Many corporations spend million – if not hundreds of millions – on marketing campaigns to build their brand with customers. But one of the most cost-effective programs for brand building is sitting in the cubicle next to you: your employees. Many brands forget that they are delivered by employees and that the fastest way to strengthen your brand is to have employees who understand your brand values and consistently deliver your brand to customers.
Seems pretty basic, doesn’t it? And yet organizations routinely ignore this important brand building tool.
As reported in Forbes magazine, “Gallup asked more than 3,000 randomly selected workers to assess their agreement with the statement: I know what my company stands for and what makes our brand different from our competitors.” Only 41% of employees strongly agreed with this statement. If more than half of the employees surveyed did not know what their company stands for and how their brand is differentiated, how are they delivering the brand? More importantly, what brand are they delivering?
Frequently, we laud strong brands as those with the best external marketing. But scratch a strong brand, and you will, usually, find exemplary employee engagement as the foundation of the brand. Some examples:
- Ritz Carlton’s employee mantra is “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” While that might strike you as a bit old-school, it works as any visitor to Ritz Carlton hotels can attest. Backed up by a strong training program that formulates great service, the Ritz Carlton brand stands for luxury and service. Indeed, beautiful hotels in fantastic locations help, but without the exemplary service delivered by employees, the Ritz brand would not be as strong.
- When Southwest Airlines declared itself the LUV airline, Southwest has dedicated itself to building its brand from the inside out. Because every employee understands the Southwest Airlines brand fundamentally, they can consistently deliver it in any situation. Flight delayed? The gate agent will take care of you – Southwest Style. Early morning flight? The flight attendant will serve you, with LUV. At this point, Southwest has a very good idea of what type of employee will fit the brand, which gives them an edge in sorting through the many, many people who apply. Having employees engaged with the Southwest brand has become a competitive advantage for the airline.
- Have you bought a pair of shoes from Zappos? If you have, you probably interacted with one of the Zappos employees. Founder Tony Hsieh is often quoted about his passion for company culture: “Our number one priority is company culture. Our whole belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff like delivering great customer service or building a long-term enduring brand will just happen naturally on its own.” Zappos is committed to finding the “right” employees at the start, offering new employees $2,000 to quit their jobs after four weeks of initial training if they aren’t a fit with the company culture. A big risk? Or a small price for a strong brand?
When organizations start with a brand building project, they often look to redesign their logo, revamp their website, and develop new marketing messages. But without a doubt, the right place to start is with employees. If you don’t know where your employees stand in terms of understanding and delivering your brand, you can’t possibly know what promise your brand can consistently and compelling deliver to the marketplace. Employee research is the place to start to determine if your employees are building –or breaking – your brand.
Here are some of the things you can learn from asking employees about your brand:
- What brand are we delivering to the marketplace today – really? Often the brand your marketing department designs and the brand delivered at the customer touchpoint are vastly different. Think about your latest customer service phone call – do you really think that was what the marketing department wanted? Don’t take it for granted – understand how your employees define and deliver your brand.
- Do employees understand your company’s vision and mission? Beyond culture, can your employees explain why your company is doing what it is doing? Do they know where the company wants to go in the future? The more your employees understand about the company, the more they can buy-in to the strategy and make decisions aligned with corporate goals.
- Employees can help you identify gaps between internal and external perceptions of the brand. If you have conducted customer research about their perceptions of the brand, employees can help translate those perceptions to the actual situations, procedures and processes that are creating them. Understanding how consumer perceptions are being formed can pinpoint misalignment and lead to better internal communications and training.
- Can we deliver this brand promise? Employee can tell you whether your intended brand strategy is likely to work or face insurmountable obstacles in the delivery. Infosurv once consulted with a company who was about to position their brand as providing the best customer service. A quick employee survey revealed that only 40% of employees thought the company delivered customer service that was significantly better than competitors. Back to the drawing board! In addition to revamping the new brand campaign, managers launched programs to identify and address obstacles to delivering excellent customer service.
Employee attitudes and understanding about your brand can be measured in the course of your employee engagement survey, or conducted as a separate survey dedicated solely to branding issues. In either case, you will gain immeasurably valuable information about your brand at a very reasonable investment as most employee research can be completed with an online survey. You can only really manage your organization’s brand if you have a strong understanding of your employee’s knowledge and beliefs about the brand, as well as their willingness and ability to deliver the brand promise.
Do your employees know about your brand values?