A company’s brand is undeniably one of its greatest assets, and some of the best-managed companies of the world devote considerable resources to their brand management. A strong brand makes a difference in the marketplace and can separate your company from the competition.
Strong brands, regardless of the actual size of the company, take time to make, as well as effort to perfect and maintain. To ensure the brand’s growth, companies need to invest time and resources into increasing their brand’s awareness and interest among present and potential customers, improving customer communication across all available channels, and optimizing positioning of the brand in the marketplace. In order to achieve these and other similar branding goals, many companies concentrate their efforts on outbound advertising strategies and campaigns that usually do not offer any sort of success guarantee. Additionally, social media proliferation, as well as numerous machinations and scandals that have surfaced in almost every industry, have weakened consumer trust in many brands and turned multiple consumers into skeptics when it comes to advertising and company PR.
An alternative to conventional outward-focused marketing strategies exists. This alternative is much more cost-effective and budget-friendly, and involves using your employees as your brand ambassadors. It is no secret that consumers trust others like themselves more than high-ranked company executives or celebrities who are paid to promote the brand. Many companies make the mistake of overlooking this precious source of their brand’s strength, and don’t realize that their most powerful brand advocates are already working for the company.
Consider this: Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual global credibility survey of 30,000+ people, showed in 2012 that in the eyes of consumers, regular company employees have more credibility than companies’ highly ranked executives. In 2013, this finding was confirmed as 41% of respondents stated that employees are the most honest (?) source of information about the business. In 2014, the study corroborated the point yet again, as it showed that while the trust in company leadership plateaued, trust into a regular company employee, AKA “a person like yourself,” increased significantly since 2009.
The importance of employee involvement in brand advocacy cannot be overestimated; trusted, staunch brand ambassadors are the key to a powerful brand. To develop their own in-house brand ambassadors, companies must first certify that the employees are engaged, contented and devoted to the company and its brand. If these conditions are not met, any effort to convert employees into brand ambassadors will prove futile – and could possibly do more damage than good to the company. Bottom line: Employees need to be comfortable with and empowered by their knowledge about the brand. Only when brand ambassadors sincerely believe in the brand can they do it justice.
Although few companies have recognized the possibilities and taken advantage of engaging their employees to advocate for the brand, that number has been steadily growing. Not surprisingly, some of the most successful companies in the world rely on their employees to promote and strengthen their brand:
- Starbucks not only offers its employees an appealing benefits package, it also invests a considerable share of the company’s budget into educating and training their baristas. The company provides obligatory funding to improve employee qualifications while they are working for Starbucks or engaged in various community projects. Starbucks takes good care with helping employees learn more about the brand and company values, because it understands that in return its employees will take care of the company.
- Adobe – with its 334.820 Twitter followers, 256,569 Facebook followers, 30,356 Instagram followers and 11,000 YouTube subscribers – knows the value of their employees as brand ambassadors. More Adobe employees share information about the company and its products on Twitter than any other brand in the world, which is reflected in the fact that 20% of Adobes subscriptions are generated through social media platforms.
- Dell has established a Social Media and Community University with the single purpose of turning 110,000 + of its employees into trustworthy brand ambassadors.
- Nokia gives its employees unprecedented freedom when it comes to social media interactions and involvement. As a result of its brand ambassadors’ online communications with the brand followers, Nokia is recognized as one of the most visible, sociable and approachable global brands today.
- Zappos also encourages its employees’ brand advocacy; in fact, the company places great emphasis on the corporate culture and employee engagement as a means of developing great brand ambassadors. Engaged and empowered employees are more than eager to reach out to Zappos’ consumers, business partners and vendors on the company’s behalf and help deliver the brand’s messages.
To fully take advantage of the benefits that employee engagement in the company’s branding efforts may yield, managers need to find the best approach – or a combination of selected approaches – to help employees reach their peak potential as brand ambassadors. Here are a few suggestions that can help you do just that:
- Make sure your employees know the brand’s story. For employees to significantly help the company’s marketing efforts as brand ambassadors, they need to know exactly what it is that they are promoting. Take time to teach your employees about what you do and why it is different or unique; remember, a brand is only as strong as its advocates are empowered and dedicated. The more they understand, the more passionate they will become and the more they will spread the word about your brand.
- Encourage social media advocacy. In today’s marketplace, not taking advantage of what social media has to offer is equal to forfeiting the game in which consumer loyalty and spending is the prize. Social media is the fastest way to reach your consumers; an active Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Google + or YouTube account is a must for any company that strives to succeed in engaging with its target audience. One account can only do so much for the company; however, imagine the extent to which this effect can be magnified if the brand messages were channeled through tens or thousands of personal accounts of the brand ambassadors.
- Learn more about your staff. What interests them? What do they like to do? What are their aspirations, values, ideas and concerns? The more interest you take in your employees, and the more you reach out to them, the more they will become interested in the company and your brand. Show your employees that each and every one of them is critical for the company’s success; employees need to feel valued and taken care of in order to confidently and enthusiastically advocate for the brand that stands behind them.
- Invest in the company culture and take time to develop a mission and/or value statement. Employees are more likely to champion the brand when its values are clearly defined and resonate with them on a personal level. A positive company culture facilitates employee motivation, commitment and engagement, and all three of these qualities are always present in successful brand ambassadors. Communicate with your employees, update them, involve them in the decision-making processes – only through communication can you give them the sense of direction necessary for making progress. Employees who work in an environment in which they can grow, develop and feel connected to their work are more likely to represent the company in social situations and spread positive messages about the brand.
- Ask employees what they need. Seek to understand what they need to learn, and then provide them with that learning. Not everyone is a networking rock-star or a social media guru; in fact, most employees may need some form of training to become better brand ambassadors. Follow Dell’s or Adobe’s example and don’t skimp on the necessary cost for employee education; it will pay off tenfold in the future. Support, nurture and celebrate your employees as diligently as you do your brand – every little sign of acknowledgement matters; explicitly let them know that they are all “faces” of your company that represent your brand. Give them the information, resources and time necessary to comfortably grow into a role of a brand ambassador. Brand ambassadors are proud of their brand; give your employees something to be proud of!