Employee Retention

By Karen Attyah

Need to retain employees? Treat them like your customer.

Staff development and retention is top of mind for business leaders in every industry, from manufacturing to professional services.  While compensation is important, trying to maintain a stable workforce with only money and benefits is akin to being in an arms race that no one can win. Employees everywhere have shifting workplace expectations, valuing culture, meaning, and personal development as critical as, or often more critical than, economic benefits.

To retain employees, companies will have to re-evaluate how to maintain strong bonds with talent as their talent’s needs and expectations shift. Just as companies invest in their brands to build customer loyalty, organizations must up-level their employer value proposition to keep great talent.

First, companies will need to put a stake in the ground regarding their stance on the future of workplace participation. Specifically, how far will a company go in reinventing its corporate command-and-control structure? Will traditional companies embrace some ‘gig work’ attributes such as alternative or on-demand schedules or new norms for employee participation? Companies need to clearly define and communicate how their workplace strategy matches evolving employee desires, culture, and required productivity levels.

Second, companies will need to refine or clearly define their employer brand promise as talent expectations evolve. The employer brand promise articulates the unique value and experience companies can offer to talent.  For example, is the company providing a specific development path not available elsewhere? Are employees able to give back to their communities through their work?  Is this a place for type-A strivers, a supportive organization based on family values, or is it able to accommodate a range of personal and professional needs?

Manufacturing giant SC Johnson has a poetic tagline for its employee promise: “Go Further with our Family,” which is underscored by language that exemplifies the ideal team member profile as “Wave Makers and Go-Getters.” SC Johnson is declaring its intention to provide a high-octane career experience grounded by close-knit, family-like culture.

Employees rightfully expect the same consideration and attention as customers, so crafting a brand promise that addresses the intersection of talent and organizational needs is critical.

Finally, as the workplace evolves, companies need to actively craft culture rather than wait for cultural standards and expectations to emerge organically.

No longer desk-bound, employees miss out on positive feedback rituals that were once inherent in the norms of an in-person workplace. With less opportunity to see others at events or in the hallway, team members are more siloed than ever, creating micro-cultures.

To create an authentic culture that unifies talent and reinforces the company purpose, managers must carve out specific, repeatable rituals to communicate values, recognize people, and create cross-team bonding moments that feel natural.

Consider structured ‘random coffees’ with co-workers from other teams, five-minute weekly huddles to highlight individuals for a job well done, end-of-the-week blasts to celebrate milestones, or creative monthly group meetings to inspire talent collectively. For example, at Innovation Protocol, we actively highlight employees who demonstrate our company values at our weekly company meeting, which helps celebrate talent while reinforcing the behavioral practices underpinning our culture.

Employee needs are changing, and workplaces are in a constant state of flux. To best serve talent, companies need to be intentional about creating a work philosophy that balances changing employee needs with organization ambition – in other words, to view employees as a type of “customer” with distinct needs that must be served.

Employer Branding

By Jon Cohen

Employer Brands…Without Employers or Employees?

People often define brand as the promise between a company and its consumers.  But a brand is actually the relationship between an organization and all of its stakeholders – consumers, investors, communities, employees, and more.  The most durable brands are built from the inside out, with strong employer brands.  Companies who invest in their employer brands attract better candidates and keep employees happier and longer, and those employees tell the stories of a company’s brand to anyone who will listen.

An employer brand is the unique value employees receives in return for the skills, talents, and experience they bring to a company.  It is sometimes referred to as an employee value proposition, or EVP. The value need not be financial – other elements of good employer brands are the company’s mission, its culture, and its impact on the world.  The best employees aren’t attracted by what a company offers, but by why it exists and how it impacts the community.

For the last 5 years or so, the gig economy has challenged typical notions of what it means to be an “employer” or “employee”.  The gig economy is the body of jobs performed freelance or on short-term contracts, often as short-term as a few minutes.  Classic examples of gig economy jobs are driving for Uber, or performing tasks for TaskRabbit.

