How to Create a Unified Brand Experience

May 4, 2017

By Michelle M. Smith


Every day, the digital world shines a spotlight on brand inconsistencies. Employees and potential candidates might get one impression, customers and partners may have another experience, while investors and influencers might see an altogether different picture. The result is brand confusion, or worse, brand conflict.

Successful brand management requires fuller and more consistent engagement among those who experience the brand and those who represent it. Unfortunately, companies too often focus on only one or two aspects of their brand image. Many either ignore the opportunity to position employees as brand advocates, or assume a strong product or corporate brand alone will attract candidates and customers.

Organizations must elevate employer branding to its rightful place among the other major pillars of corporate, product, and service brand management. At the same time, companies must create consistency among customer experiences with the product, the company, and its employees. Integrated alignment of all the aspects of brand management ensures brands leverage their most significant assets — employees — to create more powerful and relevant brands.

To succeed in delivering a unified experience across all the brand dimensions important to future success, focus on these five guiding principles.

1. Credible positioning starts with a well-defined process. At the heart of employer branding is a convincing employer value proposition (EVP) — the promise of value that employers make to their current and future employees. The EVP should emphasize the uniqueness of the company because a differentiated strategy helps an organization achieve competitive advantage. To ensure that your EVP is relevant and differentiating, it must be based on solid data and integrated into your overall HR strategy. Compare your internal understanding of your company's current positioning with the motivations and needs of external target audiences. Then translate this into a credible brand position with concrete actions anchored in the organizational structure, roles, and responsibilities.

2. Employee motivations guide employer branding. To attract and retain good people, a company must appeal to both their logic and emotions. Effective employer branding uses the dual perspective of internal and external views to discover the elements of the brand experience that drive engagement among existing and prospective employees. Qualitative and quantitative market research can identify motivations that fit the brand, whereas creative techniques can uncover even deeper insights. All internal and external stakeholders should be invited to speak their minds through an active dialogue.

3. Employees are the best brand ambassadors. Employer branding will only be as strong as the health of the company's culture. The most authentic sources of employer branding are employees who can communicate credibly about the company and make its culture tangible. When you shape your employer branding out of the culture and put your workforce at the center of it, you can motivate them to channel their pride by recommending the company.

4. Social media is only one tool in the toolbox. In social media, you immediately receive customer reactions about what's important and what's not, but every social media channel must be closely analyzed for its benefits and risks. If a company doesn't have confidence it can present itself authentically or engage in open dialogue with customers through some channels, it shouldn't use them. You have to use each social channel differently and with a specific aim, taking the time to find out which channel should be used for which message.

5. To integrate brand management disciplines tightly, stay loose. The optimal combination of players in unified branding is more important than who leads at any point in time. Well-executed examples of unified branding show there's no universal solution. Although HR is often in charge, some companies maintain an ongoing, constructive conversation among the different components of branding, including marketing, communications, strategy, and HR. Regardless of organizational design, marketing and HR must work together as equals. Each of the functions has plenty to contribute — HR has the competencies needed for strategic talent planning and the ongoing development of company culture, and marketing can use its analytical skills to ferret out and establish a unique positioning for employees and job applicants.

Learn more about the proven benefits of unified branding in a changing marketplace by attending the 2017 Masters of B2B Conference, presented by the ANA's Business Marketing Association, May 31–June 2 in Chicago, Ill.


Michelle M. Smith, CPIM, CRP, is an accomplished international author, speaker, and strategist. She is the VP of research for the ANA's Business Marketing Association.

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