Tinder for Business

Tinder for Business

In a highly relationship-driven B2B business, in today’s business environment, your marketing channels, particularly your online channels, need to act like ‘Tinder’ for your business. A relationship-driven business, where there are significant financial and reputational risks, relies on trusted business relationships. The day-to-day process of building and nurturing business relationships is vital to the delivery of your business’s services or products. You are continually developing and cultivating relationships with existing clients, referrers and influencers, and prospective new clients.

Traditionally, business relationships built organically – someone you knew well introduced you to someone they knew well. Relationship-building today is different. Rapid advancements in technology have changed the way relationships are built and maintained. A potential client can now learn so much about you before they meet you in person. They also expect to be able to work easily with you online. Meeting and working with you needs to be easy, but also secure. Also, in the current business environment, post-GFC, the client relationship has changed in other ways. Clients now have different expectations. Sophisticated clients expect professionals to be more responsive to them and have a better understanding of the commercial pressures they face.

Relationships with influencers and referrers have also changed. People ‘meet’ online and then are more discerning about who they will meet in person to spend some of their precious time. They need a more compelling reason beyond just ‘let’s have a chat, I think we can help each other’.

So, relationship-driven marketing needs to work hard for you and your business, creating opportunities and helping to convert those opportunities into valuable, satisfying work. Strategic relationship-driven marketing can be your ‘Tinder for business’ by:

1. Raising Your Profile.

Just like entering any new relationship, you’ve got to sell yourself. Whether it’s your own personal brand, as a Visible Expert®, or your business’s brand, you need to establish trust and credibility. This doesn’t happen as organically as it used to. Multiple online channels mean that the market is far more competitive, and clients are now savvier and more informed. Marketing can help you increase your profile by using well-positioned content, including thought leadership in your area of expertise. It can help you ‘cut through’ and become recognised as an expert that people will seek advice from. A good marketer can help you identify your target audience and develop relevant content that will resonate with that audience. A cleverly designed and clearly articulated content strategy can focus your efforts in the most valuable areas. Social media is just one channel you will use to publish your content, but a well-structured social media strategy, that aligns with your business strategy, can become an extremely valuable relationship building tactic. Done strategically, you can begin to have two-way conversations with prospective clients and influencers and gain extremely valuable information in the process.

2. Researching the Market.

A strategic marketing (and relationship-building) plan should always begin with comprehensive market research. Market research can help you identify opportunities in the market, or you may already know your most valuable client niche, based on existing client work, but want to gain a deeper understanding of that market or markets. Marketing technology and modern market research techniques can help you develop a deeper understanding of your target market/s.

Market research consists of primary research, where you’re conducting one-on-one interviews and focus groups. Secondary research is usually conducted online and can include industry research and may include surveys to multiple prospective or existing clients. It depends on the questions you need to answer. Primary research allows you to gain an in-depth understanding of needs, attitudes, and future plans. Secondary research helps you evaluate overall markets and identify trends. Surveys can help you bridge the gap between the two.

3. Targeting Your Ideal Relationships.

Once you know who you want to be talking to, in terms of your ideal client and your ideal referrers, you can then use social media and inbound digital marketing to build a list of people you want to build a relationship with. This is where social media, and particularly LinkedIn, has dramatically changed the way we begin business relationships. It is now acceptable for someone that you don’t know to start interacting with you online.

Even if you don’t feel that it’s appropriate, or you aren’t comfortable, to reach out directly to someone online, you can still begin to build your online network and there are multiple ways to do this. Whether you’re inviting people to connect or attracting people to your website and encouraging them to fill in a short contact form, in exchange for valuable and relevant content, building your online business network is now crucial to the development of your business.

4. Engaging Prospects.

Building your online network, allows you to start engaging with potential new clients and potential new referrers and influencers. After capturing contact information, you can begin to encourage them to meet you in person. Traditional networking events and technical seminars are a fantastic next step. Webinars are also a great way to further develop the relationship. If they are interested in your content, and have a need to hear more about a particular issue they’re having, inviting them to an event could be a great way for them to experience what it would be like to work with you.

5. Making the Best First Impression.

Most psychologists agree you have seven seconds to make a first impression. In a business meeting, or at a networking event, you want your prospective client or business associate to immediately feel that you are authentic, trustworthy, credible, easy to work with, and reliable. A marketing professional can help you develop your positioning statement, which you will be able to build into presentations and conversations naturally, the more you practice.

6. Sealing the Deal.

Selling is a skill. You can learn to sell and, if it’s not something you or your team are naturally comfortable doing, you should definitely consider sales training. There are organisations that specialise in sales training for B2B and professional services. If the sales process is a gap in your marketing and business development strategy, consider a sales program from a company such as The RAIN Group.

