With more and more companies now offering hybrid working as a result of the pandemic, it’s more important than ever to join up internal and external communication.
According to a survey of more than 500 CEOs and Board members at major UK companies, reinforcing ‘purpose beyond profit’ is a top priority in this new world of work. Reinforcing this message is essential to keep hybrid working employees informed, engaged, loyal and productive, as well as to maintain client and customer sentiment.
Definition Group commissioned the survey to understand how businesses’ experience of the pandemic will affect their communications priorities. All the respondents represented companies with more than 250 employees and annual revenues ranging from £50m to more than £500m.
Senior leaders in these large companies are concerned that hybrid working could lead to people becoming disengaged (29% agreed) or even create a two-tier workforce, with negative consequences for morale (26%). A quarter of respondents (25%) foresaw this culture change eroding loyalty and making employee retention more challenging.
Of course, employee engagement, cohesion and retention can all be improved by more effective communication. Communication has been at the heart of how businesses support employees, customers and clients alike throughout the frightening ups and downs of the pandemic. And it’s just as important now, if not more so, as companies adapt to the changes and challenges the pandemic continues to bring about.
Just under a third of the business leaders surveyed have already shifted priorities in recognition of this, with 32% making sure their purpose is reflected in all communication activity and 29% demonstrating it in practical ways, such as supporting charities and community projects.
A clear purpose and values can directly address businesses’ concerns about employee engagement, morale and loyalty: 31% of the survey respondents agreed that values and purpose make employees proud to work for the business, and 28% said they help with recruitment.
It’s clear that success in this new world of work will require a joined-up approach to internal and external communications, with a strong purpose-driven strategy underpinning customer engagement, corporate social responsibility activity, employee engagement, recruitment and more.
To address this challenge, Definition Group has developed insideout communications™. insideout communications™ harnesses the skills and expertise of Definition Group’s member agencies, including Redhouse, to create integrated and innovative brands, strategies and campaigns for clients in diverse sectors of the economy, across the UK and internationally.
We’re looking forward to helping our clients adapt and thrive in the new world we all face.
Like every element of your brand, your vision and values are tools. They’re not just there to sound nice in the annual report; they’re designed to be used. Use them right, and they can improve organisational efficiency, customer experience and employee engagement.
An organisation’s vision and values are usually defined along with the rest of the brand, when the brand is first created or as part of a rebrand. When we carry out a brand definition project, we aim to agree the vision and values with the client at an early stage, so they can inform other elements like the brand’s visual identity and tone of voice. But that’s not all your vision and values are useful for.
Your vision is a brief statement of what your organisation aspires to achieve. You can think of it as expressing why your organisation exists.
For example, the Alzheimer’s Association’s vision is simply “A world without Alzheimer’s disease”. The Association exists to create that world. On the consumer side of things, Ikea’s vision is “To create a better everyday life for many people”.
A clear vision, and one that genuinely sums up the organisation’s reason for being, can do wonders for strategy and efficient decision-making.
The vision provides an end goal to focus strategic thinking. Short, medium and long-term goals can all be thought of as steps on the way to the ultimate goal of achieving the vision. It’s a constant reference point you can use to check that different parts of the strategy are all working together to steer the organisation in the same direction.
It can also help to simplify complex decisions. When you’re deep in the weeds of budgets, resources, risk assessments and other granular factors, having trouble identifying the right way forward, it helps to simplify the decision to “which option gets us closer to our vision?”
These are the uses we have in mind when we define visions for our clients. For example, Ghanaian investment bank GFX Prime’s vision is “To promote growth and sustainability for Ghana’s market, to achieve global recognition of its status and value”. And the Government Office for Science’s vision is “Government empowered by scientific evidence, policymaking that stands the test of time”.
Your values indicate what matters to you as an organisation. They’re principles that inform how every member of staff approaches everything they do at work. Naturally this means they inform your external audience’s experience of your organisation as well.
Good values set expectations. They let potential new employees know what to expect, and inform all employees what’s expected of them. Not all brands use their values in external communications, but they can also let customers and stakeholders know what to expect from their relationship with the organisation.
Values can do for your organisational culture what your vision does for your strategy. Values-based recruitment improves employee retention by making sure new employees are a good cultural fit for the teams they’re joining.
And values provide a starting point and a framework for resolving disagreements and conflicts. In our work for University College London Hospitals, staff told us that it was easier to open up about difficult topics like workplace bullying when they could frame the issue as “the way I was treated was not in line with our values”.
