EDITORIAL: Alienated staff will seriously damage your brand health

Contrast these two stories. Last week, Ford’s Dagenham plant was locked in a bitter row over institutionalised racism on its shop floor, with 800 workers downing tools to complain about how an alleged racist assault had been handled. The atmosphere in the factory was described as ’poisonous’.

Contrast these two stories. Last week, Ford’s Dagenham plant was

locked in a bitter row over institutionalised racism on its shop floor,

with 800 workers downing tools to complain about how an alleged racist

assault had been handled. The atmosphere in the factory was described as


Elsewhere, on Saturday, IKEA stores were enjoying one of their busiest

days of the year. But this time, the staff were the direct

beneficiaries, because IKEA had decided all sales on the day would be

shared between staff, with the company taking none of the profit. A

spokesman was asked on BBC radio whether the event wasn’t just a public

relations gimmick.Well, the co-workers, as IKEA calls them, were getting

the money so it wasn’t a gimmick, he said. More to the point it was

about staff relations rather than public relations.

Two very different tales of industrial relations, and no one would

suggest tackling racism in large industrial workplaces is easy. But both

stories tell us something about the companies, their cultures, and help

shape our view of their brands. More importantly, they highlight

something no marketer can afford to forget in the rush to put the

customer at the heart of marketing. Staff, co-workers, partners, call

them what you will, but the people who make up your business, who

provide the day-to-day delivery of product and service to the customer,

are a crucial factor in commercial success or failure.

In the rush to make bigger, better promises to the customer, there is a

temptation to bulldoze through policies without explaining what they

mean to the staff who have to carry them out. Several big name British

brands have lost the confidence of staff in recent years - notably

Sainsbury’s, with its disastrous ads in which John Cleese berated staff

to shout about low prices, and British Airways, which alienated cabin

crews with its hardball approach to an industrial dispute. To their

credit, both businesses have recognised the damage done and are working

to try to put it right.

But the fact is that in all business, your people are your brand


There is little point in selling a marketing masterplan to the board and

the City, and coming up with a multi-million pound ad campaign, if your

staff don’t buy into it. It seems extraordinarily obvious, but it’s a

point that big firms, which should know better, often miss. Perhaps this

neglect of internal marketing is a symptom of the short-termism that

inflicts many of today’s marketing directors, who on average do less

than two years in their job before looking for the next move.

One marketing director I discussed this with recently said there was a

territorial problem, with reinvigorated human resources departments

annexing the internal marketing role. But this shouldn’t mean

capitulation by marketing departments.

The marketing industry - and, indeed, this magazine - spends a lot of

time talking about the relationship between marketers and their service

providers. But the biggest service providers of all are the staff that

work for a brand. Businesses forget that at their peril. Just ask



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