7. Managing Your Relationships.

Once you’ve initiated and developed new relationships, just like the relationships in your personal life, they take work to maintain. If you have a team of people working with clients, using a Client Relationship Management (CRM) system to keep track of interactions is extremely valuable. Relationships with referral sources should also be tracked and managed using a CRM.

Your relationships may not be as strong as you think they are. If they aren’t well managed and you aren’t connecting as often as you need to, because you are busy looking after everything else in your world, they won’t be secure. The ultimate business relationship is a symbiotic relationship, i.e. one that is mutually beneficial. Systems like a CRM, or even just Outlook, can be utilised to help you maintain stronger relationships.

In the current business environment, business transactions and business relationships are changing. The way we approach the relationship-building and maintaining process needs to change to keep pace with the modern business relationship ‘scene’.

How to get employee activism working for you

How to get employee activism working for you

Progressive firms have recognised the importance of employee engagement for some time now. An engaged employee will act in a way that furthers your firm’s interests. We know that firms with high employee engagement levels have better financial performance.

What is employee activism?

Employee activism is a step beyond employee engagement. If employees are engaged, and they make their engagement visible, they are employee activists. They will praise your firm offline and, far more visibly these days, praise the firm online. Your engaged employees will now interact with your brand on social media and write about their experiences in their blogs.

In the same way that social media interaction from clients can make or break your brand, what your employees are saying about you online can sometimes be even more powerful. Clients and potential clients will assign a lot of credibility to an employee’s ‘inside information’. Weber Shandwick, in partnership with KRC Research, released Employees Rising: Seizing the Opportunity in Employee Activism.

“This survey of 2,300 employees worldwide reveals a rising social movement ignited by the digital and social media era: employee activism. Employee activists are more than just engaged employees. They make their engagement visible, defend their employers from criticism and act as advocates, both online and off.”

The survey found a sizeable segment of employees – 21%, (i.e. employee activists) – who are all taking positive actions, from 12 possible actions, including “Recommended employer to others as a place to work”, “Encouraged others to buy company’s products or services”, “Voted for employer in a poll or contest”, or “Made positive comments about employer where others could see or read them”. For a workforce of 5,000, this means that approximately 1,000 employees are enthusiastically letting others know they stand behind their employer.

What drives employee activism?

The survey found that leadership is the number one driver of employee activism.

“Significantly, we learned that leadership is most important for influencing employee activism, but not to the exclusion of other organizational activities and characteristics. What this means is that leadership plays a critical role in driving employee support, from making the company an employer of choice to building a reputation of trustworthiness and demonstrating that it listens and responds to employees.”

Internal communication was the second highest driver of employee activism, followed by HR/Employee development, and corporate social responsibility. Unfortunately, the survey also found that employers severely underperformed on these drivers.

The power of social media in employee activism was also measured by the survey. There is a direct correlation between ‘socially-encouraging employers’ and employee activism. Employers who encourage the use of social media by employees have a higher level of employee activism.

“Although social media is not included in the driver analysis, its force can’t be ignored. Our survey found that one-third of employers – 33% – encourage their employees to use social media to share news and information about the organization. This sounds risky, but this social encouragement has an outsized impact on employer advocacy among employees. For example, employees with socially-encouraging employers are significantly more likely to help boost sales than employees whose employers aren’t socially encouraging (72% vs. 48%, respectively).”

What do you need to do?

  1. Focus on building employee engagement.

The key to a positive corporate culture is trust. Employees need to trust the leadership team and, equally, leaders need to trust employees to do the best job they can do. Employees need enough space to determine the best way to complete a task within a reasonable amount of time. The default position should be trust first, unless someone does something to lose that trust. Employees shouldn’t have to earn trust. If they are qualified, and satisfied all of the recruitment criteria, they should be allowed to get on with doing the job they were hired to do.

Ultimately, your engaged employees will deliver exceptional service to your clients, which, in turn, creates brand engagement and brand loyalty, so it’s worth spending time and money on developing and implementing employee engagement strategies and initiatives. A formal employee engagement program can create brand engagement and lead to increased firm performance.

  1. Encourage your team to use social media.

Instead of implementing policies to try to prevent team members from using social media at work, more and more firms are incorporating their employees’ social media enthusiasm into their marketing.

When your team is on social media anyway, it’s only a short step to encourage and engage employees in social media marketing and create new social media ambassadors for your firm.

As your employees promote your firm, values, and culture on their own social media accounts, make sure they are empowered to maintain their individual voices. Genuine posts are more important than marketing speak. Encourage them to be honest and portray the firm in a positive light as they add their own spin to a post or topic.

