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fea ture

What Your HR Department


Can Learn From FedEx:
The Power of a Strong Brand.

BY JOE BENSON AND BRET KINSELLA

I
t is 9:30a.m. You have a major pre- 3. What promises do you make to WHAT IS A DEPARTMENT BRAND?
sentation to give to the board of your customers? Every company, every person and
directors at 11:00 a.m. You need 4. How consistently do you keep every organization has a brand. Brands
documents from your colleagues in those promises and fulfill them 100 are born when there are customers to
your West Coast office. percent? serve, skills to be practiced and value
You leave your desk and walk out 5. What does your department do to be created. Your department is
to the lobby. There on the counter, that could be considered “best-in- known for something. That is a fact.
right where you expected to find it, is class?” What it is known for is the brand —
your package. Not just any package — 6. How is the experience your cus- like it or not.
it is your purple and orange FedEx tomers receive from your department Your brand, like all brands, lives in
package. The documents you need differentiated from experiences deliv- the mind of your “customers” — the
arrived as promised. FedEx provided ered by other departments they have employees, and the executive manage-
you with more than just coast-to-coast worked with? How is it better and ment team in this instance. Your cus-
package delivery service. They also worse? tomers may have positive or negative
provided you with a sense of security 7. What do your customers want the associations of your brand. For example,
that only “absolutely, positively most from your department? your department may be known as effi-
overnight” can deliver. 8. How effectively does your depart- cient and responsive to employee needs.
FedEx is a great brand. Great brands ment compete internally for manage- Or it may be known for poor communi-
provide a source of identification and ment attention, for employee participa- cation or consuming employee time
an assurance of quality. They simplify tion and for budget allocations? with needless paperwork.
decision-making and crisply communi- These are tough questions. Few The customer perception of your
cate the value they create for their cus- department executives have ever con- department brand has consequences.
tomers. And great brands make and sidered asking them in this way. Fewer Like real estate, brands develop equity.
keep their promises. These characteris- can provide succinct answers. These are Brand equity is created when the brand
tics differentiate great brands and the type of questions that great brands is thoughtfully built, carefully man-
cement their leadership credentials. answer with confidence. Your ability to aged, and positive associations are
How does this apply to an HR do likewise can unlock many of the cemented. Brand equity is diluted or
department? Well, answer this pop quiz. same benefits enjoyed by great brands. depreciated when the brand is misman-
1. What is your department known It is time for you and your depart- aged, misunderstood or neglected.
for in the mind of your customers, i.e., ment to enjoy the benefits that FedEx What happens if your brand associ-
employees and management? enjoys. It is time for you to brand your ations are negative? Management
2. What would your customers HR department. ignores you. Employees avoid you.
describe as the value you deliver? Your ability to have a positive impact