The primary benefit of gig economy work has typically been the flexibility to choose when, where, and even if to work on any given day.  However, the very existence of the gig economy at large is being challenged by a series of legislative and judicial actions in California (certain to be followed by additional states and possibly countries) that require companies to classify many gig workers as employees rather than as contractors, as they have customarily been classified.  Putting aside any political perspective on the legislation, as a brand strategy firm we must recognize the pressure this places on many new-economy companies’ employer brands as they wrestle with redefining the meanings of the words “employer” and “employee”.

There is a philosophical question at the heart of this quagmire.  To have an employer brand, you need (at the very least) an employer and an employee.  But if the very definitions of “employer” and “employee” are not generally agreed-upon anymore, can you even have an employer brand?  Will an employer brand make sense in a world where the foundational terms on which the brand is built are no longer understood?

Every company’s situation is unique. However, we believe that one way to navigate the complexity in the short term is to elevate the conversation above day-to-day operational and legal realities, which are changing in unpredictable ways.  At their core, great gig economy brands are on noble missions – to democratize travel, to give local businesses new exposure, to create a global platform for creative souls, etc.  The way they achieve their missions will change with evolving legislative and political realities.  But the most durable brands will not waver from expressing, repeatedly and relentlessly, their commitments to their core missions.  This is, after all, what great brands do.

Is Branding Important for Non-Profit Organizations?

By Stacey Chapper

Stacey Chapper, Associate Director Brand Development at Innovation Protocol, speaks about why branding is critically important to support the mission of non-profit organizations, and effectively engage priority audiences, including clients, employees, funders and donors, and other strategic partners.

Understanding the Direct-To-Consumer Market

By Jamie Sperling

From Quip toothbrushes to Dollar Shave Club razors at Target – what’s a DTC brand doing in a big-box retailer?

The explosion of Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) brands over the past five years marks a profound shift in how products are sold and experienced. Early on, DTC brands were considered disruptors, with a business model that challenged industry norms and fundamentally changed the way legacy brands related to their consumers.

The appeal of the DTC movement is universal: By cutting out the middle man, brands avoid inflated retail markups and enable better design, quality, service, and price points. DTC brands also own the customer relationship, which has advantages on the backend (capturing cohesive customer data to build connected, compelling experiences) and frontend (consistent messaging and user experience throughout the customer journey).

Today, there are over 400 DTC brands. In 2018 alone, over 27 DTC brands launched, more than double, the number that entered the market the year before. As DTC becomes more and more saturated, differentiation becomes invaluable.*

The consistent origin story communicated by the founders of DTC brands, is that they recognized there had to be a better way to purchase [fill in the blank] than what currently existed. However, as DTC becomes progressively crowded across verticals, brand plays an increasingly important role in creating differentiation and emotional connection that goes beyond product and price point.

DTC brands who develop an authentic brand—one that stands for something more than selling features and function—continue to gain market share. They’re also better positioned to remain competitive amid industry changes because their relationship with consumers is grounded in emotional connection and higher perceived value.

In the early years, cutting out the middleman was a novel claim. Warby Parker, Dollar Shave Club, and Casper were among the first-movers to push this story, packaged as a friendlier, cooler alternative to the status quo. By infiltrating digital channels, early DTC brands generated awareness by being everywhere, all the time. Soon, though, DTC brands were competing for the same audiences, within limited channels, and the cost of customer acquisition moved closer and closer to that of traditional retailers. This reality led many DTC brands to try a hybrid model: brick-and-mortar locations with a digital-first approach.

DTC is no longer defined by a specific business model, but by a new mindset around the exchange of goods and services.

DTC brands have shown the entire retail space how to evolve with consumers–particularly when it comes to the purpose, design, and experience of a brick-and-mortar location. The DTC powerhouse brands have all made the transition from an online-only experience to physical pop-ups and permanent retail locations. While this may seem like an industry in reverse, these brands reimagined physical retail, in a manner that was more forward-looking than legacy retailers’ agenda.

Case #1: Reformation

Reformation founder Yael Aflalo saw the appeal of fast fashion retailers like Forever21 and H&M but knew the crowded racks, piles of clothing, slow-moving lines, and unflattering dressing rooms could only sustain certain shoppers’ loyalty.

