Dinner Party Shame: A story of Brand Pride

This week I’ve been a Dragon. It’s been fun. I’ve been part of a judging panel on a ‘Going Further’ competition where students from the 157 Group of Further Education Colleges pitch to redesign their brand website. It’s been smartly organised by Amy Fowler of the 157 Group and my fellow judges included Maggie Philbin, CEO of TeenTech, Ian Pretty, CEO of the 157 Group and Nigel Sale from Google. Thanks to Nigel’s involvement the competition took place in one of Google’s rather inspiring offices. I bumped into an old friend who now works there, and was packed with enthusiasm for the place. He said: ‘I’m so proud to work here.’
Later, when the students made their presentations – five excellent pitches which made me optimistic about Further Education and the next generation of tech and business experts – every single group as well as saying ‘thank you’ to the judges also said ‘thank you for the opportunity to be here.’ By which they all meant Google. They were all excited to be in the Google offices.

Google is one of the world’s great brands not only because it is innovative, creative and touches the lives of everyone, but also because of its reputation as a great place to work. One small example: it offers its people free food throughout the day. It’s a thoughtful act: the food is balanced and delicious; it saves time and tiring decision-making; and it encourages community interaction.

Advertising agency chiefs I know say their biggest challenge is attracting talent to their industry rather than Google and Facebook. People are proud to work at Google. People dream of working there. Despite its tax-tarnish. Contrast that with my experience last week talking to the Non-Exec Chairman of… well, let’s just say it’s a brand that’s had a tough press over the last few years. It is now in turnaround. However, it had been so widely criticised for its negative social impact for so long that the brand remains toxic to many people. So this smart, experienced gentleman said to me ‘I’m loving the challenge, there’s a great team working hard and I think we’re doing the right thing now… the only thing that I am not enjoying is the look on people’s faces at dinner parties when I tell them what I do.’

And there in a nutshell is a stark illustration of a key challenge for organisations today. A brand is not just about consumers and customers and clients. Brand engagement is also about employees, their friends and their social circle.

Brands are now a complex mix of impressions and you cannot separate those created by the external communications and the customer experience from those created by the culture of the organisation. You can’t separate what you say from what you do.

Brilliant brands know that their appeal therefore, must be built from inside out as well as from ‘insight in’. This is the core of what we do at Caffeine. To help leaders use the brand to unite and motivate both the customer/consumer and the employees with brand engagement. Put simply, a shared purpose and values helps companies recruit and retain the best people. That, of course, creates a virtuous circle. If the best people work for you, the better the experience for your customer, the greater the appeal to more talent to join and for the best people to stay.

The most successful companies understand that brand engagement is not just the responsibility of the marketing department. It must be led at a senior level and cross-functionally. In a successful business, the brand is everyone’s business. Why is this important? The brand is the most powerful way to build sustainable growth and value of the organisation; both externally with the customer and internally by attracting, motivating and retaining the right people. Some companies do fully understand this. I have huge respect for Unilever whose smart focus on their company purpose has not only simplified decision-making for its leaders but has provided an inspiring story which proves highly attractive to talent – they are one of the companies in this article on the most attractive brands to work for.

So, it’s very simple. Your brand is a powerful tool to attract customers (you know that) and a powerful tool to ensure you get the very best people wanting to be part of it. If you get this wrong, you will know it by the lack of pride they express in working for you. They won’t feel good posting their new job title on LinkedIn or Facebook; they’ll be embarrassed to mention it down the pub and they’ll say ‘I work in business’ rather than mention your brand name. Ultimately, that will prevent you attracting the great talent coming through the ranks of tomorrow’s leaders. And that really will be a shame.


Caffeine work with senior leaders to help articulate their brand, to align the organisation behind it and to accelerate growth. We work with organisations to improve value pre-sale, post-merger and acquisition or prior to flotation as well as large organisations looking to refocus their brand engagement internally. Have a coffee and a chat with us and see what we might do.

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