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on your organization becomes an customers are most likely to receive tremendous benefits in your ability to
insurmountable task. benefits. And, of equal importance, compete for attention, budget and rele-
your core competencies ensure your vance within the organization. Some
THE KEY COMPONENTS OF A ability to keep the promises you make. interrelated benefits to building,
DEPARTMENT BRAND Core competencies are premium skills owning and fulfilling a strong and
To understand branding better in the that you deliver to fulfill specific cus- favorable department brand include:
context of an HR department, you should tomer needs. ➤ Professional recognition — your
consider four discrete components: customers recognize the value you pro-
➤ Your department’s primary target ➤ Benefits — Why Do People Value vide.
customer, Your Existence? ➤ Organizational relevance — the
➤ Your department’s distinctive set The third component is the benefits ability to better compete for internal
of core competencies, that an employee receives when he uses resources.
➤ The benefits your department the products or services offered by the ➤ Organizational impact — the
delivers to your primary target cus- brand. For example, HR departments ability to contribute to the company’s
tomer, and provide employees with the informa- success.
➤ The key characteristics, adjectives tion necessary to make informed finan-
or personality traits that distinguish cial and healthcare decisions. This sup- ➤ Professional Recognition —
your department and its manner of port may provide peace of mind as well Employee Mind Share and Department
doing business. as opportunities for cost avoidance or Yield
financial gain. Benefits may be qualita- When your customers know you are
➤ Primary Target Customer — tive or quantitative, but must be readily providing value, a lot of good things
Who Do You Serve? identifiable and valued by primary begin to happen. First, your team gets
The employee is the primary target target customers. credit for its hard work. Second, your
customer for the HR department. The team has tangible feedback about how
gender, age, education, income and role ➤ Personality Traits — What Is they are performing and can zero in on
may define your target customer. Distinctive About How You Do Things? what to accentuate and what to elimi-
However, of equal or greater impor- The fourth component is a set of per- nate, making it far more efficient.
tance are the common needs and sonality traits. Brands are like people. Third, your team develops solidarity
shared buying behaviors that define the Just as every successful person and pride. This situation leads to
employees you serve. Great brands are expresses their brand through their per- greater productivity, higher morale,
great because they are designed to com- sonality, every successful brand has a more impact and lower turnover. And,
municate effectively to a specific target personality. Personality traits are adjec- most important, it solidifies your rela-
customer and fulfill a distinct need. tives that describe what is distinctive tionship with your primary target cus-
However, your task is complicated about how you or your department per- tomer. You become indispensable.
by a secondary customer, senior man- forms. They describe the unique experi- Strong brands are trusted authori-
agement, who pays the bills. FedEx ence that your customers gain from their ties. They provide an assurance of
must consider the needs and expecta- interaction with you. Moreover, person- quality. They simplify buying deci-
tions of both the sender of overnight ality traits encourage the primary target sions. This is especially true when the
packages and the receiver. You must customer to invest in, and build a rela- decision is complex and information is
consider the needs of the users as well tionship with, the brand. What is your imperfect. For example, trying to deter-
as the executives who determine the department known as? Efficient? Detail- mine what would be the right “mix” of
resources your department can leverage oriented? Invasive? Cumbersome? financial products in an employee’s
to offer services. Responsive? Knowledgeable? 401(k) plan or how best to save for a
“I segment (my customers),” says Russ “I would like us to be branded as child’s college tuition with a 529 Plan.
Campanello of the consulting firm having the basics in place and being Customers that bring positive associa-
NerveWire. “I have paying customers able to flexibly deploy and respond to tions of your department’s competence
and retail customers. My paying cus- the needs of the business. So when in situations such as these are more
tomers are the management of the com- there is a need, we are there. If I am likely to trust your judgment, be active
pany. They are allocating investment dol- looking for a brand, it is about rele- participants, give honest feedback and
lars across the board. My retail customers vance, connectivity and response,” says applaud your contribution.
are the rank and file employee base.” Robert MacLean, senior vice president
of human resources, Boston Scientific. ➤ Organizational Relevance —
➤ Core Competencies — Can You Management Mind Share and
Make and Keep Your Promises? BENEFITS OF OWNING AND BUILDING Resource Allocation
This concept applies to more than A DEPARTMENT BRAND Similarly, a strong brand can
just the enterprise or company as a It may seem unconventional to enhance your department’s relevance
whole. Your department’s core compe- transform your department into a to the organization. Greater relevance
tencies imply what you are good at scaled version of FedEx or in the retail leads to greater ability to compete for
delivering. They also imply where your word, Nordstrom, but it can have internal resources such as budget allo-

