brand, culture

Brand and human resources in one department? Are you nuts?


A few months back, Red Hat rearranged a few organizational boxes, as companies tend to do from time to time. One result of this was the creation of a new department called People & Brand, a combination of the existing Red Hat Human Capital team and our Brand Communications + Design team.

When some folks hear that, their faces crinkle all up in confusion and they say something akin to “That doesn’t make any sense… brand is a marketing function, not an HR function!”

It’s true that brand is traditionally thought of as a tool of marketing, but in the 21st century company, we are going to have to rethink some things. One thing the 21st century company is going to have to do is resist the urge to put things into silos so quickly. One former boss of mine who loved to do this called it “bucketizing”– a beautiful markepoetry term.

Look at the statement above again: “Brand is a marketing function, not an HR function.”

I disagree.

Brand is an HR function. And a marketing function. And a sales function. And a service and support function. And a finance function. Brand should be deeply embedded in everything a company does.

The organizational structures of the 20th century “bucketize” by default. One box at the top. A bunch of boxes connected to that one. And each of those boxes has a bunch of boxes connected to it. We tend to spend most of our time worrying about which box is connected above us rather than which boxes might be connected beside us.

Remember the old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups ads? You put your peanut butter in my chocolate! And the end result is two great tastes that taste great together. A happy accident!

Those of you who have worked in deeply siloed organizations know that happy accidents like this are rare when collaboration isn’t happening across different parts of the organization. You might be making great peanut butter over here. And great chocolate over there. But you ain’t never gonna get no Cups.

So back to People & Brand.

Think of all of the happy accidents that can occur when you stick your HR people together with your brand people. What do both groups care deeply about? Employees and company culture.

The motivations are a bit different. On the People side, we are trying to recruit and retain the best talent, while creating an environment where folks can do innovative work. On the Brand side, we are trying to create a set of employee brand ambassadors telling the Red Hat story to the world as a chorus and not a crowd, singing a clear, differentiated tune that customers hear and value.

But working closely side by side over the last few months, we’ve found numerous opportunities to help both the People and the Brand sides of Red Hat meet our goals in ways that neither department could do quite so effectively on our own.

We aren’t the only company out there trying things like this. I heard one story a few weeks ago about a brand chief at a major international media company who had done a six month rotation as the head of HR and then went back to working on the brand. And here is an American Management Association article that does a nice job explaining many of the benefits you can get when People and Brand functions are closely aligned. And here is another article. And another. Get the idea?

Kinda makes you wonder… what other sort of organizational happy accidents could we create if escaped from siloed organizational thinking? Support and marketing? Engineering and finance? Web and services? Now I’m really scaring you, aren’t I…

About Chris Grams

Chris Grams is Head of Marketing at Tidelift. He is also the author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World.

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The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Building Successful Brands in a Digital World

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