  1. Measure employee engagement and monitor sentiment online.

When conducting staff satisfaction surveys, or employee engagement surveys, companies often don’t ask the right questions. Surveys should be asking meaningful questions linked to drivers of engagement. They should be measuring the employee’s level of trust in management, satisfaction with their job role, and things like connection to the vision of the organisation. Surveys should be conducted frequently – annually, quarterly, or even monthly, and can be large annual surveys, covering everything, or quick snapshots in particular areas of focus. The outcomes should be quickly publicised within the organisation and areas of improvement acted upon as soon as possible, or investigated further.

To measure levels of employee activism online, you can measure social media sentiment. Some social media management tools offer algorithms or filters to make it easy to gauge sentiment. With social listening tools, sentiment analysis features will measure and report on the tone or sentiment of your social mentions. Some tools feature a level of detail to allow you to determine if they are employees.

Employees are already using social media platforms to express their opinions of you as an employer, regardless of your social media policy, so wouldn’t you rather they were positive comments about you and your firm’s culture? Creating a team of employee activists can have an even greater effect on your brand than your external marketing, so spending time and money to better engage your employees can be more cost effective than some external branding activities.

Is the client buying you or the brand?

For as long as I’ve been marketing professional services this question has been one of the most fiercely debated. Does the client buy the anticipated relationship with the practitioner, someone they need to trust implicitly and actually enjoy working with, to get the best results? Or, do they need the name of a Big 4 or top-tier law firm to provide the level of comfort that comes with the reputation of the brand?

I believe the answer is both. Clients do make unconscious decisions about you and how they feel about you personally. However, they will also make unconscious decisions about your firm, based on their recognition, or unrecognition, and perceptions of your firm (i.e. the firm’s brand). This is the power of branding and brand positioning. Both your personal brand and the brand value of your firm will influence the prospect’s decision to put their trust in you and your firm.

Your reputation as a practitioner in the market will affect the number of quality referrals you receive as well as your sales conversions. When the prospect meets with you they will make very fast decisions about how they feel about you. People want to work with people they like. They don’t need to become your best friends, but clients will be prepared to pay more for service they perceive as excellent value. Part of the value equation is trust and you need to develop rapport with a client to develop trust.

There are many books and articles about how to develop rapport and trust, including David Maister’s “The Trusted Advisor”, first published in 2000. The article “Becoming a Trusted Advisor – the Ten Behaviours”, by Michael Fleming is a good short guide:

“Lawyers spend a lot of time constructing complex, technical, logical arguments to persuade their clients why they should engage them for particular work. I’m not saying that logic doesn’t have a role to play but too many professional advisors spend too much time polishing their logical arguments and not enough time thinking about how they might better connect emotionally with their clients. Trusted advisors understand that it’s vital that they try to make an emotional connection with their clients. The good ones do it by using stories, anecdotes, examples, analogies, imagery, visual aids, and even some light humour.”

Your personal brand, your ‘reputation’ in the local market, your online (digital) personal brand, and your behaviour in-person, all influence your success. Your firm’s brand also influences this success. A brand is an implied promise (to existing and prospective clients) that the level of quality people have come to expect from a brand will continue with future purchases of the same brand. Strong brand management can increase a firm’s perceived value to the client and thereby increase brand equity. This can increase future sales by making a comparison with competing firms more favourable. It can also enable the firm to charge more for the service.

There is evidence that a firm with a strong brand, i.e. a good reputation in the market, will attract higher yielding clients and can demand a higher fee for services provided. Some clients actively choose a firm based on their brand, for example a publicly listed company choosing a Big 4 accounting firm for a financial audit, as they perceive the need for a certain level of experience and resources. Other more cost-conscious clients may perceive these firms as too expensive, but they will have perceptions of other firms.

According to Lee Frederiksen from Hinge Marketing in his article “Brand Strength and the Halo Effect in Marketing”:

“The concept of a strong brand is something that we all understand on a very intuitive level. From our own experience, we know that firms with high brand strength do better in the marketplace, whether they need new clients, business partners or employees.

So what exactly is brand strength? While there is no universal definition, we describe the brand strength of a professional services firm as the combination of a firm’s reputation and its visibility. Firms that have better reputations coupled with higher visibility have stronger brands.”

Prospective clients are searching for answers online, so firms that have a solid content strategy, to help build a strong brand, will feel the benefits of more enquiries, but if the culture of the firm and the personal brand of its front line does not align with its external brand it won’t be growing at the speed it would like to.

If you are a senior member of your firm, a principal or senior staff member, you need to be developing your own personal brand, as well as supporting the development of your firm’s brand. You can no longer rely on reputation alone. To achieve positive personal branding and powerful firm branding you need to be strategic and proactive.

