Human Resources and Brand: Separated at Birth

Terry Barber

Many successful brands today have carved out of our collective awareness a unique value proposition. They taste good. They make our teeth whiter. They save us money on car insurance. They help us lose weight, grow hair, look younger, feel better. And on and on. We’ve seen the commercials—and we’ll never forget them. We hear their jingles—and we sing along.

However, we can now substantiate that in these times, there’s a new, critical ingredient in consumers’ connection to a brand: the ability to inspire. It has always been intuitive to think that if a company and its brand can be inspiring, it’s probably better than being uninspiring. Yet it is the inspiration factor that really elevates the brand and helps drive consumer preference and loyalty.

In April of this year, my firm, Inspiration Blvd. LLC, concluded a yearlong research project to find out which were the Most Inspiring Companies in America and what made them so. More than 1,700 consumers responded, providing 10,000-plus words of insightful information, giving us a consumer-centric perspective on what makes for an inspiring company.

More than two dozen key insights were gained from the project, but the one that is most revealing is the obvious interdependent relationship between the Human Resources team and the Brand team of these most inspiring companies. In other words, these companies had become inspiring brands from the inside out. This was not just about any external marketing campaign. Rather, employees at these companies clearly delivered on their promise. That is to say, these companies found their story, lived the story, then told the story through their actions and their employees.

So, whose job is it to drive the inspiration factor in business?

In most companies the brand is generally perceived to be the province of the marketing team. However, in a separate survey of human resources and marketing professionals, when asked, "Who in your organization would be most responsible for making yours a ‘Most Inspiring Company’?" it was mostly split between the HR people and the Brand people.

There may be confusion about exactly who the gatekeeper is for an organization's inspiration factor, but there was no ambiguity when asked, "On a scale of 1 to 5 (with 5 being extremely important and 1 being not at all important), how important is being an inspiring company to a company’s growth?" Ninety-two percent said that being inspiring was either very important or extremely important to growth.

I'd like to argue that when it comes to ownership for becoming a Most Inspiring Company, it belongs to both HR and Marketing. If HR and Brand are not in collaboration, it is only because they were separated at birth.

I was recently asked by a very frustrated HR professional, "How can I get our C-suite executives to buy into this inspiration stuff?" My answer? Team up with the Brand players. How? Enlist them to help uncover the organization’s inspirational attributes; then align the company’s business goals with inspirational principles.

Work toward a common metric that focuses on the intrinsic value of the brand. And finally, assume the leadership to deliver on the brand from the inside out. (Had someone from the Brand team asked the same question, I would have responded similarly, encouraging them to collaborate with the HR team to deliver on the brand’s intrinsic value.)

Quantifying Inspiration

There is already a movement in business to begin to index attitude. One of my favorites is Robert Galford’s tool for measuring trust in an organization, known as his Personal Trust Equation. Galford’s formula is simple but profound:

T = C + R + I


or, Trust is a product of Credibility plus Reliability plus Intimacy diminished by Self-interest (

Another is the Net Promoter® Score, or NPS, a term introduced by business author and strategist Fred Reichheld ( The NPS is the numeric score a company receives when customers are asked how likely they would be to recommend company X to a friend or colleague.

Using a 10-point scale, those rating their likelihood 9 or 10 are considered company "promoters." Those indicating 7 or 8 are brand "neutral." Those assigning 0–6 are company "detractors." Then the percentage of detractors is subtracted from the percentage of promoters (neutral = 0), and voilá: you have the NPS percent score. Average companies score in the 10 percent range, but top performers rate 50 percent and above.

Now add to it an Inspiration Index built on what we have identified as the basic principles of inspiration. This is a great complement to HR and Brand since the core principles of inspiration are what actually drives trust and ignites someone’s desire to promote a brand.

When looking at how the Most Inspiring Companies fared on Wall Street, 50 percent of them actually outpaced the S&P 500 by a minimum of a whopping 45 percent. Though others were on par, none were below. Two are not public companies.

What I especially like about these assessment practices is the opportunity for human resource and marketing executives to wield as much quantifiable power in C-land as the CFO. Plus it makes for some common metrics for the two teams to operate from.

Professors Jim Heskett and W. Earl Sasser of the Harvard Business School have taught for a long time that the value profit chain begins with investing in people, then refining/leveraging the business process. Profit will follow. ( The investment in people is maximized when HR and Brand collaborate to produce an agreed-upon outcome for the customer experience.

Investing in people does not have to mean more robust programs, bigger benefits, or even higher pay. But it will always mean assimilating the inspirational aspects of the brand into the lives and work of everyone in the organization, top to bottom, bottom to top, and side to side.

The Inspirational Attribute of the Brand Must Be Authentic

The Most Inspiring Companies survey actually revealed that to simply "bolt on" some "inspiring" attribute induced little sentiment from consumers. We were actually floored when we could not relate a single Most Inspiring Company to its social sponsorship dollars. Consumers recognized and rewarded companies far more for how they cared about their employees than for the companies’ social causes.

And in the case of the only B2B company that made the list, even its charitable giving was done through its employees, which did not go unnoticed by the communities where SAS has a presence. According to the survey respondents, an inspirational attribute is not just about being charitable or socially responsible. It can be anything that is either making the world a better place or that intrinsically motivates an individual to be a "better person."

This prompts the question; what is the most inspiring attribute about your company?

How would your employees answer that question? How would you answer that question? Better yet, how would your customers/clients answer that question about your company?

If there is not consensus around the answer to this critical question, there is an inspiration gap that needs to be filled. And closing that gap begins with bringing back together that which was separated from birth, Human Resources and Brand.