To make sure your values can be used in these ways, it’s important to define and communicate what living up to your values looks like in practice. Ideally, for each value, you should give two or three specific examples of everyday things employees can do to uphold that value, in their interactions with each other and with your external audience.
If you want to be able to put your vision and values to use in these ways, it’s important that they’re clear, specific, and based on true insight into your organisation. Vague visions and values can’t inform decision-making or help anyone understand what’s expected of them.
But invest in getting your vision and values right, and they’ll be reliable tools – ones that will pay back that investment in efficient strategic decision-making and a strong employee culture.
Creativity and creative ideas don’t spring from nowhere. They need fertile soil to take root in. For us, that means research, insight, and strategy.
Strategy is always the first step in our creative process. When we start work on a brand, whether for an organisation or a campaign, we start with three questions. Who’s the audience? What does it need to communicate? And what is the context – what other brands and messages are competing for the same audience’s attention?
Those three questions guide our research, revealing insights that help us form the idea at the heart of the brand.
There’s a notion that leading with strategy makes the creative work less … creative. That the strategy constrains the creativity, turning something that should be inspired and expressive into something more like painting by numbers.
But ask anyone involved in a creative pursuit and they’ll tell you that constraints and parameters are vital for creativity. There’s nothing less inspiring than a blank canvas.
And while our work is creative, inspiring and expressive, it’s also a commercial service. We commit to delivering it within a certain timeframe to help our clients achieve their goals. Starting with strategy gets us focused as early as possible on what we need to do creatively to achieve those goals.
It means we don’t waste our clients’ time waiting and hoping the muse will inspire us. It gives us a better chance of presenting something that’s right first time. And it streamlines decision-making.
Decisions about creative work can all too easily become about individual reviewers’ personal taste, which can lead to deadlock, followed by dilution of the work to try to please everyone. But when there’s a clear strategy behind the work, the discussion can focus on whether it could deliver on that strategy more powerfully, rather than on the associations it sparks in individual people.
We’re a creative bunch, and we’ve found that this way of working makes the best use of our creativity. Research and insight show us what matters; and instead of spreading ourselves thin, trying to fill an entire blank canvas, we can focus the full force of our creativity on those key elements.
A successful brand gives people a cohesive experience no matter which channels and touch points they use to engage with it. But that doesn’t mean the experience has to be totally uniform. There’s plenty of space to be flexible, even playful, while still maintaining cohesion.
Here’s an example: while researching issue 2 of the Brand Report, we looked at two different campaigns by the investment brand Moneyfarm. The Invest Wisely campaign uses brightly coloured backgrounds, cut-out photographic images of objects, and snappy, commanding headlines. The No More If Onlys campaign uses darker, heavier colours, photographic backgrounds, and longer headlines based on historical quotes.
The two campaigns look quite different. But Moneyfarm’s brand is no less cohesive for that.
Of course, the Moneyfarm logo appears in both campaigns, labelling them both as part of the brand. A brand is much more than just a logo, but the logo is a powerful, unmistakable sign that a given communication belongs to that brand.
And crucially, the two campaigns feel similar. Behind the distinct messages and expressions, there’s evidence of a consistent personality influencing the style of the campaigns. No More If Onlys presents predictions that haven’t aged well; Invest Wisely presents homely objects that represent time well spent; both campaigns trust their audiences to get the point without a lot of explanation, and both have a sense of playfulness and humour that helps the messages to land. The two campaigns are like cousins: they’re individual, but you can see the family resemblance.
There’s a negative stereotype of a brand manager as someone who says no to creativity, who uses the brand as a constraint to stifle exciting ideas. But there’s a good reason the industry standard term is brand guidelines, not brand rules. Good brand guidelines simply describe ways to use colour, type, tone of voice, and specific graphic devices like the logo to signal to audiences that different communications belong to the same family. Skilled creatives can find endless fresh and exciting ways to incorporate those signals.
And it’s important to encourage this kind of creative exploration. Without it, you risk losing your audience’s attention. If each new campaign or publication seems cloned from the one before, your audiences will stop noticing them, thinking they’ve seen and engaged with them already. Regularly pushing your brand into new territory keeps engaged audiences from switching off, and provides regular opportunities to engage new audiences.
This article is from issue 2 of the Brand Report. For more insights and action points to strengthen your brand, download the complete report now.