Sticking to the Script: Employee Identification and Brand Representation

Sticking to the Script: Employee Identification and Brand Representation

Picture by: Microsoft Images

Article and Author Information

Caroline McGrath (MSLOC 2013) wrote this article in December 2012 for the Capstone 3 Research Analysis and Interpretation course. This executive summary assignment is the culmination of a nine-month capstone research project. Caroline is an independent consultant with experience in business and marketing strategy and implementation as well as organizational design. She presented this research at the Thirteenth International Conference on Knowledge, Culture and Change in Organizations.

Abstract

This paper explores the relationship between an employees’ identification with an organization and the employee’s ability to represent the organization’s brand to external stakeholders. The relationship between employee identification and an employee’s ability to represent the brand was tested by collecting quantitative data via an online survey. Correlation and multi-variate regression analysis was conducted to determine the strength of the relationship between the variables (employee identification, brand representation). This study found a statistically significant positive correlation between organizational identification and an employee’s willingness to represent their organization’s brand. The study also found that brand knowledge needs to also be present for the relationship between organizational identification and brand representation to hold true.

Introduction

A set of environmental conditions have emerged in the last decade that have made it important for researchers to investigate ways to promote an employee’s ability to represent the organization and its brand to external stakeholders. Firstly, the focus on corporate brands has increased. As the market becomes increasingly complex and competitive, companies are using brands to distinguish their products and connect emotionally with stakeholders (Hatch & Schultz, 2003). Secondly, in an environment where more employees interact with external stakeholders directly, management’s ability to control and curate the organizational image becomes more complex. The challenge in this situation is that employees can potentially create disparate or competing images, interpretations, and understandings of an organization (Price, Gioia & Corley, 2008 p. 174). Finally, the boundaries between an organization’s ‘external’ and ‘internal’ self have blurred, fueled in part by emergent social technologies that have helped create more transparent organizations (Price, Gioia & Corley, 2008 p. 174).

In parallel to (or perhaps as a result of) increasing organizational transparency, the last decade has seen brand management theory expanding to include research on driving alignment between an organization’s internal and external discourse (Price, Gioia & Corley, 2008; Ravasi & Schultz, 2006; Burman & Zeplin, 2004). Much of this research has placed brand as the managed component of an organization’s image and acknowledged that image is comprised of a broader set of influences including that of unmanaged impressions created by organizational members’ interactions with external parties. Thus, to ensure the long term success and viability of an organization, leaders seek opportunities to have their organizational brand represented appropriately to external stakeholders (Hatch & Schultz, 2003: p. 1044). Prescriptions on driving better alignment between managed and unmanaged impressions often focuses on management communications, through efforts known as internal branding (King & Grace, 2008; Punjaisri & Wilson, 2007).

This research explores whether or not there is a connection between an employee’s identification with an organization and the employee’s ability to represent the organization’s brand to others. A connection between the two would offer organizational leaders an important avenue for managing brand representation to external stakeholders. Namely, if a connection is found between the two variables, it would behoove organizations to invest resources in building up their employees’ organizational identification through employee recruitment, retention and development efforts. For example, roles that are often called upon to represent an organization to external parties (like executive positions, or sales and marketing employees) may benefit from regular opportunities to discuss and explore brand attributes aligned with the evolving organizational identity. This may help those employees better identify with the organization, and thereby genuinely represent the organization’s brand. Moreover, if identification is connected to the ability to represent a company’s brand, there is an argument that HR and marketing functions should work closely to build alignment between internal and external branding of the organization, based on a commonly understood organizational identity.

Methods/Procedures Summary

In order to answer the research question, an on-line survey was distributed via email to my network of professional contacts. The survey measured the following key variables: a) employee identification and b) brand representation. In addition, the survey included two open-ended questions to allow participants to discuss the impact their own organizational identification levels have on their ability to represent their organization’s brand.

Employee identification was measured using a version of the Organizational Commitment Questionnaire (OCQ) created by Mowdy, Steers, & Porter (1979). OCQ measures affective commitment which is defined as 'the relative strength of an individual's identification with and involvement in a particular organization' (Mowdy et al., 1979: p. 226). Brand representation was measured using a validated market behavior instrument used by Algesheimer, Dholakia & Hermann (2005) that gauged intent to recommend a brand and one’s history of recommending a brand.

Algesheimer, Dholakia & Hermann (2005) conducted an empirical study to assess how brand advocates (external to the organization) influence customer’s intentions and behaviors. An important finding from the study was that individuals more knowledgeable about the brand experienced higher levels of brand identification, and were more predisposed to positively engage with customers to discuss the brand. For this reason, this research uses a subset of Algesheimer et al. (2005) questions to test for brand knowledge – used as a control variable in my analysis.

