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ESOP Association Blog

What Truly Resonates About Employee Ownership?

James Bonham, President and CEO, The ESOP Association
EO23 - Fri Keynote_Jim Bonham1

The ESOP Association’s Newest Initiative Aims to Synthesize Compelling ESOP Messages Across Industry, Demographic Sectors, and Audiences

I have often said that as a community we are really good at talking about employee ownership to one another, but really bad in how we communicate to everyone else. The ESOP Association and The Employee Ownership Foundation have joined forces to try to do something about that, and provide meaningful, data-driven research to help you in your marketing and communications, too.

What is it about ESOPs and employee ownership that attracts customers and prospective employees to ESOP companies? What are specific advantages of ESOPs that are persuasive for business owners who may consider forming an ESOP? And how can ESOPs leverage perceptions of employee ownership to strengthen their value proposition and gain market advantage? 

Corporations, especially public companies and larger firms, conduct market research to develop marketing, branding, and reputational strategies based on data-driven insights. Political campaigns, the smart ones anyway, do the same. In both cases, they know what their most compelling messages are for each of their target audiences, and how to effectively communicate those messages to various stakeholders and demographics in impactful ways. 

Understanding and harnessing public perceptions through research is a critical component of successful companies and industries. Yet that kind of large scale, data-driven market research hasn’t been done in the ESOP community. Until now.

The ESOP Association has launched a comprehensive, nationwide public opinion research and messaging project to define and distill attitudes about ESOPs and employee ownership. We are investing significant resources to help ESOP companies and professional service providers guide strategic decision-making, marketing, and internal and external communications to provide you with an edge in these efforts. The major objectives of this initiative include:

  • Creating actionable, impactful messaging that ESOPs can use to better communicate their value proposition and gain a competitive advantage when marketing themselves to customers, employees and prospective employees, policy decisionmakers, and the general public.
  • Developing compelling messages and communications aimed at non-ESOP business owners to help guide our community’s professional service providers as they pitch ESOPs as a business succession strategy.
  • Developing user-friendly, downloadable materials to help your company communicate and market internally and externally.

Our initiative consists of both qualitative and quantitative components: The qualitative portion, consisting of a series of focus groups, will provide a foundational understanding of the emotions behind attitudes and perceptions of employee ownership and help us identify key motivators that drive messaging in support of ESOPs. The second, quantitative phase of the project will include a comprehensive, nationwide public opinion survey. The survey will reach a much larger and diverse sample, allowing us to dig deep into motivating perceptions across industries, geographies, age groups, and other key demographics. This approach will allow us to identify the most persuasive messages and themes to build a powerful narrative for ESOPs and employee ownership and tailor specific communications strategies across stakeholder groups.

Given the importance of this project, The ESOP Association undertook a highly rigorous process to select our partners. Only firms with a long track record of successfully conducting this kind of research and messaging for the highest echelons in the business and political spheres were invited to submit proposals. After careful consideration, we chose HarrisX and SKDK, two leading firms under the same corporate umbrella, to be our partners.

HarrisX is a global research firm with deep experience working with corporate, trade association, advocacy, and non-profit organizations. SKDK is a leading strategic communications firm with experience crafting messages for Fortune 500 companies, non-profits, and political campaigns around the world. Our project leads specialize in using the latest technology to conduct research translating data into compelling stories and actionable recommendations. Together, our partners have worked with iconic global companies such as Apple, Pfizer, AT&T and Walt Disney, advised dozens of heads of state, and helped other national trade associations like the National Retail Federation and Business Roundtable achieve their goals.

The ESOP Association will be presenting the first tranche of our research findings during our National Conference in Washington, DC, on May 7-10. We will be releasing initial insights during a full General Session for all attendees led by HarrisX and SKDK project leaders, as well as a more in-depth breakout session for our CEOs and senior leaders.  

If you are an ESOP executive; a Marketing, Human Resources or Communications professional at an ESOP; one of TEA’s Professional members; or if you interact with customers and the public, you won’t want to miss out as we unveil the results of this groundbreaking project. In addition to the valuable educational and networking opportunities provided at all TEA events, you will leave National Conference with critical takeaways and insights that can immediately be put to use by ESOP companies and professional service providers. We hope to see you there.