“Brand Congruence” Offers a New Path to Securing Loyalty
The erosion of loyalty in the workplace is pervasive, especially among millennials. This is the result of organizations not providing ways for employees to see meaning and purpose in their role and in what they do. If properly addressed, the over-arching “brand” can become the galvanizing idea to express an underlying inter-connection of Vision, Mission and Values, and provide a focal point for developing pride and greater loyalty. This new lens is about understanding the importance of congruence and how to use it.
As far back as 1968, various studies1 have concluded that the congruence between self-image and brand-image eventually plays an important role in improving brand loyalty. Today, the thinking about congruence and incongruence comes from Carl Rogers’ humanistic approach to psychology that suggests that humans want to experience and behave in ways that are consistent with their self-image and what they would like to be.
When examining what motivates us, it’s clear we are driven by intrinsic factors far more than extrinsic ones. Thus congruence, and how to shape it, is an under-lying key to engendering loyalty, which becomes a significant competitive advantage.
Shift in loyalty
What we know from research is that 71% of millennials2 say they are not emotionally and behaviorally connected to their job or company. The days of organization and corporate loyalty have shifted dramatically, and continue to do so. 66% of millennials3 already say they plan to leave their jobs by 2020. In other words, they are already thinking about moving on and not staying to build a long-term career. This puts an enormous burden on organizations to figure out the underlying needs and re-frame themselves so that they can align and engage. There are many companies trying many different activities to retain and build loyalty, but many of these programs are simply band-aids and not fundamental cures.
What is causing the shift?
There are many factors that collectively impact why employees do not feel congruent with the organization they work for. Here are some of the main reasons:
- Acceleration of industry disruption. The rate of change is increasing. Technology has disrupted virtually every industry. Thomas Friedman writes eloquently about this in “Thank You for Being Late”, a text describing the tectonic shift in attitudes resulting from technology evolution.
- Mergers creating mixed cultures with little rationalization or explanation of “why”. As markets consolidate, mergers have created larger and larger organizations, where different cultures may not share a common view of the future, and the role they can play in it.
- Mixed messages are everywhere. Think about how the world is filled with mixed and often untrue messages creating high levels of skepticism:
- Political messages are often untruths and shake our confidence in believing
- Religious leaders have been misleading us about pedophilia and other issues within the church
- Advertisers mislead us. Consumers know that we can find almost any product at a lower price than advertised
- Corporate communications from the top are often suspect. Employees are sensitized to reading between the lines
- Employees often feel unheard and unmanaged. Because of the rate of change, it is hard for companies to keep up with acknowledging individual needs. This dynamic can further distance employees at a time when they need more communication, not less.
- Corporate visions and missions are often generic and uninspiring. There are relatively few corporate visions and missions that are specific and unique to a company. Much of the time they use generic words instead of language that guides employees to feeling like they are part of something special.
- Corporate values can sound nice on paper, but are often not differentiating and compelling. When values start sounding generic, employees tune out as they do not feel any deep connection to the DNA of the company they have selected to work for. It’s about the specific values as well as the actions that support them such as compensation, incentives, training, advancement, etc.
Meaning and purpose are what employees want
At the core of millennials’ concerns (and we believe a much broader swath of employees) is the need to have meaning and purpose. They want to be part of something that aligns with their beliefs, and has a culture that validates what they are doing. 87% of millennials4 seek something greater than themselves, such as participating in cause work. This is a dramatic shift from prior generations.
The result is that to build and sustain a loyal workforce, organizations must establish congruence in the work place. The new mandate is that employees must truly believe what they do is viewed as part of what they would like to be. It is not enough to strive to be an organization that is the “best” at something, unless this is attached to a belief that reinforces purpose.
Congruence comes from the inter-connection of Vision, Mission, Values and Brand
In building a powerful brand, organizations need to think broadly about the narrative of Vision, Mission and Values. This is what, in total, creates congruence. Each element plays an important role in not only shaping the future, but building a community that employees want to be part of. Over the years, we have spent a lot of time guiding organizations to clarify and understand what each element is and the role it serves. We have found that stepping back and re-evaluating each element offers the opportunity for an organization to ask the hard questions about whether each is appropriate for the future the organization is facing. A tougher question is whether there is a consistent narrative that defines the organization, guides behaviors, and resonates with the changing needs of the emerging workforce.
- Vision describes what the organization aspires to be. It is, ideally, expressed to communicate the better world an organization hopes to bring about. It must be inspirational and speak to all stakeholders. A powerful vision becomes an aspirational north star.