  1. Develop your personal brand by becoming a thought leader. Becoming a thought leader involves specialising in a sector of the market or providing a niche service, and developing content (articles, white papers, events, speeches, etc.) that demonstrates your expertise in this area.
  2. Develop your personal brand by developing your emotional intelligence. This includes how you build rapport with clients and prospective clients. Train everyone in the firm and arm them with the interpersonal skills to make better emotional connections.
  3. Develop the firm’s brand by actively working on your brand’s presence in the market. This can be done online with a sophisticated content strategy. Support your firm’s marketing team or engage an external marketing consultant to spend time developing and executing a strategic content plan to proactively position your firm.
  4. Develop the firm’s brand by ensuring that your external brand activities align with your internal culture and client service standards. It’s not enough to say that you help your clients achieve their business goals if your staff do not know how to do this and just revert to the comfort of compliance work.

In a post-GFC professional services environment, where clients are demanding more of everything, you can differentiate both yourself and your firm, but it needs to be done with intent and with discipline. You need to plan to develop your own personal brand, as well as your staff members’ personal brands, and your firm’s brand. Prospective clients are making decisions based on their perceptions of you and your firm, your personal brand and your firm’s brand, so you need to actively develop both.

Thought Leadership Versus Content – What is the Difference?

These days the terms ‘thought leadership’ and ‘content’ are used almost interchangeably. What is the difference? Marketers of professional services (traditionally legal, accounting and engineering services) have been using ‘thought leadership’ as a strategic profiling, brand building device for decades. These days, as we market professional services firms, B2B, and B2C companies, we talk about both thought leadership and content marketing. I’m not sure people really know what they both are and how they should be used.

Thought leadership is exactly that, leading edge thought. Thought leadership is the goal; the goal is to be seen as a ‘thought leader’. It is actually the goal of a particular type of content. Thought leadership content is material containing original thoughts, opinions and in-depth analysis, which hypothesises and proposes new concepts and ideas. True thought leadership will take a long-term view on topics and issues. It’s about building reputation and authority over time and across multiple digital, social and offline channels. It enables your organisation’s subject matter experts to act as trusted advisers who offer helpful, responsive, generous and useful advice. Over time, this type of content will establish the firm’s experts as true thought leaders. If you are the subject matter expert, you will participate in online and offline conversations, and steadily build your credibility through affinity, authenticity and trust. This adds value to your personal brand and ultimately the brand of the firm.

Content, on the other hand, has multiple purposes. It is the material you or your company produces, in whatever format you choose, i.e. written content, videos, infographics, memes, newsletters, podcasts etc. It specifically refers to online, digital material, although some marketers are starting to refer to offline printed material as content now too. It is not meant to explicitly promote a brand, but is intended to stimulate interest in its products or services.

The Content Marketing Institute, an online resource for information on all things content marketing related, defines content marketing as: “Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

The key word is “valuable”, otherwise the definition could be describing almost any form of advertising or marketing. If people seek out a piece of content, if people want to consume it, rather than avoiding it, it’s the sort of content that could be part of a content marketing campaign.

There are numerous different formats of digital content. See Tami Briesies’ “101 Different Types of Digital Content”.

The relationship between the two

Content marketing is about building the brand, driving client/customer action, and ultimately driving sales, by engaging the target audience. Thought leadership is achieved by using particular types of content in a new and unique way, to build profile and positioning. Thought leadership content would generally be content such as white papers, reports, articles, videos etc. For example, a white paper or report might analyse the results of industry research and you might even choose to charge a fee for this content. The thought leadership content establishes the author, and the brand, as a thought leader.

Back in 2013, Laura Ramos, of Forrester, illustrated the relationship like this:

Some excellent examples of B2B thought leadership can be found in the article “11 B2B Brands Putting Out Real Thought Leadership Content” by Robert McGuire.

How do you use them both?

For quality content, the idea is to produce a consistent volume of engaging content, making sure it is:

  • Findable
  • Readable
  • Understandable
  • Actionable
  • Shareable

This checklist from Ahava Leibtag “Creating Valuable Content: An Essential Checklist” is a great place to start.

Content should be used to engage with potential clients/customers and drive interested prospective clients/customers (leads) to your website to ultimately take action, by signing up for more content or to be contacted by you directly.

Thought leadership content should be used to build your profile as an expert in your area of expertise. Thought leadership ultimately helps you position yourself and your service as significantly valuable to potential clients. Prospective clients will seek you out and it will allow you to realise your optimum value.

The key is to develop a targeted, structured, and informed content strategy, including thought leadership content, to increase brand engagement and ultimately increase sales leads.

Employee engagement = Brand engagement


According to Wikipedia “Customer engagement (CE) is an effect, a reaction, a connection, a response and/or an experience of customers with one another, with a company or a brand”. The key word is “connection”. It’s all about connection. You want your clients or customers to connect with your brand. In B2B, and also in B2C, you need your customers to connect with your people in order for them to connect with the brand. It doesn’t matter if the connection is made in person, via social media, or just through reading your content. The human element is always there.