In stark contrast, enter Reformation, where a few best-selling outfits are displayed in a minimalist and uncluttered space. Throughout the store, customers can use touchscreen monitors to find outfits (a la Cher from Clueless), select their size and enter a dressing room where their selection appears. As they try on clothes, customers can charge their phones, play their favorite music, and choose from a set of mood-lighting options. Initial items not working out? Not to worry, there’s another touchscreen in the dressing room through which you can easily request different sizes or other styles, all brought to you automatically through what feels like a magic closet door. Ever had that experience at a Nordstrom?

Case #2: Glossier

Anti-beauty brand, Glossier, is a best-in-class example towards which all DTC brands aspire. With humble roots as beauty blog, “Into the Gloss,” Glossier created a community of advocates before they created their first curated product collection. Glossier (virtually) listened as readers shared their thoughts around what was working, and what was missing, from beauty products and brands—eventually, their founder, Emily Weiss, was inspired to create a product line that directly addressed the needs shared by this online community. Glossier’s original products (cleanser, priming moisturizer, lip gloss, and misting spray) were natural extensions of the brand, 100% informed by the online conversation among their readers turned customers. Glossier recognized the importance of brand early on by claiming the position that they make “beauty products for real life,” with real customer input. The authenticity of this claim coupled with the relationships already formed between customers and “Into the Gloss,” successfully extended the brand and ignited its cult following, where customer-first wasn’t just something thrown around, but a proven guiding principle of the brand years later.

While traditional retailers struggle to remain relevant, Glossier’s shift from online to brick-and-mortar exemplified the marriage of physical retail and ecommerce– by viewing the physical location as a brand experience and awareness generator, more so than a revenue generator. The Glossier storefront is immersive– from the thoughtfully crafted décor to the pink jumpsuit-wearing employees who, as they walk you through the product line, feel more like beauty educators than sales associates. The store experience is not only unique, but uniquely Glossier.

What this all amounts to is a shift in the way DTC brands consider themselves and therefore present themselves to the market. When brands first connect with customers online, they must strategically design the user experience so that it doesn’t just feel transactional. Instead, the customer should have an experience that is valuable, engaging, and even unexpected—an experience that makes this online channel stand out among numerous other options.

When DTC brands transition from URL to IRL, the in-store experience must be the ultimate expression of the online-first brand with which their customers fell in love. The in-person experience should only deepen the customer connection, by enabling them to interact with, touch, talk, try-on the brand…the possibilities are endless, but the most important point is that a storefront is as much a marketing spend as the website.

Will this trend continue? DTC brands are nothing new (think HSN or QVC as the precursor to what we know today as DTC brands). But once we accept that the DTC channel for communication and consumption is no longer a novelty, we see these organizations have the same motivators as traditional brands: consumers who crave story, intention, and human connection.


* Foster, T. (2018, April 19). How Wharton Launched Warby Parker–and Dozens of Other Companies Just Like It. Retrieved April 2, 2019, from https://www.inc.com/magazine/201805/tom-foster/direct-consumer-brands-middleman-warby-parker.html

The Importance of a Visual System

Why is a visual system crucial for your brand?  Matthew Muller, Creative Director at Innovation Protocol, shares how visual systems are used like brand tool boxes, and what are the most important elements to include to ensure visual consistency.

Building Brand Cohesion

By Terra Gottesfeld

From ditching hotels for Airbnbs to hailing a Lyft over a cab, the consumer mindset is changing, and so is the way we work. Adult sharing economy users are forecasted to reach 86.5 million by 2021 – a 23% increase from 2018, and about 35% of the US workforce and 16% of the population at large is part of the gig economy. That’s over a third of the workforce who work as freelancers, contractors…whose work is demand-based, not scheduled…and whose interactions with the company that pays them may be as limited as receiving a background check followed by a series of direct deposits.

The sharing economy has tremendous benefits—companies can accommodate fluctuating demand without burnout or layoffs, and individuals have an increased access to self-employment. However, when brand ambassadors are mostly contractors vs. full time employees, you lose some control over the brand…unevenness in not only the quality of service, but the ideas surrounding our brand.

