Business is about people, not machines. It is about relationships, not transactions.
Strong brands understand that having regular communication—conversations—with all members of their brand communities is critical to successful branding. Your brand community is made up of your executives, employees, partners and alliances, customers, prospects and shareholders.
Branding is about connecting with these people. It is about conversation. The more relevant that conversation and the longer it continues, the stronger your brand will be.
The thing is, that conversation is two-way. In conversations, we talk and we listen.
Effective conversation, then, is not just about sending out a series of messages to members of your brand community in the form of advertising, email, direct mail, etc.; it is about engaging people in two-way discussions so that you can refine brand strategies and provide these constituencies with what they need to become your company's brand stewards.
In this article, we will focus on your employees, a group that is critical to ensuring a clear and consistent message about your brand both inside and outside the walls of your company. In future installments, we will talk about other members of your brand community and ways you can engage them in conversation.
Have Conversations With Your Employees
Your employees are probably the most underutilized brand assets your company has. Employees who deeply understand the brand and proactively apply it to all that they do are critical to brand building.
Just look at companies that have a staff of brand evangelists. Yahoo employees wrap their cars in Yahoo advertisements as a symbol of their pride and commitment. Apple employees talk daily with friends and family and even strangers about how incredibly cool and different Apple products are. The first chapter of the Virgin brand manual is titled Our People Come First.
Having brand evangelists working for your company instead of ordinary employees serves two functions:
- First, employees who understand the brand are better able to deliver on-brand work each day. Whether they answer the phone, design your products or support your customers, true brand evangelists know how to deliver on your company's brand promise. The result: a more consistent brand message and positive experience for your customers and prospects.
- Second, brand evangelists build your brand both inside and outside the work environment. They talk to friends and associates about the brand. I know one brand evangelist for Lotus software who would show his company's latest TV ads to houseguests over cocktails.
Essentially, true brand evangelists become human billboards communicating your corporate message to those around them. And evangelism is not a mercenary activity. Evangelists support the brand because of their fervor and pride, not for extra pay.
There are benefits that your HR department will enjoy, too. True brand evangelists are committed to your company. They will stay longer, be more willing to support the company through difficult times and will continue to boast about the brand long after they have left the organization.
Don't Forget the Salespeople
Your salespeople (and all customer-facing staff) are an important subset of your brand community. They have regular conversations with your customers. They listen to customers vent when they have experienced bad customer service, and they hear ideas for product enhancements or even new products.
Yet, in many organizations, these customer-facing professionals don't have a forum for sharing what they know about the company and its products from the perspective of customers. And because they are compensated on selling—not on sharing valuable information—this essential brand information is lost, and with it the opportunity to refine your strategy. To benefit, you need to create a forum where sales people can contribute this valuable knowledge to product development, customer service, marketing, etc.
So, look differently at your internal brand assets and develop ways to have continuous, two-way conversations with them. You will increase their commitment to the brand, thereby increasing brand value.
Some How-to Tips
Here are a few ways to engage your employees in conversation and promote brand evangelism:
- Have a brand-day event. Get the company together to do nothing but learn about and celebrate the brand.
- Hold a brand contest. Ask employees to contribute their ideas for ways to more effectively communicate your brand message.
- Discuss the brand at company meetings. Share with your employees the state-of-the-brand regularly so that they understand its importance. Get them to contribute their brand stories.
- Ensure that your leadership team understands the brand. The leaders need to be able to regularly discuss the brand with members of their teams.
- Have salespeople contribute at sales rallies. Instead of just training sales staff at your next kickoff, provide a forum for them to share what they know from the customer's point of view.
- Reward brand stewards. Recognize those in the company who make significant contributions to the growth and success of your brand and give them an opportunity to share their ideas with your leadership.