Analysis & Results

Sample Descriptive Statistics

87 respondents completed the survey. The sample used showed a bias towards organizations with more than 10,000 employees (49% respondents). The sample also showed a bias towards the technology/internet sector (48% respondents). 25% of respondents worked in a marketing function and 23% worked in a general management function, together comprising 48% of all job functions participating in the study. Appendix A shows the sample descriptive data for this study.

Figure 1 Figure 2

Relationship between Organizational Identification & Brand Representation

Alpha scores were used to check item reliability for all dependent and independent variables comprised of more than one item (see Appendix B). The independent variable ‘organizational identification’ had an alpha of 0.625. Although the alpha is low, all items used to test for this variable were maintained because they were adopted from the Organizational Commitment Questionnaire (OCQ) which has been shown to be valid for testing organizational identification. Mean scores were calculated for each of the dependent and independent variable’s Likert scale measures to create scale scores for each variable. Reverse scored items were treated accordingly.

Correlation analysis showed a statistically significant positive correlation between organizational identification and an employee’s willingness to represent their organization’s brand. Regression analysis also showed a statistically significant positive relationship between organizational identification and brand representation. Here are the results of the correlation and regression analysis between the independent and dependent variables:

Figure 3

Because the OCQ Alpha score was low, individual item correlations were studied. Within the OCQ instrument 3 of the 8 items (Q2, Q3 & Q8) showed a significant positive correlation with brand representation and are highlighted in the green boxes below. One other OCQ item (Q4) did not positively correlate with any of the brand representation items and is highlighted in the red box below.

Relationship between Brand Knowledge, Organizational Identification & Brand Representation

Algesheimer et. al. (2005) found that individuals more knowledgeable about the brand experienced higher levels of brand identification, and were more predisposed to positively engage with customers to discuss the brand. This study found no statistically significant positive correlation between organizational identification and an employee’s willingness to represent the organization’s brand, when controlling for brand knowledge. This study also found no significant positive correlation between brand knowledge and brand representation, when controlling for organizational identification. Finally, this study found no significant positive correlation between organizational identification and brand knowledge, when controlling for brand representation.

Figure 4 Figure 5 Figure 6

The open-ended question asking 'What factors influence your ability to represent your organization’s brand to other people?' returned the following most often cited responses (in order of frequency):

  • Product (or Service) Knowledge
  • Fidelity between the internal culture and the communicated brand
  • Belief in and commitment to company Appendix C shows the complete ranked response list to this question.

Role of Demographics in Organizational Identification & Brand Representation

A T-test found a significant relationship between organization size, employee identification and brand representation – specifically, people in smaller organizations(i.e. with less than 500 employees) identify more with their organizations and are more willing to represent their organizational brand than people in larger organizations (i.e. 500+ employees).

Figure 7

With respect to tenure, correlation analysis found no statistically significant relationship between tenure and organizational identification.

Figure 8

Limitations

The sample was sourced from the researcher’s professional network that included many current or former Microsoft marketing employees. The sample descriptive data revealed a sample bias toward very large organizations in the technology industry, and professionals in general management or marketing roles were highly represented in the sample. This bias in the sample may limit any generalization of these findings in other organization sizzes, industries or roles.

Although the independent variable measures (OCQ) used in this study has been tested by other researchers, they presented unsatisfactory Alpha scores in this study, and may present a limitation to generalizing the results from this study. An additional limitation is that the study did not test for people’s behaviors in actually representing the brand, although a protocol used by previous researchers designing a study with a behavioral measure was used for this.

Interpretation & Recommendations

Organizational Identification & Brand Representation

This study found a statistically significant positive correlation between organizational identification and an employee’s willingness to represent their organization’s brand. This finding supports Hatch & Schultz’s (1997) ‘Organizational Identity Dynamics Model’ – particularly the relationship between the internal and external expression of organizational identity.

Figure 9

Organizational Identity Dynamics Model (Hatch & Schultz, 1997)

This study also found there was a significant positive correlation between any pairing of organizational identification, brand representation and brand knowledge, however when any of these variables is controlled, there is no significant positive correlation between the remaining two variables. This finding suggests that there is three way relationship between organizational identification, brand knowledge and brand representation, and each must be present for the dynamic to work. The findings of the open-ended question also supported this.

The finding stresses the importance of building brand knowledge in training efforts, including discussion on brand attributes aligned with the evolving organizational identity. From a research perspective, it suggests that there may an additional component important to Hatch & Schultz's 'Organizational Identity Dynamics Model' related to brand knowledge that could warrant further research.

OCQ as a Predictor of Brand Representation

The OCQ instrument was used to test organizational identification and its relationship with brand representation. Within the OCQ instrument 3 of the 8 questions showed a significant positive correlation with brand representation (see Image 1). This suggests that from a research perspective there may be elements of organizational identification that are better predictors of brand representation actions and behaviors than others. Further studies would be required to validate a modified OCQ instrument that could be used to predict brand representation.