- Mission is what the organization must do to achieve its vision. It is the guidance of what it must dedicate itself to achieve, to move ever closer to achieving the vision.
- Values are the non-negotiable beliefs an organization holds to deliver its mission. Each value should be backed up with explicit policies that are embedded in the way it does business.
- Brand is the promise of value represented by the sum of the vision, mission, values and expertise. It is conveyed through communications and behaviors.
Together, these elements form the narrative that creates meaningful congruence by embodying an idea or ideas that employees can attach to. What has changed is the need to look at all four elements as part of a whole so employees can experience congruence
The most successful brands today shape a unique narrative. One that it is honest and true, and expresses a belief system that resonates with employees. Importantly, they reject generic corporate language and develop a unique story that could only be from that organization and none other.
Amazon really gets it… no wonder they are successful. Their Vision is:
To be earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online.
Knitted together with their Mission:
We strive to offer our customers the lowest possible prices, the best available selection, and the utmost convenience.
You can see how these core tenets might be attractive to employees.
Amazon Values (or what they call “Leadership Principles”) are very powerful. Notice how they focus on being the leader, and help shape the Amazon way of doing things:
- Customer Obsession.
- Invent and Simplify.
- Are Right, A Lot.
- Learn and Be Curious.
- Hire and Develop the Best.
- Insist on the Highest Standards.
- Think Big.
- Bias for Action.
- Earn Trust.
- Dive Deep.
- Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit.
- Deliver Results.
When Vision, Mission and Values are part of one fabric or narrative, they shape a brand that connects with current and prospective employees.
The internal brand language at Amazon is “Work Hard. Have Fun. Make History.” The words “make history” point to the opportunity to do something big and important. It means more than money… it signals that customers can derive extraordinary value because Amazon exists.
Successful brands that are driven by powerful ideas enable congruence
The truly great brands, large and small, spend a great deal of time focusing on their brands as the expression of the narrative.
IBM has brilliantly picked up on the need for congruence. They focus more today on “creating a world that is fairer, more diverse, more tolerant, more just.” Think about that… their over-arching philosophy does not reference products and services, but summarizes what they believe.
From a brand communications perspective, IBM links this idea to employees by speaking about “…a world we want to live in. The world you’re building…”. They make the connection for the employees so that they can see purpose in what they do every day. This is congruence at work.
Here are some corporate visions that communicate, in short form, a better world that employees can see themselves part of:
To the extent that a vision sets the stage for what millennials want to associate with, the company will attract the right people and develop greater levels of loyalty than their competitors.
The challenge is to determine whether each element provides enough guidance to shape a congruent experience so that employees stay loyal and enthusiastic. As meaning and purpose evolve as the primary driver of attracting and retaining talent, the “Congruence Narrative” becomes the epicenter of the connections.
If an organization creates a “Congruence Narrative” that resonates, just imagine how much easier many processes will become; from attracting the right talent, on-boarding, training, through internal communications, etc.
How to approach developing a “Congruence Narrative”
There is an organizing framework that can simplify developing a “Congruence Narrative”. It is based on acknowledging the role of specific groups in shaping the future. There are three distinct groups:
CEO & C-Suite. This should be the core group responsible for the Vision. They should be focused on the future and where the organization needs to go. By understanding their key task, this will simplify the number of people and speed of the process. Often, involving more people tends to complicate the process, not help.
Senior Leadership. This must be the wider team to articulate two things: 1) the Mission of the organization to achieve the Vision, and 2) the Values that drive behaviors. Involving the broader group not only develops these elements, but also generates critical alignment.
Associates. Once a draft of the Vision, Mission and Values are developed, it is imperative to involve associates to validate that these elements resonate. Critical listening to feedback will inform and help modify to result in a narrative that truly engages the workforce of the future and develops high levels of loyalty.
Organizations that take the time to truly step back and look at the inter-connectedness of Vision, Mission and Values, build much stronger levels of congruence. Think of the benefits:
- Employees will stay longer
- Turn-over costs will be significantly reduced
- Deeper corporate knowledge and intellectual capital can be transferred to each generation
- Employees will become advocates palpably socializing Vision, Mission and Values
- Internal and external communications will have an anchor to create consistency
When done, you should have a brand that signals an organizations core reason for being, and clearly telegraphs the purpose and meaning employees are seeking.
For deeper insights, contact:
John K. Grace
President & Managing Partner
1 Birdwell 1968; Bellenger, Steinberg, and Stanton 1976; Dolich 1968; Hughes and Guerrero 1971; Munson 1973; Sirgy 1980; Stern, Bush, and Hair 1977.
