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The following are two different situations that result in two very different brand impressions.

• My husband and I were at a restaurant for lunch in a resort area, on our way back home from a conference. I ordered a glass of wine, and it was served in an attractive glass with what I considered to be a nice logo/design, incorporating the restaurant’s name.

I said, “Let’s stop in the gift shop to see if they sell these.” We did. They didn’t. It was slightly disappointing, but no big deal, except that the young lady at the gift shop counter had to tear herself away from a conversation with a coworker to deal with me.

Even worse, when I asked my question, she rolled her eyes, frowned and said simply: “No!” This was not such a powerful brand experience.

• Contrast that to a similar situation at a restaurant we went to for dinner one evening. There, my husband had a martini that he really liked, and — like my wine in the previous example — it was served in a very nice glass with the restaurant’s logo. When the server stopped by on one of his many trips to check on us, my husband asked, “Do you have a gift shop here?”

The server said, “I’m sorry, we don’t.” But he didn’t just leave it at that, following up with, “Why do you ask?” My husband responded that he’d really enjoyed the meal, really liked the glass and would like to buy one. The server then said, “Oh! I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed dining with us. Let me go get you a clean glass that you can take with you to remember the experience.” (In addition, he gave it to us for free — although we would have gladly purchased the glass.) This was a delightful brand experience.

In the first case, the employee was not serving as a very good representative for her company. In the second case, the employee made a decidedly positive impression. It’s not hard to determine which of these employees you’d likely prefer to have working at your organization. What is often difficult to determine, though, is just how you can establish an environment — and a culture — that nurtures this kind of brand support.

Here are some tips for leveraging your employees as strong brand ambassadors:

Be clear about the brand you are striving to portray

It’s nearly impossible to effectively pursue a branding strategy if you don’t have a solid grasp on just exactly what kind of brand you are trying to convey to the outside world.

Developing a branding strategy is more than simply picking a few nice-sounding company traits like professionalism, customer service or quality, though. Establishing a strong brand position requires a thorough understanding of both your desired target audience and your competition, and then staking out a position that will serve to set you apart in ways that resonate with your target audience.

Once you have taken the time to define and refine your desired brand image, put it in writing. Display your intended branding strategy prominently to employees. Your employees can’t be expected to represent your company’s brand if they aren’t fully aware of what you’d like it to be.

Then, take steps in every possible way to support that desired brand across the four P’s: product, price, place and promotion. Remember, while you may create a desired brand image, it is your market that actually defines your brand. The best you can hope to do is successfully manage all of the many moving parts of your organization’s product and service development and delivery processes to support your desired brand image.

Your brand image isn’t just conveyed through a great logo and catchy tagline. It’s impacted by every interaction that customers, and potential customers, have with your organization. That includes your physical location (if you’re a bricks and mortar organization), your staff (what they look like, what they wear, how they interact with people), your products and services, your service and follow-through, and many, many more things that combine to define your brand.

Make your brand a part of company culture

For your organization and its employees to truly represent your brand, the brand has to go beyond simply being some clever words in a marketing tagline. Clarifying your desired brand is an important first step. Communicating that desired brand, and the role that employees play in helping to support it, is equally critical. But those are just the first steps.

Ultimately, no matter what brand you wish to create for your company or how you wish to demonstrate it, the brand must be based in reality. If you want to promote your organization as the most knowledgeable digital marketing agency, for instance, you must work toward developing a culture that actively seeks, develops, nurtures and maintains that expertise. Brand management isn’t about simply espousing lofty language. It’s about delivering on the brand promise. That promise must be real.

Constantly remind employees that they represent the company

Many employees are likely, at some level, to be well aware that their actions and behaviors serve to represent the company. But don’t take that likelihood for granted. Being diligent about reminding employees of the important role they play in supporting the company brand will help ensure that this idea is top of mind when they’re dealing with customers, and even when they’re engaged in personal activities that might bring them in contact with current or potential customers.

This doesn’t mean that your employees need to be raving about your organization 24/7. But, it does mean that whenever they are representing your organization they should be acting in a professional manner. Don’t leave this important consideration to chance. Let employees know that what they do and say, in and outside of the workplace, makes an impression. Let them know that you hope it will be a positive impression.

I’d like to give a note of caution here, though. There are certain aspects of employees’ behaviors and comments outside of the normal scope of their work that cannot be formally mandated by employers. The bottom line is that you can’t mandate employee’s personal actions and communications, but you can — and should — establish a corporate climate and culture that creates loyal, engaged employees who are happy to positively support the company.

Pay close attention to touch points

“Touch points” are any instance in which a customer, or potential customer, directly interacts with your organization. That could be through a phone call, through a physical visit to your retail store, at a trade show or convention, or through some type of online interaction.

Every organization has a wide range of touch points that serve to create impressions in the minds of both prospects and customers. It can be helpful to map out those touch points to provide a foundation for evaluating, and potentially improving, the impressions that these interactions are likely to hold for all of those who interact with your business.

By spending time on this exercise, and critically thinking of when customers directly or indirectly interact with your business, you may be surprised at how many touch points you actually have — and how many opportunities these touch points represent to help create a lasting (and, hopefully, positive) impression on customers.

Keep company image in mind in making hiring decisions

When an employee creates a poor image of your organization, it’s easy to blame the employee, and that’s where we tend to focus initially. However, it’s ultimately the responsibility of the hiring manager, business owner and the HR department to ensure that the organization’s employees are selected with the company’s image in mind. Take the time to identify the core competencies and attributes of your best employees, and design your hiring process to seek out individuals who demonstrate those traits.

Doing so will allow you to build a team of customer-minded, brand-supportive staff members.

Many employers assume their employees don’t need to be told how important they are to the company in terms of supporting a positive brand image.

They do.

Not only do they need to know how important they are in helping to support the brand, but they need to be armed with key messages and information that can help ensure that as they encounter others — friends, relatives, community members — online and offline, they’ll be prepared to serve as powerful brand ambassadors.

This doesn’t mean that your employees need to be raving about your organization 24/7. But, it does mean that whenever they are representing your organization they should be acting in a professional manner.

Your brand image isn’t just conveyed through a great logo and catchy tagline. It’s impacted by every interaction that customers, and potential customers, have with your organization.

Linda Pophal of Chippewa Falls is a marketing communication consultant, business journalist and the owner of Strategic Communications in Chippewa Falls. She is the author of “The Everything Guide to Customer Engagement.” Contact her at linda@stratcommunications.com or 715-723-2395.

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