In today’s world, brand is everything. It can make the difference between an individual really buying into what the brand stands for or simply looking the other way. So while many organisations launch their employee benefits under their corporate identity, there are those which prefer to create a separate brand all together.
For these organisations, they understand the importance of the personal approach. They understand that while the organisational brand may resonate with their customers and clients, it may not resonate quite so much with their staff. Just as a financial services organisation may want to project a formal and highly professional image externally, this may not work internally. A good internal brand can help staff feel part of the ‘family’ rather than keeping them at arm’s length.
Getting this right is important. There is much more to branding than superficial ‘I like this’ thinking. It goes deeper than that: it gets in touch with people’s emotions and experiences. Effective branding is why consumers choose certain products when they shop, even if there is evidence that other equivalents are just as good if not better. ‘The Pepsi paradox’ has been bandied around as an example of this for some years, the premise being that while Pepsi consistently scored better than Coca Cola on blind tests, consumers did not change their buying habits once they were told what they were drinking.
Leonard Mlodinow, university professor and author of Subliminal: how your unconscious mind rules your behaviour insists this behaviour is not exclusive to Pepsi or Coca Cola. Rather, it is about how we experience the brands themselves on an individual level. In an article published in Psychology Today in May 2012, Why people choose Coke over Pepsi, Mlodinow cites research which found that key areas of the brain actually light up when an individual is presented with a familiar brand.
A good benefits brand then, will be one which affects people at an emotional level. They will recognise it for what it is and because it differentiates itself from the external, corporate brand, it will stand out among the myriad organisational communications of sales figures, product launches and colleague achievements.
Choice of colours, logo, imagery and messaging is, therefore, everything: an employee-targeted brand needs to be easily recognised if employees are to engage and get involved. It should be the feature wall, not the wallpaper.
We have seen employers experience higher take-up levels when benefits are given a higher profile within the organisation. It makes perfect sense: employees who are made aware of the benefits available to them, through strong, targeted branding which taps into their emotions, will want to engage with employee benefits. At a superficial level, it makes them feel good. At a deeper level, it has the potential to light up certain areas in their brain associated with positive memories, just as it did with the blind test Coca Cola customers.
From an organisation-wide perspective, a separate brand can be a valuable tool for marketing and HR teams. It demonstrates to prospective candidates how much an organisation values its employees which can give employers the edge over market competitors. But more than this, it means marketing can really get creative with their communication strategies. Without the potential constraints of an otherwise formal corporate identity, a fun, informal marketing campaign aimed at employees has fewer restrictions. It can have personality, injections of colour, even humour. We have known some organisations to use ‘brand superheroes’ to highlight different employee benefits, while others have experimented with virtual reality technology.
For the organisations that have already implemented a separate employee benefits brand, they will be reaping the rewards of a fully informed workforce which is making the most of the benefits on offer. For those organisations that have yet to create an internal brand, now may be the time to start.
Sarah Robson is senior communications consultant at Aon Employee Benefits