An increasing number of people are veering away from traditional employment in favour of undertaking freelance work. It is forecast that by 2020, in the United States alone so-called gig workers will make up 40 per cent of the labour pool with Australia not far behind. According to a survey in 2015, no fewer than 4.1 million Australians, or 32 per cent of the workforce, had done freelance work in the previous year.
Acknowledge the blended workforce
Freelancing has long been the norm in writing, consulting, design and skilled trades but is now moving into a broader range of occupations and industries. Gig workers are by no means outsiders. Rather, they work side-by-side with others who may be on ongoing contracts. It’s what we call the blended workforce: a motley collection of permanent and temporary staff, full-time and part-time.
From the perspective of employers, gig workers seem a blessing. As there are no strings attached, it’s easy to let them go once the work dries up. But this flexibility can easily come back to bite. They may be tempted to accept a better offer elsewhere just when you need them most. Research shows that organisational performance is becoming ever more dependent on the participation, commitment, and more generally, loyalty of professionals. Loyalty has become a fundamental concern, particularly in the context of the economic tensions related to the “psychological contract” between employers and employees. Raising the following key questions:
- How to make sure the best and brightest people remain loyal to your organisation?
- How do you ensure the blended workforce gets along well?
Create your brand community
The brand community is a perfect way to smoothen communication among an otherwise very diverse group of people and create belonging regardless of time and place. Developed as a way to strengthen the relationship between companies and their clientele, there is no reason why the principles of the brand community cannot be applied as a form of internal marketing and strengthen the relationship between organisations and the professionals who contribute to their success. They can be seen as internal customers.
The concept of the brand community was first proposed by American researchers Albert M. Muniz and Thomas O’Guinn in 1995. They observe that many of the major brands in the contemporary marketplace have attracted loyal and enthusiastic fans who have not only made their favourite brand into an integral part of their daily lives but have also chosen to actively seek out and interact with others who share the same interests as well as those who may have been unaware of the brand’s benefits. The community that arises from the consistent conversation and interaction among these peers is what they call a brand community. Muniz and O’Guinn define the brand community as “a specialised, non-geographically bound community, based on a structured set of social relationships among admirers of a brand”. They explain the brand community is specialised because it is formed on the basis of attachment to a product or marque. Among the better known examples of brand communities are Apple, Lego and Harley Davidson. However, you don’t have to look too far to find thriving brand communities. Dash Cam Owners Australia started in 2013 as a privately run Facebook page with the aim to raise awareness for traffic safety. Today, the page has over 655,000 followers while the business that created it has risen to prominence as a major supplier of on-board camera systems.
The fascinating thing about brand communities is that they are largely imagined — in other words, they are socially constructed groups of people who feel connected no matter where they are. Muniz and O’Guinn detail three main characteristics of brand communities that are also found in other communities: conscious of kind, shared rituals and traditions, and moral responsibility. Each of these qualities is situated within a commercial ethos and has its own particular expression.
Conscious of kind refers to the intrinsic connection that members feel toward one another, and the collective sense of difference from others not in the community.
Rituals and traditions perpetuate the community’s shared history, culture and consciousness. They provide legitimacy to membership by helping to exclude those who are not in the know and thus not true brand enthusiasts.
Finally, a sense of moral responsibility is felt as a call of duty or obligation to individual members as well as to the group at large. Moral responsibility is what brings about collective action in times of threat to from outside.
Members of a brand community know that the best deal is not just about money. They look for purpose and belonging. Indeed, they have much in common with gig workers and other professionals. Gone are the days when an attractive benefits package was enough to gain and retain top talent. They want sincerity, personality and values they can relate to. Building a brand community is not an easy task, but it is seriously beneficial if organisations can cultivate this relationship within a comprehensive strategy. Members of a brand community are more passionate and loyal, and very often become brand ambassadors: they defend the brand, represent the brand and in the long term, become a partner of the brand.However, loyalty only works if it is genuine and reciprocal.
Enhance your organisational loyalty
Organisations that apply the principles of the brand community to the blended workforce have to be prepared to invest in the person behind the professional and work hard to ensure the relationship is mutually beneficial — not necessarily contractually or financially but psychologically. If done well, the product of these efforts could be a shared thought-space where everyone is on the same wavelength.
Are you part of a brand community? Does it work for you? Share your thoughts with us on our Linkedin page, or come have a coffee with us!
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