2 Gallup Reports (How Millennials Work)
3 Gallup Reports (How Millennials Work)
4 Case Foundation (Millennial Impact Report)
February 14, 2018 Comments Off on “Brand Congruence” Offers a New Path to Securing Loyalty
United Airlines… It Could Have Been Me or You.
When a brand has a problem, and all brands do at some point or another, people process the nature of the flaw differently. If it touches them… they react very personally. Key media platforms, like YouTube, feed this beast and all of a sudden a brand has a real problem.
Brands that have critical “flaws” that don’t directly touch us are not quickly damaged. For example, when VW misled us about their reporting incorrect MPG information, we read it as a corporate flaw. This was viewed as more distant, it remotely touched each of us, and then we moved on. Most people didn’t attach any fundamental connection to the issue, so they tuned out. Sure, the situation has been an on-going nightmare for VW causing management firings and re-alignments, but from an immediacy standpoint, it is perceived to be a somewhat distant issue. So the brand damage has been significantly less than if the issue had touched us directly.
But security personnel dragging a passenger off a United plane in Chicago is different. It touches us because it could have been us. For those of us who fly a lot, on planes that are generally full, the idea of having to give up a seat and take another flight becomes a personal decision. Most business people are on very tight schedules, and don’t have the time or patience to wait. Add to that the motive was United’s business, not the passengers, and we become outraged for good reason. The United brand has been damaged.
What if you were told your seat was not available? That alone would be a problem. But take it to the extreme, what if you were dragged off a flight (not politely asked and escorted)? Now that touches me on a very personal level. We can imagine ourselves in that circumstance.
From a brand management standpoint, these types of flaws must be addressed differently. When an issue touches consumers as individuals, it becomes critical to step up and address the public head-on and immediately. Delays in communicating only signal that the corporation (brand) is not prioritizing us, but focused on protecting itself. Today, consumers are very sensitized to these cues.
Oscar Munoz, United’s CEO, lost sight of this. His first instincts ignored the critical relationship the United brand has to its passengers. It took him a day or two to recover. But a lot of damage has been done.
The good news is that he did, relatively quickly, recognize what was at stake. Let’s hope passengers and the media cut him some slack. He finally “embraced” how his consumers felt about his brand. In our opinion, he stemmed what could have been an even worse situation. Now he must build back the positive brand equity that was lost. This requires; fixing the problem, communicating to all of us how will never happen again, and then speaking to us with conviction that he (the United brand) understands us. His tone better be empathetic and not corporate, or we will put United even further down our list of preferred airlines.
April 14, 2017 Comments Off on United Airlines… It Could Have Been Me or You.
Can Trust in a Brand Be Revived?
The question is… can trust be revived in a brand that is seriously damaged? Almost every year there are brands that amaze us with incredible stupidity… mostly generated by a drive for bigger sales numbers. Volkswagen not only misled consumers and dealers about emissions and gas mileage claims, but
tried to make it a small and inconsequential issue until investigators uncovered an ever-growing circle of management and leaders who actually knew exactly what was going on. [Read more →]
September 30, 2016 Comments Off on Can Trust in a Brand Be Revived?
Why Authenticity Matters
One universal characteristic of market leaders and powerful brands is that they are authentic. Business leaders should challenge if they have embraced what authenticity means.
Authentic brands do what they say. Their behavior is consistent with their promises. That means that the organization making the brand promise must be congruent: its business processes have to be designed and aligned to ensure behavior that supports and delivers the brand promise. So ‘brand’ goes way beyond communications or image. It is an organizational mandate.
There have been three recent examples of brands that have broken this trust. Volkswagen completely diluted its brand by not only installing software in cars to cheat on emissions standards, but also hiding and denying this behavior for years. They impeded and obstructed regulators and provided misleading information, and thus violated not only customer trust, but also employee affection for the company. It will take years for VW to recapture its market position.
Takata, a leading supplier of air-bags, tried to duck responsibility for airbags that can explode when deployed by implying that it was a data manipulation issue. The truth did come out, and after years of denial, Takata is now paying the price for misleading customers. Their brand has suffered immeasurably. To quote the lead plaintiff, “The only thing they did not know was the names of the individuals who were going to be injured or killed, and the date it was going to happen.” Ouch.
