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If Top Brands Equals Top Employers, Is It Purpose That Makes The Difference?

Last week saw the publication of some new brand research which explored what brands consumers saw as relevant to them. At first glance the list of the top brands in the UK holds few surprises - Apple, Google and Amazon lining up as numbers one, two and three. But when you start to look beyond the "premier league" of brands you see patterns within the rankings that give us clues into what makes a brand relevant -not just to consumers but to employees too.

Both globally and in the UK there is alignment between the brands consumers seen as relevant in their categories with those that consistently emerge as powerful employer brands within those categories - Apple is the obvious example. Secondly, in the UK top 50 listing we see a number of British brands, such as John Lewis and the BBC, regularly ranked as top choice employers and known for the distinctive nature of what they stand for through people - a partnership for the former and a public service broadcaster for the latter.

The question of brand relevance is something my consultancy has studied over a number of years. We measure relevance by examining the performance of brands across 16 attributes in four dimensions: customer obsessed, ruthlessly pragmatic, pervasively innovative and finally distinctively inspired. All of these dimensions have attributes that are as important to an employee as to a consumer - but it is the category of "distinctively inspired" where we see the potential attributes that not just this research, but other studies as well, demonstrates could be the "glue" that brings the brand together for both consumer and employee.

Looking at Purpose alone for the UK the British brands that rose to the top make up a fascinating list: 1 - NHS, 5 - John Lewis, 6 - BBC, 7 - The Body Shop and 9 - BUPA.

The emergence of NHS as the top UK brand for purpose is a story in itself - but actually despite the mountains of mixed press and attention the NHS attracts many would acknowledge there is a workforce who cares deeply about what they believe they are there to do. A visit to the NHS England website declares their purpose as "creating the culture and conditions for health and care services and staff to deliver the highest standard of care and ensure that valuable public resources are used effectively to get the best outcomes for individuals, communities and society for now and future generations" - it hardly trips off the tongue. Interesting however that culture is called out - because as leaders start to embrace culture as a strategic lever - the question of purpose driving that culture is now centre stage.

For John Lewis, putting people at the heart of purpose is fundamental - in fact it was the vision of the founder of its partnership model John Spedan Lewis. It sets out the Partnership's ultimate purpose as "the happiness of its members through their worthwhile and satisfying employment in a successful business". It is as simple as human capital exploring a market opportunity rather than the market opportunity demanding human capital. How rare is that view in business still today.

The foundational theme identified with these British brands extended to other brands that rose to the top for purpose. Apple and Lego were both in the top 5 in the UK rankings on 'purpose' - both brands with a huge and well known story about where they came from and how they see their role in the world.

There are many learnings from this research but three in particular emerge in relation to the "employee lens" and the role of purpose:

• Purpose can provide the glue between consumers and employees - and that alignment is critical for business success

• Brands with a foundational sense of purpose appear to have an added appeal

• Purpose alone is not enough - those that rose to the top under 'distinctively inspired' were seen to be strong on all attributes - you cannot inspire on purpose without trust for example.

Above all there is yet again the message that brand building should be holistic - relevance for the consumer and the employee can be hand in hand.

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