Marketing Minute: Brand culture is the answer to generational change – April 2023
By Paul Friederichsen
Most would agree that the modern flooring industry as we know it began with the mechanization of tufting in the 1930s and early 1940s in Dalton, Georgia. Since then, the flooring industry has employed five generations, starting with the Greatest Generation, followed by the Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and now Gen Z. Over those 80+ years, the industry has been shaped by these generations, as well as by an ever-changing market influenced by innovation in materials and manufacturing, the economy (both good and bad), social and cultural shifts, foreign competition, longer life spans, urbanization, housing needs, environmental concerns, and supply chain shortages, as well as the growth of indoor pet ownership.
As we approach the century mark, flooring is now undergoing two massive generational transitions that will forever positively change the industry. The first is the move of women into leadership roles historically occupied by men. Groups like the recently formed WIFI (Women in the Floorcovering Industry), the Amazing Women of Starnet, and the Women of CCA celebrate the significant contributions empowered women can make to a product segment that is influenced heavily by female purchasing power.
The second is the industry’s own realization that it has a serious installation gap due to the growing shortage of qualified installers. For the first time in its history, the flooring industry-through the Floor Covering Education Foundation (FCEF), Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) and others-has launched a massive marketing effort across all flooring categories to appeal to Gen Zs looking for an alternative to college. This campaign, begun in 2020, is still in its early stages, but now the awareness is there to meet the challenge head on.
Both movements have generational appeal and will pay out for the industry over the next 50 to 100 years. Female leadership will provide a balanced perspective and heightened empathy to female consumers. A new generation of trained installers will raise the level of value and respect for everyone’s products in the home and commercial décor markets.
But what about individual companies? How do they fare from one generation to the next?
With each generational change, many flooring industry businesses have adapted through marketing, attracting a new labor and executive pool to replace those lost through attrition. For example, Mohawk, Shaw and others line I-75 around Dalton with Spanish language billboards to attract new workers. Human resources and marketing departments are becoming more collaborative in how the company communicates on employment-search and social media platforms to establish a competitive advantage through an employer brand.
Corien Kershey, a contributor to Branding Strategy Insider, points out, “With good talent increasingly hard to recruit, it makes sense for companies to take their employer brand seriously. If you’re in marketing, it’s time to go talk to HR about their recruitment challenges and how the brand can help. If you’re in HR, it’s time to go to marketing to find out how the company’s brand can translate to better recruitment and retention success.”
Of course, billboard and social media campaigns are effective, tactical responses to finding, attracting and keeping the best people. The enduring solution, however, is the development of a strong brand culture that thrives internally and becomes irresistible externally.
“Brands are built from the inside out,” observes brand expert Derrick Daye of leading brand consultancy The Blake Project. “They are built with intentionality by management to be authentic, enduring, as well as informative to the value decisions a company makes regarding, among other things, how it relates to its employees.” Without that brand essence or “north star” to guide decision-makers, the brand can be inconsistent in how it responds to unexpected opportunities or challenges. Brand inconsistency diminishes brand trust for employees, as well as consumers. “When trust is gone, loyalty follows, and the brand reputation along with it,” says Daye. Employee relations become problematic at that point.
Trust is a crucial factor in the relationship between an employee and their employer. When employees feel that they can trust their employer, it can lead to several positive outcomes, such as higher job satisfaction, increased engagement and improved productivity. This, in turn, not only leads to greater sales but to other recognitions, such as Shaw Industries being named Best Overall Employer in 2023 in North Georgia’s Best of the Best awards-and positive publicity such as this spills over into social media and carries tremendous weight for job seekers.
Kershey calls this building a “strong employer brand” that can deliver impressive results. “According to LinkedIn, companies with strong employer brands receive 50% more qualified applicants, have a 50% lower cost per hire, and fill positions twice as fast,” he notes. “As well, 75% of job seekers say that they consider a potential employer’s brand first before they apply for a job, noting that not knowing what a company is like to work for is their major obstacle.”
How do flooring manufacturers, distributors, retailers or contractors ready their brands for generational change? Start from the inside to develop an employer value proposition, then do the same for your customers, advises Daye. This is best facilitated in brand strategy and brand culture workshops conducted by an outside consultant guiding a cross-section of your company’s key stakeholders. “Marketing is too important to be left up to just the marketers,” he says. “Everyone in key management positions must be involved, or it won’t work.”
Daye emphasizes that for organizations on the edge of transitioning their business to new leadership, brand culture work is in tandem with succession planning. He also advises not to keep your people in the dark; rather, help them see a future they can rally around and advocate to others.
In his article “How to Achieve Brand Culture Success,” Mark Di Somma outlines some of the key levers that are needed to be considered in a brand culture transformation:
1. Culture diagnostic: Know the culture’s strengths and weaknesses in order to tap the strengths and address the weaknesses.
2. The “critical few” behaviors: There needs to be a small number of clear behavioral change goals.
3. Employee pride and commitment: You must define ways to galvanize people around ideas that they can believe in. They can be universal ideas that resonate with everyone.
4. Informal peer networks and motivators: You must encourage peer-to-peer support and interaction.
5. Storytelling: Story is used to explain how the culture will get to its destination and to reinforce pride and desired behaviors.
6. Cultural innovation: The opportunity to “lab” ideas and approaches within the organization before they are introduced to the culture as a whole.
7. Support targets: Clear goals for the culture that complement the strategic goals for the business and lay out the hard and soft objectives for people. These would extend beyond the HR goals to encompass how people are to be supported in order for the strategic goals to be reached.
Brand marketing, particularly from a brand culture perspective, is not only an offensive strategy but also a defensive one. It effectively builds a moat around your business that competitors will find difficult to bridge. As billionaire N.R. Narayana Murthy is often quoted as saying, “Our assets walk out of the door each evening. We have to make sure that they come back the next morning.”
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