Chipotle did not appear to react fast enough when it learned about a Norovirus outbreak. Apparently, the procedure for “washing down” produce didn’t seem to be effective. They have subsequently apologized, closed some restaurants and put in place new procedures. The question is whether consumers will believe that they will continue to act in a truthful manner. We give them praise for not denying the problem, but time will tell whether consumers believe Chipotle acted fast enough in the best interest of their consumers. For a brand based on credibility, they are dancing very close to the edge.
One of the benefits of being authentic is word-of-mouth recommendations and repeat purchases. In other words… loyalty. Whether B2B or B2C, understanding what authentic means and living it every day is a mandate in today’s complex markets.
February 19, 2016 Comments Off on Why Authenticity Matters
Don’t Confuse Loyalty with a Loyalty Program
“What really drives customer loyalty?” is a straightforward question that many CEO’s are asking themselves. A popular response is to employ a loyalty program. This is not necessarily the right answer.
Every airline, hotel, credit card, and grocery store has a loyalty program, and they spend in aggregate $50 billon dollars a year on rewarding customers according to Forbes. Just look at the numbers:
– 83% of consumers participate in a loyalty program
– On average each U.S. household belongs to 29 individual programs, but are only active in 12
– The airline industry alone in North America earned $9.6 billion by selling miles to partners in 2013.
Loyalty programs are big business.
But if you peel back the onion, you’ll find that only 42 percent of program members are active, engaged or participate (The 2015 Colloquy Loyalty Census). That’s a lot of wasted dollars that could be put to use elsewhere. This is not to say that loyalty or reward programs don’t work. They should be used as a form of recognition for valuable customers. But marketers need to reframe how they view these types of programs. The purpose of the programs, including the common practice of providing awards to all customers – good, bad and even unprofitable ones – needs to be rethought. [Read more →]
June 22, 2015 Comments Off on Don’t Confuse Loyalty with a Loyalty Program
Congrats to Heineken for Updating its Bottle in the U.S.
Heineken is introducing a new, taller bottle in the U.S. in order to help it’s flagging sales. It is a smart move on many levels, and it will be successful. But imagine the internal debate about change.
Heineken Lager Beer was established in 1873 in the Netherlands, and still uses the same recipe. It was the first beer imported into the U.S. after prohibition, in 1933, and has been a consistent bell weather brand. But while they once commanded a leading share of imports, Corona, craft beers, and even traditional competitors have introduced newer packaging and flavors, and Heineken has suffered. Today, Corona outsells Heineken almost 2 to 1. So it was out of necessity Heineken considered an alternative to the squat green bottle that has been their structural heritage. Funny how competition pushes a brand to better understand it’s equities.
September 20, 2012 Comments Off on Congrats to Heineken for Updating its Bottle in the U.S.
How Citibank has Lost my Loyalty
I have been a loyal Citigold customer for 20 years. But last Friday they really put a chink in my loyalty. Citigold is the “premium banking” part of Citi, a step above the masses. It has been very convenient for all these years. Here’s how they violated my affection.
First, they called me at home to market something. I guess there should be nothing wrong with that, but then again, I expect better than retail treatment as a Citigold member. Perhaps they were calling about a fraud issue, or an observation about how I could manage my account better. But they weren’t. [Read more →]
June 21, 2012 Comments Off on How Citibank has Lost my Loyalty
You Earned My Loyalty. I’m Sticking with DYMO.
DYMO, one of the leaders in providing label printers, just treated me the right way, and retained my loyalty at a critical moment. I had recently upgraded to a new operating system for my Mac. As a result, my computer couldn’t communicate with my label printer. After trying several options, I finally called DYMO customer service, and they used that moment to secure my loyalty for a long time to come. When they realized that my label printer wasn’t compatible with my new OS, they generously said they would replace my printer with a new one… at no cost to me.
February 10, 2012 Comments Off on You Earned My Loyalty. I’m Sticking with DYMO.
While Automated, Electronic Customer Service 'Voices' are Getting Better, some Brands are Missing a Bigger Opportunity.
Companies around the world continue moving customer service to automated systems to cut costs. But in doing so, they may be damaging their brands instead of helping them. A recent Wall Street Journal article highlights the recent moves to shift these automated voices from “cold to homey”.
In some business categories, customer service is the critical touch point where the brand is actualized. While marketers have been focused on advertising and other traditional marketing tools to define brands, it may well be that customer service is the one place where a company has control of shaping the brand in a tangible and powerful way. The service interaction is an enormous opportunity to build the customer relationship with the brand and engender deeper loyalty and advocacy.
November 4, 2010 6 Comments