The OCQ item testing for a subject’s enjoyment of discussing their organization with people outside of it (see Q2 in Image 1) may need to be controlled in further studies – to distinguish an individual’s personal disposition to enjoy talking about their work, separate from brand representation behaviors related to an individual’s identification with their organization. Durbin, Champoux & Porter's 1975 study on central life interests (i.e. work or non-work) and organizational identification may be relevant research for such analysis.

Organization Size and Organizational Identification

This study found a significant relationship between organization size, employee identification and brand representation – specifically, people in smaller organizations identify more with their organizations and are more willing to represent their organizational brand than people in larger organizations. This suggests that practitioners in growing organizations in particular should pay attention to employees' identification, if employees are expected to represent the brand. From a research perspective, it suggests that the dynamic discussed in Hatch & Schultz's 1997 Organizational Identity Dynamics Model (Image 2) may be more aligned in smaller organizations, and there could be a tendency towards divergence in the dynamics of the model in larger organizations.

Tenure and Organizational Identification

The study found no statistically significant correlation between tenure and organizational identification. This finding suggests that organizational identification is a matter of fit – and may not strengthen with prolonged exposure to an organization. This is an important implication for recruitment efforts. It also suggests that both newer as well as tenured employees may equally identify with and appropriately publicly represent their organization’s brands.

FINDINGS & IMPLICATIONS SUMMARY

For practitioners, key findings from this study include:

  • build brand knowledge in training efforts, focusing on brand attributes aligned with the organizational identity.
  • pay particular attention to employee identification as organizations grow. Larger organizations are more at risk (than smaller organizations) of employees not identifying with them and thereby not representing their brand.
  • hire for cultural fit – employees who positively identify with your brand when hired are likely to represent your brand favorably.

For researchers, key findings from this study include:

  • Hatch & Schultz's 1997 'Organizational Identity Dynamics Model' may need to be modified to include:
    • a brand knowledge component that is currently absent from the model.
    • an addendum that discusses the impact organization size has on the model's dynamics.
  • Mowdy, Steers, & Porter’s 1979 OCQ instrument may be further refined to:
    • better predict brand representation actions and behaviors using specific aspects of organizational identification.
    • distinguish between an individual’s personal disposition to enjoy talking about their work, from an individual’s identification with their organization by controlling for the OCQ item testing for a subject’s ‘enjoyment of discussing their organization with people outside of it’.

References

Algesheimer, R., Dholakia, U. & Hermann, A. (2005), ‘The Social Influence of Brand Community’, Journal of Marketing, Vol. 69, pp. 19-34.

Allen, N & Myer, J (1990) ‘The measurement and antecedents of affective, continuance and normative commitment to the organization’ Journal of Occupational Psychology, Vol. 63, pp. 1-18.

Burman, C. & Zeplin, S. (2005) ‘Building Brand Commitment: A behavioral approach to internal brand management’ Brand Management, Vol. 12, pp. 279 – 300.

Cheney, G. (1983) ‘On the various changing meanings of organization membership: A field study of organizational identification’ Communication Monographs, Vol. 50, 342-362.

Dubin, R., Champoux, J. & Porter, L. (1975), 'Central life interests and organizational commitment of blue-collar and clerical workers', Adminisfrativc Science Quarterly, Vol. 20, pp. 411-421.

Hatch, MJ & Schultz, M (1997), ‘Relations between organizational culture, identity and image’, European Journal of Marketing, 31(5/6), 356-365.

Hatch, MJ & Schultz, M (2003), ‘Bringing the corporation into corporate branding.’ European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 37, pp. 1041 – 1064.

Huselid, M.A. (1995), ‘The impact of human resource management practices on turnover, productivity, and corporate financial performance,’ Academy of Management Journal, 38, 635-672.

King, C., & Grace, D. (2008). Internal branding: Exploring the employee’s perspective. Brand Management, Vol. 15, 358-372.

Mowdy, R, Steers, R & Porter, L. (1979), ‘The Measurement of Organizational Commitment,’ Journal of Vocational Behavior, Vol. 14, pp. 224-247.

Price, K., Gioia, D, & Corley, K. (2008), ‘Reconciling Scattered Images: Managing Disparate Organizational Expressions and Impressions’, Journal of Management Inquiry, Vol. 17, pp. 173 – 185.

Punjaisri, K., & Wilson, A. (2007). The role of internal branding in the delivery of employee brand promise. Brand Management, 15 (1), pp. 57-70.

Ravasi, D & Schultz, M (2006), ‘Responding to Organizational Identity Threats: Exploring the Role of Organizational Culture’, Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 49 (3), pp. 433-458.

Appendices

Appendix A: Sample Descriptive Statistics

Appendix 1 Appendix 2 Appendix 3 Appendix 4 Appendix 5

Appendix B

Alpha Score - Organization Identification Composite Variable

Appendix 6

Alpha Score - Brand Representation Composite Variable

Appendix 7

Appendix C

Alpha Score - Organization Identification Composite Variable

Appendix 8

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