Thought leadership by BIG little LDN Founder, Emma Critchley-Lloyd. This article was originally shared on Creativebrief.
Prior to setting up BIG little LDN, I spent several years in-house at agencies, all roles fairly similar in that my overall responsibility was maintaining the external image of the agency through PR and Marketing. What I found at both these agencies, is that selling the agency brand internally was a bigger challenge than selling externally.
When you think about it, what I’m saying isn’t particularly groundbreaking, or an issue exclusive to the agencies I worked with, or agencies full stop, it’s incredible how many companies - particularly B2B - overlook the importance of brand to reinforce the internal agenda.
An employee relationship is no different to a consumer relationship. It’s built on a foundation of experiences, memories and subconscious opinions formed through word of mouth, press and marketing. If an employee has a negative experience, it can be just as, if not more, detrimental to the fortunes of a company than a negative consumer experience. And the bigger the ship, the harder it is to steer back in the right direction.
People want to feel a sense of purpose and community. Whether they’re an employee or consumer it doesn’t really matter. The rules are the same. An emotional connection between a customer and the organisation is said to be 52% more valuable than a highly satisfied customer*, so why are so many B2B companies undervaluing the importance of a brand, when a brand can play such a motivational epicentre of their internal culture?
If I reflect on my career prior to BIG little LDN, the best companies I worked for were the ones who made their external brand proposition just as real for their employees as they did their clients; and their clients’ end consumers.
One of my first ‘real’ jobs was at an employee benefits company, which sounds dry as a bone, but hear me out. The company positioned itself as the stand-out best in the market, no other employee benefits company could match the discounts and cashback we could offer. The vision was clear; we spend the majority of our time at work, so going to work should be rewarding. Whether this was the official vision or one I internalised, it doesn’t matter. The fact is I felt it. As did my colleagues. As did our clients. As did their employees. It came from the top down and stayed consistent even throughout periods of extreme growth. Can you imagine if you worked for a company that said they were going to be the best employee benefits company in the world and you hated going to work?
On the flip side, there are some companies I’ve worked for where the brand purpose isn’t clear, and during periods of success they’ve got away with it, and everyone is happy. However, success isn’t always consistent and peaks do turn into troughs without a clear purpose, mission or vision, there is no direction and any sense of common purpose evaporates. It becomes all about the chase of the sale, the squeezing of the margin, and the maximising of the profit. Stress at the top is heightened and without a long-term vision, beyond the money, that stress filters down to everyone else, who are now wondering why this is where they’ve chosen to spend 80% of their life.
The majority of people only go to work so they can afford to live a life outside of work. Money basically. But money isn’t the only driver. People want to feel wanted, like they belong and have a purpose. That sense of community can’t be forged when there isn’t a clear ‘why’ or higher purpose for the business.
A commonly understood purpose really matters. I’ve seen many versions of this ‘why’ from brands that have loads of things they want to say but can’t articulate it concisely, to those who know what they want to say but are doing it with a lack of distinctiveness or ownership of the message. One example I’ve seen recently; is a commendable founder who built a successful business over 30 years on an inspired opportunity, but neglected to turn that founding story into a shared sense of purpose for anyone else – employees and customers alike. The result is confusing and tonally different messaging that chops and changes frequently due to differences of internal opinion about what the brand stands for. The business has got so far, but as consumer demands increase and change, and they lose ground to new, powerful disruptors entering their market, the unfocused, unharnessed and confused goodwill won't see them through the next 30 years.
A single-minded articulation of the purpose, vision, mission and value proposition are the core ingredients of a brand framework – a consistent idea of what a business 'stands for’ – the brand. Without this clarity or universal understanding, it leaves room for interpretation. Differences in what those interpretations should be, make it very hard for employees and your target audience alike, to make a connection with your company. These are all important ingredients that make up a brand, in the same way, there are intricacies that make up you as an individual.
Your personality being clear and consistent is what drives connections with others. It’s no different for a brand. The brand framework defines why a business does what it does, acts like it does, looks and speaks as it does. It gives rise to the common narrative, defining qualities and values that underpin a universal understanding of the brand's personality and voice, enabling nuanced and intricate expressions much like an individual person.
A clearly understood brand means people working for a business know why it exists, what its ambitions are, how they tie in with their own, the part it plays in its success, the value it represents in their own lives, as well as the client’s, customer’s or investor’s, and why they should continue to believe in it through good times and not-such-good times.
Having worked with several start-up clients at BIG little LDN - both B2C and B2B - I’ve witnessed first-hand how those tough financial times, are countered by leadership teams who have invested in a strong brand framework, creating a clear shared vision and make sure it’s as much an internal manifesto as it is external. Nothing is more stressful than the hand-to-mouth existence of a start-up founder, struggling with cash flow and trying to secure investment while simultaneously growing the business, it’s difficult to see beyond the next hurdle. You have a business to protect, along with the livelihoods of your staff who you owe so much to for helping to get the business to where it is today. In these circumstances, the strength of the brand, clarity in the messaging, your confidence in delivering it and getting your employees to live it with you, will be one of your greatest business assets as a founder. Not only does it maintain employee morale, but it can have a transformative effect on securing investment.
At BIG little LDN, we’ve launched a free brand audit service which includes a “fit for purpose” assessment of your logo, fonts, colours, imagery and icons, a review of how you communicate across your website and social channels alongside the type of content you’re publishing.
The outcome? Recommendations on what needs to be done in order to strengthen your brand against a backdrop comparison of your competition.
To request your free brand audit, get in touch with Alice or Holly.