Whilst in the grocery store this week, I observed two grocery store employees standing outside the store, in their corporate uniform, smoking near the entrance of the store. Fine examples of brand ambassadors don’t you think?
It got me thinking that organisations spend millions of pounds annually promoting and managing their brand image and influencing brand perceptions. And it certainly does not take much to imagine how clients and prospective customers could decode the actions and behaviours of the two smoking workers.
This is particularly relevant to a service company where perceived customer experience, more than product attributes, determine attitudes towards the brand. Organisations who have grasped the fact that employees are custodians of their brand are investing more resources on communicating this philosophy to their employees. What’s more, they are holding them accountable for delivering what the brand promises too.
But surprisingly many organisations fail to associate employee engagement with their marketing strategy. Employees represent their organisations on the front line and outside the work environment. How they refer to the organisation in terms of treatment and engagement will eventually reflect on the company.
So how can you successfully engage your employees to be brand advocates?
It starts with the leadership team – if the senior leadership team live and breathe the brand, employees are much more likely to embrace the concept. HR and Communication Specialists can assist by sharing examples of how employees bring the brand to life.
Engage the management team – managers must understand that their performance includes a mixture of delivering customer expectations and customer experiences and they must be held accountable if their teams do not achieve these results. All too often when this does not happen effectively, it is seen as an HR problem, which is akin to saying that the sole responsibility of marketing the brand lies with the Marketing team which we know is not true.
Arm employees with the information they need – employees cannot be advocates if they do not understand the brand which they represent. Use opportunities such as onboarding programmes, company newsletters, intranet sites, team updates and noticeboards to impart brand information. Better still, get employees to see and experience the brand through a customer’s eyes – invite employees to participate in mystery shopping experiences, to spend time in the service or marketing department and so on.
Incorporate it into the organisation’s performance management process – not only must the appraisal and reward mechanisms incorporate employees achieving objectives, they must also set every day behavioural expectations i.e. being a brand advocate and demonstrating the values of the organisation through every day behaviour and conduct.
Re-enforce through reward and recognition mechanisms – use internal and external opportunities to recognize and reward those individuals who truly live and deliver brand promises and use these individuals as reference points or role models.
Conduct pulse surveys to determine brand understanding – a brand is only as strong as its advocates. Consider conducting short internally focused survey’s to measure brand understanding. The feedback obtained could be valuable in conducting further educational focus groups. You never know, it may also lead to new ideas and innovation.
Engage employees – after all if you can’t “sell” your company to employees, how do you expect customers to jump onboard? Employees who are engaged provide competitive advantage – they are 78% more likely to recommend their companies products whilst organisations that foster brand ambassadors report an increased operating profit of 19.2% (Madison Performance Group 2012).
Cultural alignment – however wonderful brand advocacy sounds, it must be supported by the culture of the organization and to determine this, you need to ensure that you have full stakeholder support (i.e. from your executive team, line managers, employees and shareholders) and accept their feedback (e.g. obtained through survey’s) which will demonstrate that you are prepared to make changes as required.