A Message From Your President
Does SIOP have a brand? Should it? These are some of the basic questions at the heart of an important project that is underway this year. In my July column I described a new taskforce that has been appointed to help define and advance SIOP’s brand image. I’ll devote this column to a brief update on the topic.
Let’s begin with the fundamental questions above. To many of us, the concept of branding may feel more relevant to the consumer products in our pantry than it does to our beloved professional society, but the concept is relevant when you consider that one of our longstanding strategic goals is to become the “visible and trusted authority on workplace psychology.” The portion of this goal we wrestle with the most is the visibility component, yet it’s critical for us to advance our visibility if we are going to be an authority to anybody beyond our own membership. Given this priority, SIOP thus carries the responsibility to communicate not only to I-O psychologists but also to those who know little about us but who may be in a position to benefit from our specialty or make decisions that may affect our work.
The visibility of our field is linked to branding because efforts to raise the visibility of the field must convey a message of relevance about what we do. Ideally, the mere mention of SIOP or organizational psychology should bring to mind a set of concepts that are related to what we do and the value we bring to society at large; this is the function of a brand.
Branding has benefits beyond the visibility of SIOP and I-O psychology. On an individual level, we have all experienced an occasional blank stare as we first explain our profession to someone new to the topic. A strong brand conveys some information to critical audiences before you have that first conversation. A strong brand improves awareness of the field and allows subsequent communications to be more meaningful and useful to the audience.
Building the SIOP brand, and the broader I-O brand by association, has some inherent challenges because the science and practice of I-O psychology is diverse. Our membership includes university professors, corporate human resources executives, management consultants, and scientists in research labs, among other varied roles. The topics we study include nearly any aspect of how people behave at work and their reactions to work characteristics, and our practice areas are equally broad. So when we attempt to communicate externally about our field, our messages can to be too general to convey much meaning or too specific to resonate with the range of our membership.
Studies of brand image conducted by SIOP over the past decade have shown that recognition of the field is low among nonmembers, and, when recognized, our image may not be associated with the attributes we desire. Perhaps because our field is broad, there is limited consensus on how our specialty should be portrayed to external audiences. The challenge brought to this new taskforce, and to several consulting experts supporting the effort, is to help us to define a set of brand messages that reflects the core of our field and construct a strategy to develop and promote it with external audiences.
At our most recent meeting, the SIOP Executive Board reviewed progress made so far on a set of activities geared toward analyzing the current state of our brand and charting a course for its evolution. The first phase of work involved data collection (interviews and extensive qualitative inquiry) from various segments of our membership regarding how SIOP, and I-O psychology in general, is perceived and how we would like it to be viewed in the future. This effort is not new; we have had several initiatives within the Visibility Committee to refine our brand (led by Kevin Kramer) and measure the impact of our efforts (led by Mark Rose). This year’s work is intended to supplement the other studies we have conducted in the past few years and extend the ongoing projects involving our image and communications.
The findings were informative but not particularly surprising. Key attributes that were valued most among these research participants included the centrality of science to our professional identity, the value of evidence to support our practice, and a deep understanding of human behavior to inform our expertise. As I said, no surprises here, but it’s encouraging to see some common values rise to the surface in the results. When participants were asked about what differentiates SIOP from other professional organizations in our space, another familiar quality jumps out in front: A differentiating strength of SIOP (and for the field at large) is our blend of science and practice. Again, this won’t make the breaking news ticker, but it does raise an interesting paradox—a focal point of frequent tension in our Society is also a primary strength.
Participants in this research also shared their views on opportunities to expand our attributes toward the aspirational. These are traits that have a firm foundation in our field but that might require some nurturing to bring them to full blossom as a part of our organizational persona. In this category we see constructs such as innovation, forward thinking, and business savvy. Another important and persistent aspirational trait has to do with the enhancement of human well-being and the social responsibility this mission conveys. Personally, I found these preliminary results to be both encouraging and energizing because of the rich and positive nature of the strong traits we possess.
At the time of this writing, it’s still premature to dive into these results much more deeply because there are several steps yet to come. There are three additional work streams currently underway: (a) Results from prior SIOP image surveys are being compared to the current results to ensure we are incorporating all of the insights from recent work on this topic, (b) the collective findings are being summarized into a concept model for the brand identity, and (c) metrics are being defined and an evaluation plan is being constructed. An interesting aspect of this last step involves testing various aspects of the identity model on panels of representative external audiences. There is good reason for the fact that the insights gathered so far are not unfamiliar, as they were gathered from our own members; the important next step is to refine these insights and test the reaction of target audiences to each of them. Once the external audience testing is complete, there will be additional opportunities for membership input on various aspects of the effort. Watch for more information about this project in the coming months if you are interested in helping.
Although this is very much a work in progress, I’d like to acknowledge the many hours of effort that have already been devoted to the project by our members. Andrea Goldberg and Paul Rubenstein efficiently and quickly conducted the first phase of this research, and Chris Rotolo has pulled together and led the broader taskforce of committed SIOP members and committee representatives. Taskforce members include Carl Persing, Deirdre Knapp, Fred Oswald, Kevin Kramer, Mark Rose, Mo Wang, Paul Thoresen, Samantha Ritchie, Scott Tonidandel, Tammy Allen, Tracy Kantrowitz, and Zack Horn. Stephany Schings Below and Dave Nershi have also been central members of the effort from the SIOP Administrative Office. Many thanks are also due to the Society of Human Resource Management for assisting with the concept testing panels.
Once defined, a well-articulated brand statement can provide the basis for how we present ourselves to a variety of external audiences. To be authentic and effective, a brand must also be representative of how we operate, both as a Society and as professionals. In that sense, the articulation of our brand image can not only help us improve our visibility and expand our influence, but it can also guide our mission and strategy in the future as we strive to reinforce the key messages with our actions. If you are interested in learning more about how brand image work can help advance organizations like SIOP, I recommend a recent article on nonprofit branding by Kylander and Stone (2012).
Kylander, N., & Stone, C. (2012). The role of brand in the nonprofit sector. Stanford Social Innovation Review. Retrieved from http://www.ssireview.org/articles/entry/the_role_of_brand_ in_the_nonprofit_sector?id=377800009