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Building a brand for KM inside your organization.

Communication is a vital component of any successful knowledge management initiative. The slickest KM systems and approaches cannot help your company if employees don't leverage them. But when member-based nonprofit APQC (www.apqc.org) surveyed 374 KM professionals about the biggest barriers to knowledge sharing in their organizations, more than one-quarter said that awareness was one of their biggest challenges. Even in companies that have made large investments in KM, many employees simply do not know about the KM resources available to them or the reasons why they should participate.

APQC's Promoting KM and Making It Stick research revealed branding as one of the most effective strategies to build awareness of KM across the workforce. This makes sense: Most of us can recognize familiar brands such as Coca-Cola, Nike, and McDonalds with a quick glance at the color scheme or logo. Similarly, when you create a brand for your KM program, anything associated with that brand becomes instantly visually recognizable. Branding helps KM gain visibility across the business and reminds employees about the information, expertise, and collaboration opportunities available to them. And a well-crafted brand can inspire positive connotations that prompt employees to contribute and seek out knowledge in the course of their daily work.

Create a compelling KM brand

The first step to branding your KM program is choosing the right words to describe knowledge and KM. This will depend on your industry, target audience, goals for KM, and organizational culture. Some KM programs use standard KM terminology with words such as "knowledge management," "communities of practice," or "knowledge asset." In other companies, this jargon just doesn't resonate. These firms may gravitate toward more general terms, such as knowledge sharing or collaboration, or they may appropriate terminology from organizational learning or digital transformation initiatives.

Ultimately, the KM brand should align with the company's overall ethos and values. Take a close look at your corporate culture to determine the language, look, and feel best-suited to your audience. For some firms, light-hearted and even humorous branding will work. Others require a more no-nonsense approach that frames KM in relation to internally accepted business terms and focuses on desired outcomes.

A good example of KM branding comes from Consolidated Contractors Company, or CCC (www.ccc.net), one of the largest construction and engineering firms in the Middle East. CCC calls its KM program "Fanous," which is the Arabic and Greek word for lantern. When crafting the brand, the KM team specifically looked for a word that would be easy to pronounce in almost every language. The goal was for employees to connect with the brand, regardless of their geographic location or primary language. Fanous positions KM as a lantern that "lights the way" for employees who are "in the dark" because they need content or expertise. The Fanous logo uses CCC's official colors and is easy to recognize.

MSA--the Safety Company (www.msasafety.com), a global designer and manufacturer of safety products, built a brand for KM that is closely associated with the company's mission, which is "that men and women may work in safety and that they, their families, and their communities may live in health throughout the world." This mission is a powerful motivating force for employees: Their day-to-day work can and does save customers' lives. MSA's KM team works with the company's internal marketing team to develop compelling, mission-driven KM branding elements. For example, posters for KM events highlight themes of preparedness and protecting customers, which clearly ties to the company's life-saving mission.

Make credibility part of your KM brand

Credibility is a keystone of every great KM brand. The first step to building credibility into your brand is ensuring that your KM products and services are high-quality. Even the best branding won't save a KM program with poorly designed tools, unhelpful staff, outdated content, or approaches that don't meet business and end user needs.

Once your program and services are up to snuff, you can start showcasing the credibility of your KM brand. The following tactics can help you convey and build trust in the KM brand.

* Put a human face on KM. Use KM champions or "super users" in the business to promote the program to their peers, and make the KM team a visible presence through live and virtual events.

* Show that content is trustworthy.

Display relevant metadata such as the publish date, author, how recently an item was updated, and whether/when the content was verified by an expert.

* Listen to feedback. Provide avenues for end users to give feedback on KM tools and content, acknowledge these recommendations, and act on them when possible.

* Connect to existing company values. Most companies have some version of "trust" or "credibility" baked into their company values and mission. Tie the KM brand to these concepts to reinforce the relevance of KM to the business.

Shopify (www.shopify.com), a company that provides ecommerce software for small and medium-sized businesses, does a particularly good job of incorporating credibility into its KM brand. "High-trust relationships" are an important part of Shopify's corporate culture, and the KM organization enhances its brand reputation by consistently showing how KM embodies this organizational value. For example, Shopify's knowledgbase, Guru, has a built-in "trust score" that calculates the percentage of content that is up-to-date (i.e., has been reviewed and updated within a set time frame, usually 90 days). Shopify's KM organization aims for an overall trust score at or above 90% and presents trust score metrics in monthly business reports so that stakeholders know content is trustworthy.

Shopify's end users can see whether a particular content item is trusted or not, as well as who authored it and when it was last updated. This helps end users feel confident that the resources are accurate and represent the organization's best knowledge. The knowledge-base also has a commenting feature that allows employees to provide suggestions and feedback.

Shopify further enhances the credibility of its KM brand through its KM staff. Shopify's KM organization is large and disbursed throughout the business, with staff members embedded directly in business teams. Many staff members join the KM organization from within Shopify, bringing their deep knowledge of the organization's products, processes, and customers with them. This staffing approach provides employees with easily accessible touchpoints, puts a human face on the KM program, and builds confidence that the KM team understands the context and intricacies of Shopify's work.

Promote and on leverage the brand widely

Once you've built a compelling and credible brand, you need to think about how to promote your brand and leverage it to advantage.

There are many options and avenues to promote your KM brand, including these:

* KM applications and sites--Create a consistent look and feel for KM applications and sites by incorporating the KM logo and color scheme.

* KM newsletters and other communications--Add the KM logo and color scheme to email and enterprise social media communications.

* KM swag--Physical KM-branded items such as coffee mugs, power banks, and lanyards don't need to be expensive, but it helps if they spark conversation, which allows the brand to spread organically through the organization.

* Posters and video displays--These provide visual cues and reminders about KM when employees are away from their desks at job sites or walking around the office.

* Webinars--Brand KM webinars and presentations with your logo and other brand elements.

* Communities of practice--Unique logos for each community of practice help distinguish community content and create a sense of belonging among community members.

For example, MSA's KM team blankets the organization with KM branding, especially when it hosts events or launches new approaches. The team created videos and posters to celebrate the launch of its new lessons learned process.

MSA also offers KM swag such as mousepads and smartphone holders, which serve as physical reminders to share, learn, and connect with peers every day. MSA's KM team finds that these tangible representations of the brand are more permanent than digital messages and harder to ignore as employees sit at their desks and walk through the office.

Branching out from the overall KM brand, MSA's KM and marketing team worked together to develop logos for each of the organization's communities of practice. Engineers eagerly embraced the logos; some communities created shirts and portfolios displaying their logos. "It was like a tribe. The logo showcases their commitment," said MSA's Rebecca Whitworth.

CCC's KM team uses the Fanous logo on every communication from the KM team and program, whether via email or the company intranet. The KM team also gives all CCC project teams Fanous posters to put up at their job sites. The posters include CCC's logo and the Fanous logo, along with compelling messages such as "Collect, Connect, and Collaborate" and "Light Up Your Daily Work Adventure with Fanous."

KM branding is different for everyone

How a great KM brand looks is different for every organization, but it is always a reflection of the people and mission that KM is designed to serve. Take a deep dive into your organizational culture to determine the language, look, and feel that will resonate best. Then, promote and leverage the KM brand at every opportunity to remind employees of the KM resources available to them.

BY LAUREN TREES AND MERCY HARPER

Lauren Trees is principal research lead at APQC (www.apqc.org); emailher at ltrees@apqc.org Mercy Harper, a writer at APQC, can be reached at mharper@apqc.org
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Author:Trees, Lauren; Harper, Mercy
Publication:KMWorld
Date:Jul 1, 2019
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