“I love my job!” It’s the kind of statement that any employer would like to hear from one of their employees, but the value extends far beyond employee engagement, low turnover and productivity. How your employees feel about their jobs also has an impact, for good or ill, on your organization’s brand. And, there’s plenty of data to prove it.
How employees impact your brand
For example, the public relations firm Edelman conducts an annual “Trust Barometer,” (http://www.edelman.com/insights/intellectual-property/2014-edelman-trust-barometer/trust-in-business/trust-employee-engagement/) which consistently demonstrates that employees are a highly-trusted source of information about a wide range of companies, products and services.
Think about it: If you’re thinking of visiting a doctor, eating at a restaurant or shopping in a store and you know somebody who works there, aren’t you likely to ask them for an opinion or recommendation? And, if they give you a positive one, you’re likely to trust their recommendation.
The flip side is also true — and potentially troubling. What if that employee doesn’t have anything good to say about the organization or its products and services? Or, worse yet, what if that employee has some bad things to say? Do you think it will affect your decision to interact with that company? You bet it will!
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Yet, despite the common-sense nature of the consideration of the impact that employees can have on an organization’s brand and, ultimately, its bottom line, many organizations fail to take the necessary steps to ensure that their employees are serving as effective brand ambassadors.
An important partnership
AdAge recently published a survey of human resources and marketing executives at 114 B2B (business-to-business) and B2C (business-to-consumer) companies revealing that only 41 percent had “a holistic and strategic approach to employee engagement and advocacy.”
That’s a problem — but it could also be an opportunity.
Zappos. Southwest Airlines. Google. These are all examples of companies with strong brands supported by strong cultures. Strong brands do not emerge from organizations where employees feel undervalued, underpaid or unappreciated.
Developing a strong team of ambassadors who serve to reinforce the brand and ensure exceptional customer experiences involves more than simply telling employees to “be good ambassadors.” In fact, the first foundational step toward this desired end state is nurturing a culture where employees take pride in their work and their organizations and where they believe that they can truly make a difference for those they serve.
But the element of respect and pride among employees is only one piece. Developing employees into effective ambassadors requires conscious effort and explicit communication. Employee evangelism doesn’t occur organically.
To be advocates for their organizations, employees must have positive feelings for both the company and its leaders. That starts with hiring the right employees — employees whose values align with the organization’s values.
After hiring, it involves a variety of steps that cross the boundaries between the HR and marketing departments:
- Employees must have the training and tools to effectively do their jobs (HR).
- Managers must have the skills and abilities to serve their employees effectively, to generate trust and to elicit loyalty (HR).
- Leaders must have a clear, collective understanding of the desired brand (marketing) and serve as role models in support of the brand (HR).
- Employees must recognize the role they can potentially play as positive (or negative) brand ambassadors for the organization (HR and marketing).
- Employees must be armed with the right messages to share with others, within and outside of the organization (marketing).
- Employees who are not effectively “living the brand promise” must be coached, counseled and, potentially, terminated (HR).
- One bad employee can spoil the whole bunch. Worse yet, one bad employee can have a devastating impact on a company’s brand.
Is this a simple process? No, of course it’s not. As you can see, there are a number of interlocking steps and processes that must work effectively together at all levels of the organization, at all times, to ensure the right climate for the selection, nurturing and continued education of employees who will serve as effective brand ambassadors.
An important first step: Beginning conversations between your HR and marketing/communication functions to ensure an understanding of the dual role that employees play as both staff members and evangelists for the organization, and exploring opportunities for these two groups to work together to consciously leverage the power of employees in supporting the brand.
If your company is part of the 59 percent that does not currently have “a holistic and strategic approach to employee engagement and advocacy,” now is the time to start down that path.
Linda Pophal is a marketing communication consultant, business journalist and the owner of Strategic Communications, LLC, in Chippewa Falls. She is the author of the recently released “The Everything Guide to Customer Engagement” (Adams Media, 2014). Pophal can be reached at 715-723-2395 or at email@example.com.