So, if humans count, and customers want meaningful, authentic connections with the people within your organisation, then you need your employees to be authentic and genuinely care about the interactions they’re having. The only way this will happen is if your employees are engaged. They need to feel engaged with the work they are doing day-to-day. The more engaged they are, the more effort they will apply to the work you would like them to do (including interacting with customers). This also applies to non-customer facing staff. Whatever job they have to do within the organisation will ultimately affect the product or service, regardless of what that is.

Published studies like the Aberdeen Group’s EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT: PAVING THE WAY TO HAPPY CUSTOMERS go a long way to demonstrating the direct correlation between employee engagement and customer satisfaction. In the report they state,

Engaged employees positively influence the buying behaviors of customers, leading to higher customer loyalty and profitable growth.

Aberdeen concludes through the research, linking employee engagement measures with customer satisfaction levels, that,

Companies with formal employee engagement programs are indeed enjoying the fruits of their labor in fostering an environment where employees are motivated to satisfy clients.

When we take this a step further and connect customer satisfaction with brand engagement, we conclude that employee engagement is intrinsically linked to brand engagement. Satisfied, happy, engaged employees equals satisfied, happy, engaged customers. So, you can have a direct and positive affect on your brand by implementing a formal employee engagement program.

When developing a formal employee engagement program, here are a few things to consider:

Better employee satisfaction surveys

When conducting staff satisfaction surveys, or employee engagement surveys, companies often don’t ask the right questions. Surveys should be asking meaningful questions linked to drivers of engagement. They should be measuring the employee’s level of trust in management, satisfaction with their job role, and things like connection to the vision of the organisation. Surveys should be conducted frequently, annually, quarterly, or even monthly, and can be large annual surveys, covering everything, or quick snapshots in particular areas of focus. The outcomes should be quickly publicised within the organisation and areas of improvement acted upon as soon as possible, or investigated further.

It must come from the top

Even the most sophisticated engagement program will fail without the support of a company’s senior leaders. Leadership is a significant driver of employee engagement and therefore the company’s culture. Employees look to the senior leaders for guidance, so it’s crucial that leaders actively support these initiatives.

It’s all about trust

The key to a positive corporate culture is trust. Employees need to trust the leadership team and, equally, leaders need to trust employees to do the best job they can do. Employees need enough space to determine the best way to complete a task within a reasonable amount of time. The default position should be trust first, unless someone does something to lose that trust. Employees shouldn’t have to earn trust. If they are qualified, and satisfied all of the recruitment criteria, they should be allowed to get on with doing the job they were hired to do.

Ultimately, your engaged employees will deliver exceptional service to your customers, which, in turn, creates brand engagement and brand loyalty, so it’s worth spending time and money on developing and implementing employee engagement strategies and initiatives. A formal employee engagement program can create brand engagement and lead to increased company performance.

How leadership can increase brand engagement

People Brand

Companies spend a huge amount of time and money on building a strong brand, but often fail to recognise their most valuable brand ambassadors, their people. Building a strong brand, regardless of the industry you’re in, requires a strong connection between the employee’s sense of purpose at the organisation and the brand aspirations of that organisation.

Employee Engagement = Brand Engagement

The equation is simple. A great corporate culture with engaged, connected employees equals a great corporate brand. Even luxury consumer goods brands have people at their core. It’s never just about the product. They generally have a founder or a founding family who cared, and continue to care, deeply about the quality of the product and have created the brand as a lifelong passion. The generally have a story to tell and their employees like being part of their journey.

Organisations with great corporate brands do these five things well:

1. They have a clear brand, vision and values

2. Have employees who enthusiastically deliver what the brand promises

3. Make sure that all activities are aligned to the brand including recruitment, induction, training, communication, reward and recognition, processes and culture

4. Leaders and managers ‘live the brand’ through their behaviour – it’s not just rhetoric

5. They measure brand awareness, understanding and delivery, internally and externally.

The key to all of this is leadership. Leaders who inspire their employees to care about the organisation’s future. Leaders who draw a direct line between the employee’s day-to-day role and the vision of the organisation. These leaders are inspiring the employee to give the organisation their very best. This translates into effort and care with client/customer service, diligent, accurate and efficient administration, care for other employees, and a more energised and innovative corporate culture.