Companies are becoming progressively savvier about measures to ensure safety and quality in this new market, but they also need a solid identity to celebrate, exude, and differentiate themselves through. Rigid standardization isn’t feasible, nor is it desirable…but how can you create a cohesive, differentiated, compelling brand experience?




By codifying your unwavering commitments to yourself and your customers, you create a litmus test for all you say and do…including who you choose as ambassadors and how you engage with them.

It starts with defining, or rethinking, your values—what do you feel more strongly about than anything, including profit? What, in practice, does this mean for your organization?

Internal alignment on these values is a major, if not the most essential, barometer of your ability to stick with them overtime. Consider opportunities for collaboration and engagement, making values a collective creation, not an order from the top.

How do you ensure that your employees far and wide not only know but align with and commit to your values? Companies should create values that are:

  • Strategic Filters: Companies make decisions based on data, experience, and intuition…but values can serve as universal guardrails. Strong values can bolster and reinforce each choice you make, from hiring to acquiring. In the moment, it might be hard to pass up profit that doesn’t align with your values (e.g. funding from an organization whose cause we do not support), but doing so can give your company legs it can stand upon and a core it can defend.
  • Unique and Descriptive: According to a Booz Allen Hamilton / Aspen Institute Study of corporate behaviors, “90 percent of companies emphasize ethical behavior and integrity.” While these attributes may be (and should be) important to any business, should they be front and center, or are they simply tablestakes? By creating values that show you really, deeply thought about exactly what matters to your company, you are communicating to your customers, partners and future employees that you are thoughtful about, intentional in, and committed to all you say and do.
  • Magnets for The Right People: Values help find clients and employees whose mindsets and orientations towards your business are aligned, and with whom a partnership is productive and fulfilling. Having a set of specific, unique values can attract the right employees upfront, and keep them engaged and focused throughout their time at the company. People (whether customers or coworkers) who believe in what you do and how you do it will want to tell their connections—these advocates will help you grow your business, and forge new relationships.
  • Informed and Actionable: Values should dictate behavior more than money does. For example, employees’ reputations in the gig economy rely heavily on customer ratings. Uber drivers are required to maintain a certain rating to stay on the platform, but sometimes are removed for poor ratings, without explanation or the ability to fix it. You should define how we handle customer input in a way that is fair to both your contract employee and your customer—values can inform how you communicate and take action.

Whether you are at a large company using more contractors or driving your own Lyft car…the marketplace demands cohesion now more than ever. Values help shape a customer and employee experience that is resonate, memorable and (yes) profitable.

Humans Aren’t Rational

By Jon Cohen

People will forget what you said … what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.  — Maya Angelou

There a concept in economic and social studies called the rational actor theory. It suggests that, when confronted with a decision, people assess their options and then make the choice that is in their best self-interest. In economics, that self-interest is usually defined in terms of financial value or gain.

The rational actor theory allows us to build models to study human behavior. The only problem with the theory is that we humans are not rational actors. We place higher value on things that are hard to quantify – feeling safe, feeling inspired, feeling sexy.

It’s true that we do make some decisions based on rational criteria, in limited circumstances.  Those decisions tend to be rote, and they tend to take place in categories where providers have not invested much in helping consumers understand how they should feel about their choices.

The best thing your brand can do is give people a reason to believe. This requires you to abandon your marketing of highly imitable features and benefits – like product formulation, or delivery speed, or price promotions – and instead focus your communications on what your customer is announcing to the world when they choose you. Indeed, the only thing people pay a true premium for is how it makes them feel when they buy or use your product.

After all, we are not rational actors.


We are rationalizing actors.

Logos Shouldn’t Be Based On Personal Taste

By David Radcliff

We can agree it’s a bad idea to build a house by beginning at the roof and working downward.

And yet, countless entrepreneurs begin their brand strategy adventures by coming up with cool logos and catchy names. This isn’t so effective, either.

A company’s logo shouldn’t just take a backseat to the company’s philosophy—it should be thrown into the trunk until the brand strategy journey is complete. Why? Because a well-built brand is one that’s constructed on a strong foundation of research.

All aesthetic concerns must stem from that research and its findings.

So don’t even bust out the sketchpad before you’ve scoured the Earth for competitors who might already be doing and saying the things you plan to do and say.

