’s stakeholders, so you have a chicken-and-egg, situation — you need to embrace your stakeholders’ characteristics to define your brand and then use that definition to attract more like them. 

When you understand this you’ll also recognise that a brand is continually evolving. A new stakeholder will share your values and beliefs, but will also bring with them their own traits. These will change the brand formula to some extent and you need to keep on top of this. It’s why you’ll find successful businesses always have a senior marketer who is responsible for monitoring the changes that take place as their community expands.

It’s not just about the relationship you have with stakeholders either. A brand model will provide a constant source of reference when making decisions at every level and in every area of your business. Faced with choices about strategy, acquisitions or divestments, hiring, or anything else for that matter you should be asking whether and how these will contribute to the reinforcement of your brand and delivery of its, all important, promise.

Unless your brand is toxic, clarifying and reflecting it consistently in your words and actions will only make your recruitment process simpler. If it’s attractive enough, you can easily become an employer of choice and that’s how you are able to hire top talent.

I helped one of my clients who had suffered high staff churn and difficult recruitment for years, create a graduate scheme with defined career pathways and take it to schools and college-leavers as a road-show. The outcome was nothing short of spectacular. The business was re-invigorated, churn was dramatically reduced it gave the organisation the opportunity to add new products and services to their business. These in turn make their proposition more complete, which made customers more closely engaged and drove revenue. It also led to a number of acquisition opportunities.

Everything in your organisation is linked and effects will rub off from one area to another. You can be an employer of choice, hire top talent and make them never want to leave, but it all starts with defining your brand and building a community that has real world relevance in both good and bad times.

Phil Darby
April 18, 2022

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