Applied Personal Branding

One of the most common (and most damaging) branding misconceptions is that the personal brand and the corporate brand compete (rather than cooperate). William Aruda says:

Nothing could be further from the truth. The most successful companies help employees understand their personal brands, capitalizing on the integration of these individual traits with the broader corporate objectives. It’s called applied personal branding, and it’s a powerfully simple strategy. It’s based on the principle of personal plus corporate, not personal vs. corporate. When employees are clear about who they are and what makes them exceptional (a process that you can easily implement by promoting self discovery), and they have been educated with an understanding of the corporate brand objectives, they can apply their unique skills and expertise to activate the corporate goals. Think consistency, not conformity, and you’re following the lucrative path of Southwest Airlines and Apple’s Genius Bar. A consistent brand does not emerge from conformist employees. Each individual needs to determine how he or she can deliver on the corporate brand promise in a way that’s authentic, leveraging the corporate identity with what ignites them and makes them exceptional.

I call this CheerLEADING™. Developing internal cheerleaders to be your brand evangelists. This development of the employee’s personal brand can, and should, be done alongside the development of the corporate brand. They are one and the same. Your internal advocates create external advocates and, in turn, create an engaging brand.

Social media plays a huge role in all of this today. Look out for future posts on this.


Building a B2B Brand: Why Culture is Critical


Strong brands are built over time. These days, we are much more conscious of brand equity, so we are able to plan for, and intentionally create, a brand identity, a brand’s voice and perceived value in the market.

Most dictionary definitions of “Brand” go something like this:

– a category of products that are all made by a particular company and all have a particular name

– a particular kind or type of something

– a mark that is burned into the skin of an animal (such as a cow) to show who owns the animal.*

In fact the last definition is where the word “brand” comes from. A brand is so much more than that. A brand is the reason why people will queue for hours for the next iPhone and it goes far beyond the product itself. The quality of the product does have an impact, but it is more about what you perceive that product to say about you.

In a professional services environment, a brand is an implied promise (to existing and prospective clients) that the level of quality people have come to expect from a brand will continue with future purchases of the same brand. If you’re selling a service, you’re selling the skills and the knowledge of your employees to clients. What if prospective clients have had no experience with your brand at all? You need to create the desire to experience your brand.

It begins with your culture. Capturing the hearts and minds of your employees and activating a purpose. Your purpose is the defining reason for existing that extends beyond the bottom line and provides necessary meaning to all who interact with the brand.

The history of accounting is thousands of years old and can be traced to ancient civilizations, but the oldest continuously functioning accounting firm can be traced to Josiah Wade in 1780 in Bristol, England, who specialised in auditing the accounting of merchants. The company became Tribe, Clark and Company in 1871 and finally merged with Deloitte in 1969.

Deloitte is an excellent example of where brand is synonymous with culture.

Deloitte considers its 195,000 skilled professionals to be actively shaping its brand. The professional services providers are the brand. In Deloitte, B2B is viewed as P2P — people to people — and Deloitte member firm professionals offer personal knowledge, insights, and experience. Training is provided worldwide to educate Deloitte professionals about the importance and function of the brand.

In September 2008, Deloitte Belgium welcomed its newest class of recent graduates and held a special event at which they met some of their new colleagues and were introduced to the firm. The introduction was most notable for its conclusion: at the end of the day, each of the newcomers received keys to their very own Deloitte-branded Mini Cooper car. Following the screening of a promotional film featuring hundreds of the cars touring the streets of Brussels (shot from a helicopter) and group participation in a safe-driving course, the new hires departed with a new car and a new appreciation for the organization they had joined. The initiative was rolled out in 2008, but juniors who start at Deloitte Belgium still receive a Mini and color the streets of Belgium.**

Deloitte recognises that people are the driving force behind the interaction with all relevant audiences. They use communication to lead to connectivity, to lead to brand awareness, to lead to brand experience, to lead to brand loyalty.**

Culture can be deliberately influenced. There are many ways to positively influence employee engagement and have a positive effect on the firm’s culture. Employee benefits, such as Deloitte’s cars, are only a small part of the overall cultural picture. If your people are engaged and united in an authentic, genuine purpose they will work hard, achieve shared goals, and deliver the best possible service to your clients.

**Designing B2B Brands: Lessons from Deloitte and 195,000 brand managers, Carlos Martínez Onaindía & Brian Resnick.

Tell your magical brand story


If you are asked to describe your organisation to someone, in 2-3 sentences, how do you go? How will your employees respond when asked to do the same?

In some ways, branding can learn from the science of Anthropology. One of the primary ways we make sense of our world is through story telling. Stories are the way relate to each other and the way we make sense of who we are and what our place in the world is. Stories are shared in every culture as a means of education, entertainment, cultural preservation, and instilling moral values.

The same is ultimately true of brands. Brands are the stories that unite us in a common purpose, within the organisation, and connect us with the people we serve on the outside. Brand stories give meaning to who we are, what we do and why we do it.

