Employees are your brand ambassadors. They are its communicators, defenders and protectors. They give life to your brand. And, like ambassadors to foreign lands, they have the power to bring your message to the locals.
When your marking efforts include employees as a critical part of the mix, they understand their role in the process. And they feel empowered to live your brand in every customer interaction.
When you empower your employees to hand-carry your brand to the world – through their social media posts, contact with customers and interactions with the community – they give your marketing more traction than any other vehicle. Think about it: who is more credible when it comes to talking about your brand, a hired celebrity spokesperson or someone who interacts with your customers every day
Interestingly enough, your employees are a more trusted source of brand information than your own CEO. According to the Edelman’s Annual Trustbarometer Study, the everyday employee is two times more trusted than a company’s CEO. In that case, who better to carry your brand into the marketplace than your employees?
The people who walk through your front door every day need to live and breathe your brand in everything they do at work. With the right culture, they will be there because they want to. Because they believe in your brand. Employees who feel a sense of pride in their companies are more likely to share those feelings through their own social media channels; to work harder for customers and to leverage any marketing campaign better than anything else.
In his book Delivering Happiness, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh explains that the best way to protect a brand is to make sure it’s an integral part of the employee culture. If living your brand comes naturally to your employees, wherever they come in contact with your customers –on a sales call, during a face-to-face retail transaction, on the web or in an email – they will represent your brand authentically. “You can’t anticipate every possible touch point that could influence the perception of your company’s brand,” says Hsieh. That means that every customer interaction must be consistent with the brand you’ve crafted through your website, your PR and your on-line and traditional advertising. Ignoring this will inevitably turn those employees into “Your most likely Brand Assassins.” That’s a great line I had to steal from Mark W. McClennan, senior vice president, MSLGROUP. He adds that: “100 years of trust can be broken by an intern or an hourly employee.”
Zappos gets this. Despite the fact that most of their transactions are online, their employees are the primary focus of their marketing plans. Zappos employees live their company’s brand. Wake a Zappos employee up at 3:00 a.m. and they’ll be able to spout the company’s ten core values. And when they get to work, living those values plays out in in every interaction they have with customers and with each other.
How to Build A Brand Ambassador
Businesses that want to create their own corps of brand ambassadors need to start by creating an authentic brand. One that honestly reflects the value the company and its products bring to the marketplace. One that mirrors the company’s core values that underpin their culture, their products and the way they treat their customers. Then, it’s a matter of hiring employees who are comfortable with that brand. After that, it’s all about encouraging those employees to carry the brand to the outside world.
Here are a couple of ways to do that:
• Educate Your Ambassadors. It’s important that every employee be on the same page when it comes to your brand. Make sure they understand your brand’s goals and strategies. Consider your employees as one of your most important target audiences. Rolling out a new product? Employees should see it first. Whenever Disney World opens a new park, the employees see it before it’s open to the public. Introducing a new iteration of your website? Make sure everyone in-house gets the first look. Opening a new branch? Your employees need to see the press release as soon as it’s public.
• Celebrate your employees’ role as Keepers of the Flame. Emphasize the importance of each individual’s role in safeguarding the brand. Let them know that they are the keys in what you are trying to accomplish. Help them to understand how they add value to the company and why they are a critical part of its success.
• Make employees your brand champions on social media. Employees who are inspired by their work and active on social can help a brand build an emotional connection with customers. Build your own social media army by giving employees the encouragement and information they need to post about company developments through their personal social media activities. With their help and enthusiasm your brand can potentially reach thousands of individuals without spending a dime. Adobe created an on-line brand ambassador program in 2014. Their Corporate Reputation team brought together 21 employees from seven different locations to take part in Adobe’s brand ambassador program. These employees were already active on social media and Abobe asked them to help tell the company’s story. The group is routinely pre-briefed on Adobe announcements before they become public and are given the chance to be the first to share this information through their own social media. Two of these employees, who went to Adobe’s annual creativity conference, MAX, shared what they learned and what happened at the conference through their own social media. They generated 5.5 million impressions in their five days at the conference. The Adobe Life blog, by comparison, generates about two million impressions per month.
• Connect constantly. Make sure you give employees the information they need to carry your brand forward. Give them early information about upcoming promotions. Give them information and content that they can share in their social circles and in their daily interactions with customers. That might be through your intranet, through regular eblasts or through staff meetings.
• Reward enthusiastic brand ambassadors. Employees who take up the charge to carry the brand forward deserve recognition. Acknowledge their efforts. It could be something as basic as a congratulatory email or handwritten note. Or a unique item that can be displayed in their offices. I once worked for an ad agency that gave out hockey sticks for employees that went above and beyond. Every one of their employees who earned one of those hockey sticks proudly hung them on their office walls. Or you might recognize superior brand ambassadors with a public shout-out in your employee newsletter or at an employee function. How about a spot on your website for enthusiastic brand champions? The idea is to encourage others to follow in their footsteps.
The bottom line is this: the best way to amplify every marketing effort is to make the best use of your most important marketing asset, your employees. The great ad man David Ogilvy once said, “My most important asset goes down the elevator every night.” Arm those assets with an understanding of your brand and empower them to deliver it. You’ll be mobilizing your most powerful resource to build and maintain market share.
NOTE: A version of this post appears in the Fall 2016 edition of 3PL Americas, the ILWA Magazine: http://www.iwla.com/library/publications/