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cations and management attention. Depot, Dell, or your local dry cleaner, However, services have two impor-
Both are critical success factors for any for that matter. Services are intangible tant differences from product brands.
HR department seeking to meet its activities performed for a specific cus- First, products are built and then
objectives on a daily or annual basis. tomer or customers. Services brands delivered to a customer. Services are
Just as brands position products and can do two things. They can take performed or built in the presence of
services in the marketplace, a depart- goods — tangible products developed the customer. Second, products are
ment brand can help position your role by other companies — and envelop tangible; whereas services are intan-
and influence within the company. them with expertise and activities. Or gible. Customers cannot pick up, hold
they can provide layers of services that or see the vast majority of what you do
➤ Organizational Impact — Shaping fulfill a particular customer need such for them.
Your Company’s Future as cleaning and pressing clothes or As a result, your customer’s percep-
Finally, a strong department brand delivering a package across the tion of value is shaped as much by the
can support corporate-wide strategic country overnight. performance of the service as it is by
objectives ensuring that the company is the end result. This requires that you
competitive in the external market- ➤ Wrapping other Companies’ focus as much attention on ensuring
place. When your customers know you Products with Valued Services that service processes are executed effi-
are providing value; when you have Nordstrom’s buys apparel and acces- ciently, comprehensively and consis-
management involvement in key initia- sories from Gucci, Hugo Boss and tently, as you do in selecting the end
tives; when you have adequate bud- Donna Karan, etc. It then provides products to be delivered. And, it means
getary resources to execute programs advice regarding current styles and that your brand image will not be
that make employees more productive appropriate attire and “dress” for each shaped by the design and functionality
and the company more competitive, individual customer. Finally, it will of the end product, but rather by the
you can have maximum impact beyond tailor the garments for a precise fit and experience your customers have when
simply providing services. This is the make them available in a way that working with you.
difference between strategic and meets a customer’s needs.
bureaucratic roles. Similarly, HR departments select GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR CREATING
Ed Hurley-Wales, human resources mutual funds from premier financial A DEPARTMENT BRAND
VP at HR software developer Workscape, institutions such as Fidelity, Charles As with traditional branding, there
put it this way, “It is about becoming a Schwab and Vanguard to populate are some guiding principles that will
more strategic organization and their 401(k) offerings. Then, they pro- help you think through how your
changing the way HR is viewed. How do vide access to the knowledge and tech- brand can become more like FedEx and
you balance day-to-day processes and nical resources that enable each indi- less like a generic, undifferentiated ser-
also be leveraged at the board level — to vidual employee to make informed vice. We suggest you keep these seven
have a place at the table.” financial decisions. rules in mind when building your
“It is about becoming a strategically- department brand.
focused organization whose core objec- ➤ Filling a Need with a Pure Service
tives run parallel to corporate objec- FedEx buys planes, hires pilots, ➤ Principle #1: Your Brand Lives
tives. When you do it right, the man- builds and staffs warehouses so that in the Mind of Your Primary Target
agement team views HR as a highly customers can send documents any- Customer
valued contributor to the company’s where in the country overnight. The Every department has a brand. Like
success. If you miss your mark, you’re company then buys trucks and hires it or not, you can nurture, dilute or
stuck with the archaic HR role of an drivers so that customers can access destroy it. Think of it as your reputa-
expensive and inefficient processor of the service without ever leaving their tion. Your reputation or brand is the
‘administrivia.’ By striking the correct offices. Finally, it provides online order space you own in the mind of your pri-
balance between customer-focused, tracking from hand-off to a FedEx mary target customer. A brand gets into
day-to-day administration, and best- driver to a confirmed receipt signature. your customer’s mind by associating
practice strategic planning, the critical Similarly, HR departments train itself with ideas that already exist. It is
value of HR will become embedded in employees in key skills required to per- best for your brand if those associations
the minds of your workforce, from the form their jobs. And, they enable are positive.
junior new hire, all the way up to the employees to grow and manage their Nike seeks to associate itself with
CEO and board. The difference careers with mentoring and career- the word “performance.” Disney seeks
between the old role of HR and the growth assignments. to associate itself with the word
new vision is as distinct as the differ- Both HR department brands and ser- “family.” Terminex seeks to associate
ence between fireflies and flashlights.” vice brands provide benefits to their itself with the phrase, “No bugs. No
target customers. These include a cus- Hassles.” These are all positive associa-
AN HR DEPARTMENT BRAND IS SIMILAR tomized and considered set of products tions that align the company brand
TO SERVICE BRANDS from which to make informed choices, with the positive associations and
An HR department brand is similar a responsible and responsive organiza- value in the mind of the target cus-
to service brands such as FedEx, Home tion and a trusted advisor. tomer. If you want to build a brand that