The stories we tell inside our organisation, to our employees, shape the way they feel about the organisation and therefore shape the way they interact with clients and customers. The organisation’s brand stories become a key driver of employee engagement and a key driver of the business. If an organisation has a long history or a history steeped in tradition, this forms part of the brand story. Conversely, if a business is relatively young, but has experienced success early, this too will influence the story.

I encourage leaders to be very strategic about the creation and telling of the brand story. Think about the impact of various events along the way. If the organisation has won an award, or a number of awards, it’s just as important to keep celebrating internally, as much as it is to promote it externally. If employees feel proud of where they work, they pass on this positivity to clients and customers. Leaders can be very strategic about the words they choose, as well as how and when they choose to relay the brand story. It should start before the recruitment process. Employer branding becomes part of your overall brand strategy, so potential recruits know some of the story before they apply for a position. Then, when they do apply, they learn more of the story through the recruitment process and even more when they begin employment.

The brand story is continually evolving and, as the organisation grows, more chapters are added. Leaders should take every opportunity to reinforce the brand story and provide positive connections to it. Marketers and internal communication professionals should place the brand story, and the creation of brand loyalty via the story, at the top of their list of priorities. Brand stories should be created by skilled communications specialists and delivered via internal communications channels. Leaders deliver consistent messages (i.e. the same story) as part of the overall communications plan.

Disney is probably the best example of an organisation consistently telling its brand story, over many many years and with deliberate authenticity. Disney has developed its brand essence over the years and delivering a ‘magical’ experience is ingrained in their culture. They also continue to tell the story of Walt Disney and his mantra “We create happiness by providing the finest in family entertainment.” In fact, Walt Disney’s take on defining a company culture was based entirely around creating a genuine shared purpose that people would be proud to support*.

Create some of your own magic, by creating, refining and consistently telling your positive brand story, inside and out. You will create a culture within your organisation that will not only last, but become the very thing that leads to brand loyalty in your clients or customers. Engaged employees, working with a shared purpose, created and supported by the brand story, will provide a positive experience for clients and customers again and again and again.

*Source: “How Disney Creates Magical Experiences (and a 70% Return Rate)”, Gregory Ciotti. http://www.helpscout.net/blog/disney-customer-experience/

Internal cheerLEADING™

How do your employees become brand ambassadors? How do they speak the language of the business at every single touch point, in unison, naturally and comfortably, believing in what they’re saying? How do they “live and breathe it” and feel passionate about it. In short, you need to develop a team of internal cheerleaders. Cheering for the organisation and cheering for the brand. They need to love what they do and be happy to tell everyone about it.

There are many different ways to engage employees, but the trick is aligning brand messages. The best way to do this is to create an internal culture which is synonymous with the external brand. Google do this extremely well. Google is the number one cited organisation for corporate culture. Google employees are called “Googlers” and being an employee means being “Googley”. This infographic illustrates their philosophy.

Infographic: Corporate Culture Mindset via HumanResourcaMBA.net

At Google, culture is guided from the top. The leadership team drive the internal employee initiatives. If they don’t believe it will add to being ‘googley’, and achieve results, they don’t do it. They also have a very solid foundation of trust. Trust in employees, trust in leadership and trust in the culture. Of course innovation is key and employees are encouraged to fail and try again.

A few things Google does:


