My Ten Key Takeaways from the ALI Conference on Brand Engagement

Posted by Rick DeMarco on 29 April 2016

Tags: , ,

I just returned from an Advanced Learning Institute (ALI) conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, on Strategic Internal Branding. As usual, ALI did an outstanding job of lining up some great speakers and presentations and participants were able to attend four hands-on workshops on the first day. Inward kicked the meeting off with a workshop on implementing an effective internal branding process that drives employee engagement and exceptional performance.  So after this two hour presentation, I was able to spend quality time listening to other workshops and presentations and learning from others. 

In addition to the workshops and presentations, one of the great values of an event like this is the opportunity to network with others and hear insights and ideas from a group of peers.  As one of the presenters noted, it’s wonderful to spend 3 days with a group of people who get what we do and have the same passion for leveraging the power of employees to deliver on a brand promise and business strategy.

It’s both energizing and exciting to be in a room full of people who understand the importance of aligning a company culture and employee behavior and attitudes with the external brand, especially given the disconnect between acknowledgement of the challenge and action plans to address it.  We shared some recent Gallup research in our workshop that reflects the fact that engagement has basically been flat at about 30% for the past 15 years.  And despite the fact that the majority of senior executives identify employee engagement as one of the top challenges facing them today, only about 60% have an adequate program in place to measure and improve engagement and only about 7% rate themselves as excellent at driving it.

When I asked others about the disconnect, I heard two primary reasons:  First, there are still leaders who either don’t understand or don’t believe the data and research that directly ties a highly engaged workforce to higher performance metrics, including better EPS, higher operating margins, lower turnover, and higher customer satisfaction to name a few.  Secondly, some companies are just not sure what to do about the problem or how to fix it.

So if you were unable to attend, I thought I would share 10 of my key takeaways from the conference.

  1.  In order to secure both financial and people resources to address the challenge of brand alignment and engagement, leadership must believe there is an ROI and must see the direct correlation between a highly engaged workforce and the company’s performance metrics.  If a company’s leadership is not on board, we would suggest that you put together a business case with the significant amount of research and data available from top companies like Gallup and Forrester.
  2. Many organizations are doing some great things with video, storytelling, social media tools, and reward and recognition programs that do drive higher engagement and alignment. But all of these tactics must fit into a strategic framework in order to fully leverage the impact of each initiative and to create a sustainable culture of engagement and alignment. This is not about a program, but about a commitment to a process that drives employees through a state of knowledge to understanding to commitment to behavior reinforcement.
  3. Developing and executing an effective engagement strategy requires cross functional and business unit collaboration. People support and advocate for initiatives that they were involved in creating.
  4. There was a lot of discussion about identifying the “why” in messaging and efforts to engage others. That “why” must address not only the importance to the company, but also the relevance to the employee or the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me)
  5. Metaphors and Icons and visual messaging significantly increase the absorption and retention of messages, as opposed to simply using words and textual messaging
  6. When we are trying to engage employees, we have to fit our message into a framework that addresses how we want them to think, how we want them to feel, and what we want them to do.
  7. As part of developing a strategic and tactical engagement plan, it’s important to identify the key messages you are trying to deliver and create a message architecture that addresses the importance to the company, the importance to the employees, and the things you want them to do differently.
  8. Many companies are nervous about implementing an internal social media tool with concerns over the content employees may share. It’s important to have governance and a social media policy that articulates the guidelines. When engaging legal on those guidelines, instead of approaching them from a “can we do it” perspective, approach them with a “how can we do it” attitude.
  9. Although there certainly need to be guidelines and governance around a social media strategy, it is important to let employees drive content. Research supports the fact that employees generally have a higher level of trust in their peers than in management and employee developed content can create more engagement and advocacy than just publishing management and leadership developed discussions.
  10. Story telling is a powerful way to create engagement and relevancy for employees.  But there is a skill to telling an effective story. It’s worth the time and investment to train employees on how to tell stories effectively that will engage others.

This was a great conference and great opportunity to learn from others about things that are working at their respective companies.  But if I had to sum up all of my observations into a concise statement, I would say that effective brand alignment and engagement requires a sustained commitment of people and resources to a strategy and framework, populated with tactical plans that build off each other and leverage technology and the power of face-to-face initiatives. Visit our website at or drop us a quick note if you would like to talk more about a framework and process to drive alignment and engagement.