Strong brands, both personal and business, are clear in their communication. They know the level of detail it takes to reinforce their message because they have invested the time to do the research. The branding process is about developing clarity in goals, vision, and purpose. Brand clarity brings awareness to the details that will help to reinforce or detract from the brand, and this is why companies in particular establish dress code policies.
Back in December, the Swiss based bank, UBS had its dress code leaked on the internet, and people went crazy and ridiculed them for their level of detail. Ok, I’ll agree that UBS
probably didn’t go about introducing the dress code in a way that would help employees buy into the suggestions, and unfortunately, the document also lacked an explanation as to how these guidelines help to reinforce the desired brand message. Rather than getting into the details of the actual dress code, it would help to understand what probably inspired the level of detail outlined in their 44 page document.
Prior to 2003, little attention was paid to the overall UBS corporate brand and the organization relied heavily on its investment bankers’ personal brand and rolodex to attract business. At that time, it wasn’t the corporate brand that differentiated them in the market place, and they realized the importance of crafting a unified message and matching the customer experience to the brand promise. This realization and strategy is what turned things around for them.
In 2004, UBS made Interbrand’s Top 100 List at #45 and was one of the world’s leading financial firms, but outside Switzerland, they struggled for recognition. Back then they aimed to appeal to the wealthiest, most sophisticated (and generally the oldest) part of the market and they created the image they wanted to be renowned for. The strategy continued to work in their favor, because by 2007 they were the 39th strongest brand in the world. Since then, however, the credit crisis and internal conflict has hurt the company and in 2010 their brand dropped to #86.
Their current CEO, Oswald J. Grübel shared in a video that he came out of retirement in 2009 to work for a bank that represents everything a bank should stand for. “UBS has set out goals to become, “THE Bank” and their guiding principal is, “we will not rest, it is our attitude, commitment and our responsibility.” The UBS website communicates the company’s commitment to walking the talk, rebuilding trust in their brand, and their commitment to client relationships. They advertise that they don’t just want to just work with you now, but throughout your life.
This is a company who has set extremely high standards and it needs to communicate these standards in everything they do and through all that represents the brand in order to build trust.
The dress code, which was originally written in French was translated into English with the aid of Google Translate. In reading through the document, I could understand how some would misinterpret the level of detail outlined. The document is a laundry list of dos and don’ts with little explanation as to how these guidelines will help to reinforce the desired brand message.
Since then, UBS has released additional documents that make it crystal clear on the visual and nonverbal characteristics that will communicate “irreproachable” and an “impeccable” presence. The intent is to ensure employees understand how to impress customers with a polished presence and sense of Swiss precision and decorum.
What’s sad is the level of detail UBS felt it needed to communicate. A generation ago, most details documented in the dress code were common knowledge. However, in the new world of work, where technology enables more business with less face to face time, employees argued for comfort to deliver increased productivity and this in turn produced a much more casually dressed workforce. Loyalty to employers in recent years has virtually disappeared as a result of the massive layoffs that have taken place during the last 2 recessions. And while some believe that employers should have little or no say in what you wear, employees should respect the brand they work for and learn how to align their own personal brand and appearance with the corporate brand. Employers pay a salary in exchange for that employee representing the company. Within reason, the company and the employees need to work together to realize the vision for the company. There’s no question that some companies are more lax and others are very specific, so it’s important to understand the company brand as you begin to apply and interview.
When you interview, you put your best self forward and that is what helps you to get hired. It’s a form of bait and switch to portray one image and a specific personal brand message to get the job and then change the message with a different appearance. If the image in the interview doesn’t match the corporate brand, it’s unlikely the candidate will be successful in the end. Again everything, visual and the non-verbal communication sends out information about the individual and ultimately reflects positively or poorly on the company.
Obviously UBS is committed to being back on top, and they won’t make it unless they have every employee doing their share. The point of the dress code is to impress clients and prospects with a polished presence and a sense of Swiss precision and decorum—because that’s how UBS says they do business. Those who choose not to follow the guidelines are not likely to be successful with the company anyway and if the dress code is something they can’t follow, it’s unlikely they will be successful at UBS in the long term.