  • Engineers are ½ of the organization. Engineers like to “do cool things.” After one year, an engineer can bid to work on anything they want to. “Popular projects” get more bids, less popular ones don’t. Project leads have to learn to sell/pitch their ideas to appeal to engineers.
  • “Innovation from Everywhere.” Innovation is expected at Google, in every segment of the business. You can use 20% of your time on anything – people vote and pledge their 20% time to projects that are seen as promising or cool. It’s “a license to pursue your dreams” says Marissa Mayer. “If I don’t have a good 20% project yet, I need one. It could negatively impact on my review.” Half the new products and features launched by Google are said to come from work done under the 20% rule.
  • Google is constantly building “dog food teams” – the groups who work to make all products better.
  • Google products are always in Beta. It is a Silicon Valley punch line that Google products stay in beta forever. Mistakes are celebrated. There was a product launch in 2009 that didn’t catch on – a big failure, externally and internally. That product launch team was celebrated, given a bonus, AND given a Founder’s Award (prestigious). Eventually that workstream rolled into what is now Google Plus.
  • TGIF – every Friday, Larry and Sergey stand on a stage and answer ANY question. People log on and ask and then vote on the questions they most want answered. They go through the screen and take every one on, candidly. It is common to hear someone say “I think you made a mistake with _______.” And they will come back with “Here’s why we did it.”
  • “Hiring is the most process-driven thing we do.” (Shannon Deegan, VP of HR). They have 2 million applications for 500 jobs. The screening process is rigorous – they will leave a role open a year if they don’t find the right fit.
  • All people decisions at Google (in fact, all decisions period) are based on data and analytics. Google VP Marissa Meyer once said “If a Google employee is meeting with Larry and Sergey to talk about users’ needs, they’d better come with more than their own conclusions – they had better come with data. Their immediate question will be “How many people did you test?””
  • Nooglers (new to Google) are given lots of on-boarding support. They are taught early on:
    • It’s fun to work here – have fun.
    • Think big and take risks.
    • If it’s broken, fix it or find someone who can.
    • Invent solutions not yet thought possible.
  • One of the most-asked questions at Google: “Wouldn’t it be cool if…..”
  • We take employee surveys very seriously. There is a 90%+ response rate (very high compared to most large organizations) and most people elect to reveal their identity, although they don’t have to. Recent changes from surveys:
    • Make it easier to find a mentor
    • Simplify internal mobility (transfer) process by making it transparent and user friendly
    • Provide more tools to help Googlers define, articulate, and plan for career development
    • Reduce bias during performance reviews
    • How closely does employee perception of the value of benefits, match reality?
    • Is employee networking valuable to the organization?
  • Create internal agility by putting in place only as much structure as absolutely necessary. Managers are RESOURCES not bosses. They work FOR the team.
  • Give people the tools to make innovation easy: New computers every 18 months. Also, lots of server space, 24 hour help desk, Radio Shack on-site.
  • Peer bonuses – anyone can log on and give someone a $200 peer bonus, no approval needed. (the person just cannot be in your direct team.) We have never seen it abused.
  • Everyone at every level gets stock on the day they start, which vests at one year.
  • Teams are responsible for the culture globally – all offices watch the Larry & Sergey TGIF chat on video and are accountable to create an office that “feels Googley.”*

I love these best practices, but what can we learn from them and actually implement in our own organisations? On top of trust, other key elements include staff benefits, rewards and recognition, bonuses, responsibility and accountability, on-boarding support, leadership, communication, and a flat organisational structure.

At the core of it all though are Google’s values or what they call ‘being googley’. I think this is the real key. Their values are ingrained, intrinsic to the organisation. It’s an expected way to behave. You don’t get a job there unless you behave this way and you certainly don’t keep your job if your behaviour is anything but ‘googley’. The meaning of being ‘googley’ is well communicated and staff can articulate it. It’s what makes Google Google.

I think you have to start with your core values. How you want your people to behave. Every single person in the organisation needs to subscribe to your core values and be engaged with them.

I think if we concentrate on defining ‘googley’ for our own organisation and focus on being ‘that’ everyday, through everything we do, we can build a team of internal cheerLEADERS™ and build an organisation achieving real success.

*Source: “THE REAL SECRET OF GOOGLE’S CORPORATE CULTURE” corporateculturepros.com.


Design elements and branding


Carefully chosen design elements are crucial to your organisation’s visual identity. They help to identify your organisation and differentiate you from other similar organisations.

Your logo is your first design element. Your logo will be the single symbol that identifies what your brand is and what it represents. The best logos are clean, uncluttered, and memorable. If your logo has a unique shape and colour it can become a design element to be used throughout your material. Target’s logo is used like this. The red target element is used throughout their advertising and marketing material.

The colours you choose are also important design elements. Some research on branding and colour psychology shows the link between colour use and the perception of your brand’s personality. It’s not about stereotypical colour associations, but supporting your brand’s personality with the correct colour choices. Ultimately, the most important thing is consistency over time. Customers like recognisable brands. Choose your logo colour and supporting branding colours for the traits they portray and stick to them, forever. Even if you are re-branding, the logo and colours should not change so much that the brand is unrecognisable.

A brand’s look & feel usually has primary colours and supporting colours. It’s important to get the balance and complement of these right too. Some brands have colours that are complementary, on the opposite side of the colour wheel (such as blue and orange). Others use shades of colours that support the main logo colour. There are many ways to use colour palettes.

Images are also a crucial element to your brand’s visual identity. Imagery needs to match your logo and colours in style and tone. However, your imagery does so much more than that. A picture speaks a thousand words. The images you choose evoke feelings. You want them to evoke feelings that persuade.

Another element to think about is your fonts. Again, you want to choose fonts that reflect your brand attributes and say something about who you are and what you do. For example, san serif fonts tend to be a bit less formal and more modern.

A branding project, or a re-branding project, would begin with identifying the brand attributes. For example, is the brand fun, modern, exciting etc. Then, the look & feel would be designed. You want your brand to reflect who you are and what you do. The physical representation of the brand needs to do that for you. The thoughtful choice of physical branding elements helps you do this. The brand is so much more than the physical look & feel, but you need to get this right from the beginning to build the brand and ultimately build brand loyalty.