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is strong, favorable and unique, iden- Have you ever felt like you were What do visitors to Disney World
tify a set of positive associations and doing so many things that you didn’t remember most vividly? The four
tie your brand to them. have appropriate time or resources to minute amusement rides or the way
• What do you want to be known for do any of them well? This is a common they are transported into other worlds
by your customers? and an expected evolution. Why? at the parks, the character breakfasts
• Why would your primary target Everyone has good ideas about new and the numerous themed resorts. Or,
customers value that reputation? things to do or offer. No one ever wants do they remember most clearly how
• What do you need to do in order to give anything up. So you accumulate clean and well manicured the grounds
for your customers to embrace that rep- responsibilities, but never shed any. are maintained.
utation? How does this apply to branding? How you deliver your services is
What does FedEx do? It ships packages. often more important and has a far
➤ Principle #2: Make and Keep That’s it. Since it does only one thing, greater impact on the customer’s per-
Promises FedEx can focus all of its attention on ceived value than what you actually
Brands make and keep promises. doing it better than anyone else — and deliver. Focus on improving “how” you
Your brand should make a promise that it does. Dell does not sell cars through perform services, align the performance
is meaningful and relevant to your cus- its call centers and Web site. It sells with customer benefits and deliver
tomers. If you promise to provide computers and accessories better than with consistency. That is the founda-
online transactions for all ESPP issues anyone in its industry. tion of a great service or HR depart-
and provide telephone support for the You can capture the same benefits by ment brand. Remember, process and
most complicated life events such as a focusing on one or two things you do experience have a bigger impact than
disability, then do that — and a little best. Whether it is reducing hassles so offerings.
bit more. Any shortfall in fulfilling a employees can focus on productivity or • What three adjectives describe how
promise will undermine your reputa- providing top-notch benefits service, your department delivers services?
tion and irritate your customers. you can be known for excellence and • How do those adjectives support or
You can decide to make a luxury- not bureaucracy. Granted, you will not undermine your targeted brand reputa-
service promise similar to Nordstrom likely shed all of your other responsibil- tion?
or you can make a “no hassles” pledge ities. However, you can reallocate your • Name the three adjectives that best
similar to Terminex. Whatever services efforts to meet basic obligations on some describes how your department delivers
you provide, it must be clear to your services and differentiate or “wow” your services. And, what do you need to do
primary target customer what you will customers based on excellence in the to achieve your delivery goals?
do. This ensures that you set expecta- few services most valued by them.
tions properly. But that is not enough. In practice, this may result in out- ➤ Principle #5: Focus on What
You must also do what you promise to sourcing payroll and benefits so that Makes Your Brand Different
do so that expectations are met or you can focus on training that will When people seek to improve
exceeded. Remember what Mark Twain improve company-wide productivity. output, they most often identify weak-
said about making and fulfilling com- The difference between these functions nesses and try to fix them. By all
mitments, “You will surprise some could result in transforming your brand means, if you are bleeding profusely
people and amaze the rest.” from “paper pushing” to the company’s and are about to die, mend the wound.
• What promises do you make to “productivity engine.” However, most organizations would do
your primary target customers? • What services do you provide? well to focus on their strengths first. By
• How well do you fulfill those • How is your level of effort and solidifying strengths, many bad habits
promises? resource allocation spread across those that contribute to weaknesses will
• What promises should you make? services? diminish in importance.
• What should you not do or de- Great brands are about being per-
➤ Principle #3: The Power of emphasize? ceived as the best at something.
Sacrifice Expertise in the context of an HR
If you do fewer things, you can do ➤ Principle #4: The Power of How department is the same as category
them much better. Whereas, in prin- Most people think that what you do leadership in brand lexicon. Home
ciple #2 you determine what you will is differentiating. Wrong. What you do Depot — the leader in do-it-yourself
do, in principle #3 you will focus on is easily copied. Moreover, what you home improvement. FedEx — the
what you will do by being explicit do may not be done well at all. leader in overnight package delivery.
about what you will not do. Remember, HR departments are service Dell — the leader in online customized
Since you cannot be all things to all organizations and services are pro- computer sales. The Wall Street Journal
people, you have to decide what you are duced in the customer’s presence. This — the leader in daily business financial
going to do best and outsource or de- means that the quality of the experi- news. Figure out what you intend to do
emphasize the least important services. ence delivered by the service process and develop the capabilities to do it
It is best to be known for excellence in often has much greater impact on the with excellence. Then fix any glaring
one thing as opposed to being known customer’s perception of value than the weaknesses that are still around and
for mediocrity in a number of things. quality of the end product. undermining your brand.