Don’t go searching for colors and shapes before you’ve chatted with consumers in your field, interviewed stakeholders, dived deeply into competitors’ social media channels, and come to understand the lay of the land.

It all comes down to that simple principle you learned from your mother or grade school teachers: Listen before you speak.

The vast array of social media tools now at your disposal makes it easier than ever to listen to brands and audiences. Subscribe to competitors’ news blasts. Set up Google Alerts for any terms related to your field. Join the Facebook groups of every gaggle of like-minded folks in your category.

But keep your lips sealed until you’ve really figured out what to say and how to say it.

What good is a message that hasn’t been finely tuned for the audience it hopes to reach?

What good is a color scheme that might be off-putting to the target consumer, even as it is a personal favorite of the company’s CEO? Even the best of all businesses will flounder if consumers can’t find it, relate to it, and quickly recognize its value.

Effective brand strategy isn’t selling a product. It’s selling a feeling.

And by targeting that feeling towards exactly the right consumers at exactly the right time and in exactly the right way, your business won’t have to concern itself with selling much at all.

Because consumers will already recognize and feel comfortable with the language you speak.

Because it’s speaking directly to them.

Beginning your business venture with aesthetics that stem from your own tastes, and not from those of your targeted consumers, is a backwards approach to the process of branding.

In truth, there is no substitute for the time-consuming, painstaking, detail-focused gauntlet of research prior to design.

It may not be as easy or as fun as blue sky design thinking, but it’s sure to yield better results.

Think Twice Before You Market to Millennials

By Joseph Olender

Scroll through any business or advertising publication long enough and you’re bound to find an article likening Millennials to unicorns or some other mythical beast that defies the conventional nature of the universe.

What even is a Millennial… and how does one market to a said Millennial? How does one… employ a Millennial? Or tap into the complex spirit that these Millennials seem to want to live their lives with?

Well, thank you for caring, various publications, but you’re doing it all wrong.

It’s important to understand who you’re trying to communicate to. Millennials are not only the face-buried-in-their-phone teenage caricature that they’re made out to be. Not anymore at least. We’re not (all) narcissists who post selfies all day and worship Kardashians. We’re adults. We’ve graduated college. Some of us are married with kids. Some of us have mortgages. Some of us want to be able to host a barbecue in a home we own someday (but are fully aware that it’s a changing market, not an Avocado Toast addiction, that currently prevents us from being able to do so…).

Millennials now outnumber every other generation in the world, and while we may be the first to end up more financially insecure than the previous generation, we are going to inherit a record $30 trillion from Baby Boomers.

So, how can you better market and advertise to these Millennials, who we’ve been told are immune to marketing and advertising?

It’s quite simple, actually: don’t.

Don’t “get on social” and assume this alone will make you seem younger, hipper, and sexier to us silly kids with our silly phones. Don’t hire influencers to peddle your products and assume that will rack up the likes and translate into monumental sales.

Don’t do this. Or this. Or this… and definitely don’t do this.

Link……. Link

#Cringe, right?

Instead, stand for something and then follow through on that stance. Do what you say you will do. Be exactly who you say you are, and make sure that essence seeps through every communication, every visual, every post… and be proactive about it!

And this doesn’t necessarily mean simply “have good CSR” (although that certainly doesn’t hurt). This means communicating your authentic impact that goes beyond dollars and cents.

Put this way, communicating with Millennials is actually really, really simple… if you first know exactly who you are, and exactly why you matter.

This recent Fast Company piece outlines the power in understanding that the Millennial consumer desires to be so much more than just one side of a dollars-and-cents transaction. Rather, the Millennial is a value-seeker who wants to broadcast their purchase as a value-add to their own identity.

When we look at the brands performing well, many of them have a clear mission. Despite being only six years old, Honest Company’s stands for product transparency and healthy families have helped it to a No. 34 ranking for millennials (No. 84 for boomers), significantly above Pampers’ ranking for millennials of No. 76. This is a microcosm of a larger shift: Procter & Gamble’s largest global brand, generating sales of over $8 billion per year, being de-positioned by a millennial-focused brand with much clearer, more overt values.

