Today I’m in Chicago for the annual Cause Marketing Forum. While the content of this event’s sessions never fail to provide new information and provoke innovative thinking, it’s the people who motivate me to show up. In the hallways between breakouts and during the evening reception over wine, the Cause Marketing Forum brings together some of the smartest, most compassionate men and women in the CSR, marketing and PR fields. Yesterday, in a conversation with one of those brilliant people, I was told: You can’t affect corporate culture without a strong brand strategy. And that’s where things got interesting.

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By Angela Parker

My forum friend may be right. I agree; a strong brand strategy is important, particularly when “cause” is part of that brand. I’ll use the banking industry as an example. Recently, an article was shared with me that’s written by a PR professional who gets it almost right. Almost right is good, but it’s not good enough. I don’t personally know the article’s author and I certainly don’t intend to offend him; I’m sure he is much smarter than I am along with being a great writer. The fact that his professional emphasis is PR may explain his particular perspective.

He lists the challenges the industry is facing clearly and accurately. Straight from the article, here are some salient points (click here to read more of the author’s thoughts on each):

  • Customers don’t want toasters, they want a relevant financial services partner that consistently proves it understands their needs and demonstrates a commitment to grow with them.
  • People want a personal relationship.
  • Trust needs to be central to a strategic marketing plan.
  • A strong brand always starts on the inside.
  • Showcasing your brand in everything you do “can mean the difference between customer attrition and lifetime loyalty.”
  • People put their faith in people, not companies.
  • 53 percent of millennials don’t think their bank offers anything different than others.

What I don’t understand is how he can get through an entire article advocating connecting with customers in a new and meaningful way and fail to mention the the actual most valuable asset of the company, which is not in fact the brand, as the author states, but its employees.

OK, he does tack on the following:

This same principle applies for your employees — the people who should live and breathe your mission and who will subsequently become your brand ambassadors. They are the people who will promote your brand without even realizing it, and eventually, your customers will follow suit.

To me, though, it sounds like employees are barely an afterthought.

The responsibility of leadership is not to do all of these things, but to empower employees to do these things.

Instead of focusing on employees, the author focuses on brand strategy. He says:

Create a consistent message for your brand and talk about it, have a strong point of view, position leadership in the media to push for that point of view, hang out with reputable leaders, etc.

These are all good things, but they’re not nearly good enough. And more importantly, they won’t work. Culture will trump strategy every time (Peter Drucker said it first and I know many Realized Worth readers are believers, too). The responsibility of leadership is not to do all of these things, but to empower employees to do these things.

For example, the questions posed by the author could be asked this way:

  • Do employees feel free to connect with customers in a way that’s meaningful to them? Are they empowered to tweet, blog, and post photos? Take your employees through social media training and offer recognition for those who are highly engaged with customers.
  • Does your community know your brand? And if they do … why does it matter to them? Do they know your logo? If so, what does it mean to them? Does your logo represent the way you show up in the community when there’s an emergency? Have locals seen your employees out doing a habitat build or cleaning up the community park? Create pride in your employees and your community by enabling them to engage in pro-social behavior alongside community members – and then tell those stories!
  • Who are your employees seen with? Recognize and reward high performing employees by sending them (or bringing them along) to corporate or community events. Meeting them where they are will matter more to them than plaques or certificates every time.

Employees are the brand. Consumers and the broader community base their opinion and understanding of banks and other institutions on their observations of employees and their interactions with them. Of course, the other things listed in the article are relevant, but they’re not enough to make you the best and most engaging brand around. Your employees can do that – and honestly, they want to do that.

Personally, I will shop, invest, show up, or bank with companies who value what I value. I don’t have to feel seen on a personal level – although that’s a nice perk – I just have to think: I want to be associated with a company that enables me to be who I want to be. That’s why corporate social responsibility (especially employee volunteering) is an easy win. Get your employees to show up in the community alongside customers and you’ve got brand and culture showing up as one.

Wanna talk about it? Disagree with me? Shoot me an email at, or reach out to Realized Worth on Facebook and/or Twitter. Employee engagement is the name of the game and I’d love to learn from you!

Angela Parker
Co-founder/Partner, Realized Worth
Follow Angela on Twitter
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