Millions of dollars have been spent to make sure consumers have an immediate, even emotional response to the logos of global brands such as Nike, Coca-Cola and Apple. So can individual employers use the same strategies to build strong “identity loyalty” among their own employees, creating workers who just as enthusiastic about their own workplaces?

Speaking at this week’s SHRM conference in Orlando, Americus Reed, professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, suggested that HR and benefits managers can play an important role in both clearly defining the culture and identity of their own companies, and doing what they can to help employees become engaged “brand champions” for their jobs.

“Major companies’ logos aren’t just logos, they represent the ideals of that brand and are a critical asset,” Reed says. “They create an emotional reaction, and that builds loyalty. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Reed says that employers need to spend time to examine the “meaning system” that underlies their corporate mission and their direction for their entire workforce, the narrative that describes what a firm hopes to achieve – in addition profits – and how its employees can help in living up to that role.

See also: Employees rank pay as key to job satisfaction

The tricky part, Reed says, is capturing the zeitgeist of each employer’s overall mission, a set of mental arithmetic that some employers may have never fully thought out – making it more challenging for benefits and HR staff to help put those directives into action.

Asked for examples of company that have successfully done so, audience members revealed some different results for some very intangible notions. A benefits manager from Delaware’s Dogfish Head Craft Brewery says her company celebrates its own “off-centered” culture – unusual names for its frequently high-alcohol beers, though many employees sport tattoos of their company’s product, as a result – but has been able to better connect with both its own workers and its customers, as a result.

Others, such as Home Depot, have done an overall organizational audit to identify what values they stand for and how the company’s thousands of employees can best embody those ideals – as Reed pointed out, “profits for shareholders” is placed very low on the company’s list of internal branding values.

Reed also says that qualitative and quantitative tools such as gap analysis can be used to further identify the objectives (and shortfalls) of their internal culture and figure out how to use that to assess new hires and see if they’ll be a better fit for long-term employment.

Reed adds that identifying existing “superperformers” in your labor pool – those workers, not just managers, who are “job enthusiasts” – can also help provide onsite role models to help raise the overall engagement level of the entire workforce.

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