MINNEAPOLIS — Supermarket human resources departments should play an important role in helping their companies communicate their brand message to consumers, according to a presenter at the Food Marketing Institute Human Resources/Training and Development Conference here last week.
“If your employees don't understand your brand message, no one will. Your customers will not get it,” said Donna Tweeten, assistant vice president, communications and branding management at Hy-Vee, West Des Moines, Iowa.
She suggested supermarkets create an “internal branding team” that includes both marketing and human resources personnel to train employees how to reflect the core attributes that distinguish the company's brand in the marketplace.
“Marketing has the easy job,” she said. “Human resources and training is where all the heavy lifting is. It's more important that your employees know what your brand is and what you are all about before they learn how to work a cash register or clean a slicer.”
Accordingly, employee performance should be measured not just on traditional job skills and service levels but on brand-supporting behaviors — on “living the brand,” Tweeten said.
“You need to promote cult-like behavior in your company,” she said.
Although traditional supermarkets have tended to shy away from defining their brands too narrowly to prevent alienating some customers, they can still do more to focus on building a brand image around some key attributes, Tweeten suggested.
“In our industry, we try to be all things to everyone, but you don't have to be,” she said. “You can walk away from some.”
At Hy-Vee, the company focuses in on the word “helpful” as a branding term that it wants customers to associate with its name, Tweeten said. The company also has a brand position: “An unmatched dedication to making people's lives easier, healthier and happier.”
Hy-Vee is also experimenting with what Tweeten described as a “brand promise,” which is “Everyday heroes for everyday life.” That is a message meant to inspire employees to “go above and beyond great service,” she said, and come up with innovative solutions.