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• What does your HR department do equity is diminished. It can make the brands can be leveraged by HR depart-
best? difference between being known for ments to enhance your impact, rele-
• What are the three most important “providing great service” versus being vance and reputation. Your brand can
skills that your department has today known for “providing great service also serve as a foundation for your
that enable it to make and keep the tar- sometimes.” Excellence and positive department strategy that aligns your ser-
geted brand promise? brand identity is imbedded in the first vices with the goals and aspirations of
• How can you leverage and improve statement, but fleeting in the second. your company. Moreover, a strong brand
those skills to further enhance the You express your brand in several can enable you to be proactive about
value you provide to your customers? ways. First, you express it in the way your role in the company. As Russ
you deliver your service. Fast, efficient, Campanello of Nervewire remarked
➤ Principle #6: Know Your thorough or slow and unresponsive are recently, “Unless the value is embedded
Customers all potential outcomes. Second, you in the brand (of your department), you
If there is a principle that is first express your brand through visible constantly defend your existence.”
among equals, this is it. Your brand is cues and outward symbols such as
meaningless if it does not positively res- attire, organizational structure and About the Authors
onate with your target customers. Your office environment. Third, you express Joseph Benson
brand will not positively resonate with your brand by telling your customers (benson.consulting@
your target customers if you are not who you are, what your mission is and rcn.com) is a brand
organized to deliver something that your what makes you different. strategist with over 25
target customers value and value highly. • How does your process execution years of experience
It makes sense to decide what you reinforce or undermine your brand? building and strength-
want to do first, but you must, must, • What visible cues or symbols do ening brands for corpora-
must then validate and align it with the you offer customers about your brand? tions, departments and
needs and values of your primary target • What can you do to properly and individuals. As vice president of
customer. Whether you have a captive consistently communicate your differ- strategy at Sapient Corporation, he spe-
or non-captive market, your brand entiation and set expectations with cialized in brand strategy, business
equity depends on the perception that your customers? strategy and customer behavior. Clients
you deliver value. Knowing your cus- include JPMorganChase, Staples, The
tomers will help ensure that you have PROMISES, PROMISES...PERCEPTION AND American Cancer Society and The
the ability to emphasize and deliver REALITY Disney Channel. He has an MFA from
something important. This is a good time to reflect on a key The American Film Institute and was
• What key needs of your customer point and a common misunderstanding. nominated for an Academy Award.
can you fulfill? Branding is not a scheme employed to Bret Kinsella co-
• What are the common behaviors of pull a fast one on your customers. It is founded and leads
your customers that you can align your not a “perception is reality” concept. Sapient’s Supply Chain
service around? Branding is a “reality shapes percep- group where he employs
• How do your customers evaluate tion” proposition. As a result, great department branding
and recognize the value you deliver? advertising will not create a great brand. principles. Kinsella’s past
Great brands emerge as a result of clients include Fortune
➤ Principle #7: Express Your Brand “promises made and promises kept.” 500 and start-up compa-
Expressing your brand is not about When considering how you can nies in the United States, Europe and
commercials during the Super Bowl. build and sustain a powerful brand, you Latin America. Prior to joining Sapient,
Yes, you want to convey a consistent must ensure that you can consistently he worked in Accenture’s strategy prac-
and compelling message to your target deliver tangible value and fulfill the tice and ran e-business and product
customers, but the verbally communi- promises you make to your customers. marketing for software maker
cated message is only part of the battle. If reality is positive, you can shape a Formation Systems. His first career was
The harder part is actually living up to positive perception. If reality is negative in politics where he focused on
your brand promise every day, every or inconsistent or irrelevant, you cannot strategic communications, and legisla-
minute. shape a positive perception. Period. tive and campaign management at the
In services, the old adage is true. Leaders build great brands. They federal and state level. He earned an
Actions speak louder than words. It is assume stewardship. Brand stewards MBA from UCLA and a bachelor’s in
important to have the right words so understand the power of owning a Economics from the University of
that your differentiation and the value place in the mind of the customer — Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
you provide is easily communicated and the potency of a promise. They
and understood. But it is critical that seek and embrace differentiation.
you actually walk the walk. If you Strong brands offer their owners an C OMMENTS ?
make a promise, make certain that you edge in the marketplace. Send an e-mail to the editor
deliver it consistently. Come up short The same principles that are (tomf@rector-duncan.com)
in any way at any time and your brand employed to build and sustain great or fax 1.512.451.9556.

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