How to build a brand employees want to stick with

Brand Experience
The answer lies in something we call "brand belonging"...
By 
Joe Smith
February 1, 2023
Brand Experience
The answer lies in something we call "brand belonging"...
By 
Joe Smith
February 1, 2023

The Great Resignation. Quiet quitting. Rage applying. Over the past three years, there have been countless examples of a worrying reality in “corporate America”: employees hate their jobs.  

In 2022, only 32% of full- and part-time employees reported feeling “engaged” at work—which, for us at Joe Smith, translated to clients experiencing more handwringing and urgency to figure out how to attract and retain great talent. And for good reason—unhappy employees are catastrophic for business outcomes.

So, what can be done about it?  

While any number of factors play into employee satisfaction—the most fundamental being fair wages, benefits, and a good work-life balance—the element that takes a culture from fair to fantastic is a sense of belonging.

93 percent of organizations agree that a sense of belonging drives organizational performance, but only 13 percent say they are very ready to address this trend.
Deloitte - Belonging: (2020)

Belonging is commonly defined as “a sense of being welcomed and accepted by a group,” and thus the imperative often falls on managers’ shoulders to create camaraderie among their individual teams. But if lasting, brand-wide employee engagement is your goal, you need more than belonging.  

You need to build “brand belonging.” A sense of connection and loyalty that extends beyond an employee’s immediate team and reaches to the essence of the brand itself.  

Sounds lofty, right? Let's unpack how you can make it happen for your brand.

What is brand belonging?

Brand belonging is when your employees see your brand as a reflection of their identity and an extension of themselves—much the way you hope your customers do. More than just enjoying the people they work with, employees enjoy and take pride in the brand they work for.  

You foster brand belonging when you embed these three elements into your culture:

  1. Appreciation: Employees need to feel appreciated not only by their colleagues and leaders, but by your brand itself. Brands that take the stance of being there for their employees—and who back that promise up with generous policies and good leadership—can retain their talent better because their appreciation of employees is reciprocated as appreciation for the brand.
  1. Growth: The only thing better than feeling appreciated at work is feeling like your strengths are valued and developed. Brands that prioritize amplifying their employees’ strengths are ones where employees feel that their identities are enhanced by the work they do.
  1. Purpose: Purpose is about helping employees see how their daily work connects to the big picture. The better we understand the impact our work has on others, the better we understand the impact we have on others. And the better we feel about ourselves as individuals and as members of a team working toward common goals.  

All together, these elements create a culture where employees can say “I’m appreciated here. I can grow here. I have purpose here—I belong here, not just with these people, but with this brand and what it stands for.”

Brand belonging in the real world

This can be a lot to get right—but it is possible. Let’s take a look at a company we’re all likely familiar with: Trader Joe’s. Trader Joe’s is widely known for being not just a place people love to shop, but a place people love to work. Word on the street is that 20% of its employees have stayed on for more than ten years—which is shocking for retail.

So, how have they done it? Trader Joe’s has seemingly mastered the three building blocks of brand belonging.

  1. Appreciation: At the most fundamental level, Trader Joe's expresses their appreciation of employees by prioritizing their well-being and offering competitive pay and benefits, even to part-time employees. The brand also does subtle things to show appreciation for the whole person—like making sure they rotate between several roles during each shift to ward off boredom and encouraging them to talk with customers about topics of interest.  
  1. Growth: Trader Joe’s nurtures the strengths of its staff at every opportunity—from giving employees the opportunity to make art to decorate the stores, to helping people find the right “track” for them and promoting from within. Nearly 8 in 10 of supervisors and 100% of store managers started as entry-level employees.  
  1. Purpose: Lots of companies have purpose statements they plaster onto posters in break rooms, but Trader Joe’s is exceptional in how it enables employees to really live the brand’s purpose. To its credit, the company doesn’t fuss over fancy wording for its purpose, yet all it takes is a trip to the store to see what it’s about -- great food, great prices and friendly people excited to help you discover new items to try.  What you don’t see in the store is also interesting. Behind the scenes, Trader Joe's encourages employees to curate and participate in tasting events aimed at selecting new products to sell in its stores. In essence, employees curate the collection of products they will later help customers discover. And that adds a dash of pride to how they experience the brand’s purpose.  

The proof is in the people

Your employees are living proof of your brand. No one in your organization has more impact on your customers than they do. When employees experience appreciation, growth, and purpose, they’re not only happier to come into work—they’re happier to be associated with the brand they represent. And they’ll be more likely to stick around.

If retaining talent is your top concern for 2023, explore how we can help.

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