Similarly, Starbucks has taken strong stands around healthy communities, ethical sourcing, social justice, and environmental progress. Those stands have helped it to a ranking of No. 25 for millennials (No. 111 for Boomers). Always, another P&G brand that has taken a different approach to marketing with its Like A Girl campaign, has effectively championed girls’ potential and won broad support from millennials, who rank it the No. 29 brand (boomers: No. 99).

Our research suggests millennials care about social issues in much greater numbers than older generations. Sixty-eight percent of millennials say creating change in the world is a personal goal that they actively pursue, while a minority of boomers do (42%).

Millennials see life as a series of experiences, and we see the organizations we give our money to as being crucial players in that journey. We want (and want to feel) proximity to the impact that your organization wants to leave on the world, and we want to help you leave that impact.

Do we literally think about changing the way the world moves every time we step into an Uber? Nope, but we are drawn to participate in a world where we can be transported across a city with the push of a button.

We are drawn to participate in movements greater than ourselves.

And this is true across every industry.

Mattresses? Yep. Football? Of course. Transportation? You betcha. Citywide safety and security? Absolutely. Beverage holders? Oh yeah…

No clever campaign or filter is going to suddenly make Millennials love you. But you know what might? Vision and honesty.

So stand for something of value, and go be it. It works better than a #hashtag.

Brand Strategy Isn’t So Simple After All

By Alex Bornoff

I have never been one for self-help books, guides to better business, how-to-build a brand instruction manuals, or how-to literature of any kind. Ironic perhaps given my profession as a brand strategist, but then perhaps not.

If I do find my way through the pages of such literature, I struggle with how over simplified everything becomes. As if, all I need to do is check the boxes and I win.

But intuitively I know the boxes themselves are not that simple.

Those boxes crave opening, unpacking, and dissecting, before their contents translate to actionable learnings. But that level of detail is often missing from these resources and so I am often left unsatisfied.

I had one such experience recently re-reading Landor’s Agility Paradox, a report into what makes for successful brands in an era where disruption is the norm. It’s one-part investigative reporting, mining through data attempting to understand the characteristics of successful brands in a modern era. And, one-part instructional manual, giving brand managers a synthesized list of recommendations for how they can set their brands up for success in today’s business landscape.

Don’t get me wrong, this by no means is intended to discredit the valuable work Landor has done. The analysis is insightful and there is a lot to learn, if not empirically validate what one may sense intuitively.

Yet, I struggle when the work is distilled down into six neat little attributes that so long as a company complies, success is abound. These attributes include adaptive, open, global, principled, responsible, and multichannel – six little boxes to check before a brand can feel confident it will thrive in a new world order.

But each of those attributes can dramatically change the course of business for any brand. And I would argue (even at the expense of jumping into the “hands off” advice pool) that the art to succeeding at any of them starts with a core dimension the Agility Paradox does not address – the internal brand.

Building a brand that succeeds at all six attributes the Agility Paradox identifies, is by no means simple, especially if the brand was never designed to include them in the first place, of which there are many.

Brand reinvention is hard, rigorous work and along with vision, leadership commitment, and resources, transformations that enable brands to meet these modern standards require the unwavering dedication of those in the business. And getting employees to commit, means getting them to believe in the promise of the brand (before any consumer or shareholder) to ensure success, loyalty, and longevity.

Too many times I’ve seen great brand vision and strategy fall by the wayside because employee buy-in was so deeply de-prioritized. Building employee trust, advocacy and alignment to the brand, is what puts in motion the brand’s ability to succeed externally.  It forces the business to think about process, structure, and evaluate vision against reality so as to uncover what’s needed to close the gaps.

The workforce is a brand’s greatest, loudest, most impactful asset and advocate. It’s a critical dimension to lean into and take seriously as employees can also be a brand’s greatest roadblock if they don’t believe in it. Arming the workforce is arming the brand with the firepower it needs to rise above the noise and standout above the rest.

Building brands is an inside out effort. It’s how authenticity is established and brand reverberation is felt far beyond the efforts of any single campaign. Consumers drive vision but employees drive success of its execution. Over look that and all good recommendations will remain boxes unchecked. Build into it, and you may find yourself asking the “how” question far less.