For much longer than many people realize, employee engagement has been the driving factor in not only safety, but performance in general.

Safety Needs a Brand!

The majority of companies that I meet with talk about their "safety program" in an unbranded, generic way that neither inspires nor adds value.

Quick, name a product or service that you use regularly that does not have a brand name. Put differently, if I were to ask you to think of a brand-name cell phone, soft drink, or insurance company, I'm confident names like Apple, Coke, and Met Life would pop into your head. How about entertainment, software, social media . . . Disney, Oracle, Facebook?

The word "brand" dates back to the Viking Age and is a reference to burning a specific mark (a brand) onto products, particularly livestock. The word and the concept have stood the test of time exceedingly well. In today’s world of accounting, brands are identified as "intangible assets" and are oftentimes listed as among the most valuable assets on a company's balance sheet.

Some studies on the topic have estimated that a brand name can carry 10 percent or more of the value of the entire entity it represents. To truly consider this reality, think of an example of what would happen if a brand were removed from the equation. Would McDonald's lose 10 percent of its business tomorrow if all its stores were labeled "Hamburger Restaurant" instead of displaying the golden arch logo? I think so. In fact, I'm positive they'd lose a lot more than that.

Of all the products and services sold in the world, the overwhelming majority of them have some sort of brand name. Sure, you may occasionally attend a party where the potato chips being served come from a white bag with big black letters that read "Potato Chips" on it, but that is the exception, not the rule . . . and not a great sign to those attending the party.

A brand name provides value that invariably causes people to pay more attention to it. It helps them make an emotional attachment and helps to personify the thing that it brands. How many times have you chosen the brand name that you are more familiar with, even though you suspect that the product sitting right next to it on the shelf may be virtually the same thing?

If you're wondering how this reality about the value of brands relates to your internal safety program, the answer is that the exact same forces at work in the consumer world are also at work in our everyday lives and in our work environments. Because of this, companies are able to strengthen their internal programs by labeling them, promoting them, and protecting them the same way they do their consumer-facing products.

How Branding Promotes Safety
With regards to the "brand issue," there are three questions that should be relevant to any safety manager. First and second, why is it that well-established brand names are so easy to identify, and what do the companies that own them gain because of it? Third question, how can I benefit from this reality in my world of safety?

Some corporate departments discovered this long ago. For many years now, most sales departments that choose to run a sales contest don't simply label that event "Sales Incentive Program," they promote it as "The Summer Sizzler," "Go for the Gold," or a "Top Gun" contest. Top-performing stock brokers and real estate agents don't compete in generically named programs, they compete to be a "Star Performer" or "Chairman's Club" recipient.

HR departments are also taking advantage of the benefit of branding their programs. When looking to reward employees for their many years of dedicated work or for their wellness accomplishments, most companies won’t label these programs "Service Award" or "Wellness Program," but will instead call them "Totally Thankful, Total Rewards!" or something of that nature. And yet the majority of companies that I meet with talk about their "safety program" in an unbranded, generic way that neither inspires nor adds value.

Company employees (aka, "program participants") will respond much more favorably to properly branded programs, and communications around your various safety initiatives are more likely to be received and remembered by their intended audience if they are branded. Because of this, safety managers are much more likely to see the positive effects of the programs they create if they take the time to brand them and promote them with consistency.

If you're wondering how to do it, how to create a memorable and lasting brand name that represents safety in your company, I would suggest you do the following things:

1. Gather Information. To create the brand name that will represent safety at your company, first consider what you already know about the company's position on safe work. Many companies already have some mention of safety in their articulated core value position statements. These should be considered when developing your brand. Next, survey supervisors and managers for their input. Maybe run a contest asking people for brand name and safety slogan suggestions and use what you receive to help formulate your final choice.

2. Make it Pretty. Once you have your name, your slogan, your mantra, don't doctor up a cheesy logo using clipart on your computer. Beg, borrow, or steal resources from an internal or external marketing department or advertising agency to create the actual logos, graphics, fonts, colors, and other elements that will make your brand truly impressive and memorable. Have that same resource create at least a first draft of a graphic standards manual that will be used by your department to dictate how your brand will be displayed in different situations (online, in print, on a t-shirt, etc.).

3. Create Buzz. With your brand name conceived and created, it is time to launch it. Don't limp it out the door with some sort of forgettable press release. Instead, launch it in conjunction with one or more promotable events. If you are about to introduce new PPE, new training, new policies, or the like, use your new brand to wrap these various ventures together and launch them in a coordinated, named effort. If possible, create a contest or, better yet, a recognition program that rewards workers for their safety performance and proactive safe work habits. A properly built safety recognition/rewards program featuring tangible awards will multiply the effects of such a program by a factor of 5-20 times!

4. Ubiquitous Communications. Once you have your brand, don't skimp on your efforts to communicate it to employees. It should be featured and promoted as part of virtually every aspect of your overall safety efforts. So if you launch a new suggestion program or create a new toolbox talk schedule, use your new branding in conjunction with those efforts. Put it on your safety bulletin boards, on your printed materials, in your company newsletters, on your recognition/reward site, and in your email blasts. Equally important is to reference it by name and to ask that your manager do the same whenever discussing it in meetings with employees.

5. Adapt and Change. After you have gotten through the initial introduction and promotion of your new safety brand, it is time to measure how well it is received and understood by all employees and to adapt as needed to extend its success. I reference "all employees" because it is not enough for just your safety-sensitive workers to know the company’s safety brand. It is important that, over time, everyone from the secretarial pool to the C-suite understands that safety has a name and a brand identity in your company. If your research identifies pockets within the company where the message has not gotten through, then adjust and adapt your tactics to drive greater success.

6. Protect your Baby. At the point where you have successfully created your safety brand (usually two to three years after you start the process), you will now have the valuable asset you originally desired. Be prepared, because people will come knocking on your door looking for ways to ride on your brand's coattails. Your HR or Operations departments may want to latch on to your brand platform to promote their own initiatives. Or managers in different divisions or regions may begin to adapt the brand and alter it to fit regional needs they have. Evaluate each situation to determine if the "ask" is something that will help or hurt your brand, and be militant in protecting it from anything that threatens to undermine its core message.

Getting Their Attention
While some aspects in the world of safety have remained the same for decades, others have continually evolved from the post-Industrial Revolution era when worker safety slowly began to gain momentum. With the emergence of smartphones and the interconnectivity of everything, who can argue that the pace of change today is faster than ever before? It is far more difficult than it has ever been to get a message through to its intended audience and to make that message memorable, and therein lies the challenge for today's safety manager: How to break through the clutter of daily life to promote safety to workers? One tried and proven tactic for getting any message through is to brand it and to promote not just the message, but also the brand that represents it.

This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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