Employees are often identified as being the most important assets that a company can cultivate. This is certainly true – and in far more consequential ways than many business owners take into account.
Branding is a constant consideration for business leaders, but many branding strategies gloss over one of the most powerful catalysts for building and maintaining a strong image: employees. This article lays out why employees are so important for any branding effort before unpacking some of the ways in which employees can be best prepared to advocate for a brand.
Why Are Employees So Important For A Brand?
Effective branding campaigns cannot be undertaken without the cooperation of everybody within a business. Branding is not just an exercise in graphic design or copywriting. Successful branding efforts embrace the totality of a business. A good brand has a basis in sound ethics, aesthetics, and concepts. Everything from the design of packaging to the way customers are treated has to align with the broad aims a company has in each of these themes. Employees play a vast role in achieving total brand cohesion. Here are a few reasons why:
They Are The Public Face Of Your Business
When a customer interacts with your business, they are rarely face-to-face with an executive or strategist. Customers interact almost entirely with lower-level employees. Employees bear the brunt of customer dissatisfaction. They can spot the ways in which customers react to branding and, for many consumers, are the main representative of a brand. Good business intelligence is never gathered from just one source. A hybrid dataset sourced from employee testimony, consumer feedback, and market data provides a much better picture of how your branding efforts are doing.
They Can Improve Customer Retention
As AJ Agrawal pointed out in his 2016 Forbes feature, branding is absolutely key for achieving customer retention. Customer retention is very reliant upon the interactions that consumers have with the employees that help them in shops, on the phone or over the internet. Retaining customers is just as important as gathering them, and branding plays a huge role in keeping customers on side. Customers are likely to stay with a company if they can identify with the ethics, aesthetics, and concepts exemplified by staff members – and by extension, the brand that those staff members advocate for.
They Can Pass On Valuable Information
Employees are your eyes and ears on the ground. Your branding efforts should be adaptable. If something isn’t working out, employees might be the first people to notice. The qualitative feedback on branding efforts that your employees can offer you is priceless. Of course, you’ll need to incentivize feedback by removing any negative stigma associated with reporting failures. Suppose employees feel like they will be disciplined or dismissed by reporting failures in brand implementation. In that case, they will rarely come forward with any useful information about the things your business is getting wrong. Your relationship with your employees should be reciprocal to some degree. Both you and your employees need to proactively listen to one another. One way relationships make for poor working environments and poor communication regarding areas of branding that need to be tweaked or binned.
Employees Are Trusted
Employees are by far the most trusted advocates for your brand, according to the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer. Members of the public trust the information given to them by employees more than information distributed by CEOs, PR teams, and even business founders. People working on the ground who are able to share a perspective with consumers to some degree are – quite rightly – seen as good sources of information. Consumers are wary of business leaders and public relations executives because they are wary of their motives and know that deception and hyperbole have been the stock in trade for these people in the past. On the other hand, staff members are seen as having a high level of accountability due to dealing directly with consumers every day.
Trust is an immensely important element necessary for the successful building of a brand. Trust in a brand is crucial in the cultivation of brand loyalty, which is more often than not the factor that decides whether a business has a long and prosperous future. Employees are the trustworthy faces that you need to nurture if your brand is to flourish. Trustworthiness should be baked into your branding efforts from the very outset of planning. You’ll need your employees to exemplify this.
Areas To Focus On
After reading the first half of this article, you’ll probably agree that your employees are crucial advocates and agents for your branding efforts. How, then, should you try and cultivate a positive employee-assisted brand? You’ll need to focus on six key areas if you want to make the most of your critical assets: the people that work with you. No one method creates a robust and trustworthy brand. Long term branding strategies need to involve multiple strands of training, equipping, and facilitating employees.
Their Clothing Can Embody Your Brand
Clothing has long been one of the cornerstones of employee-centred branding. Medieval guildmembers would frequently wear badges embroidered with their maker’s or merchant’s marks so that they could be identified as trustworthy by members of the public. The first employee uniforms that we would recognize as modern were styled after military and public service clothing types. This kind of uniform is still in use by air stewards and train staff around the world today.
Businesses with public-facing employees should take a long hard look at their branding and find a way of incorporating it into the clothing of their staff. A construction and engineering company, for instance, could commission custom Helly Hansen workwear for its staff. The rugged, practical nature of workwear exudes trustworthiness and practicality when worn as part of a uniform. Likewise, a sporting goods shop could do a great deal worse than dress its staff in the latest gear sold in stores.
Some uniforms can be much more varied in the way that they represent a brand. Sometimes, a perceived lack of staff uniform can advance a branding effort. A great example of this tactic is the uniform policy of Urban Outfitters, who have a very loose clothing policy geared towards allowing staff to express themselves stylishly. Stylish and individual expression is part of the Urban Outfitters brand, and therefore the staff act as brand ambassadors by expressing themselves using their clothing. Retailers can think outside of the box when it comes to representing their branding efforts in the clothing of employees.
Brand Training Is Crucial
Your employees can’t be of much use to your branding efforts if they are unaware of exactly what you are trying to achieve. A recent Gallup poll found that only 41 percent of American employees were completely sure what their company stood for and what made their company brand stand out from competitors.
If you really want your employees to be ambassadors for your brand, you need to be willing to spend time and money training them. Prepare brand training materials for your employees just as diligently as you would prepare a brand outline presentation for investors or collaborators.
Interestingly, the Gallup poll revealed that businesses in industries where employees had lots of consumer contact were more likely to have staff that were not aware of branding objectives. This is quite obviously not ideal. The more an employee comes into contact with the public, the more prepared to represent a brand they should be. Preparation starts with training – you cannot expect employees to blindly guess the objectives, aesthetics, and ethics of your branding.
Brand training also helps you retain the best staff in your organization. Large organizations often pour resources into employer branding, which is the way a company presents itself to employees. The more an employee is on board with your branding efforts, the more likely they will be to find purpose in their work, which creates a more proactive working environment.
Interpersonal Training Goes A Long Way
Branding efforts are not just visual affairs. The way in which your employees interact with members of the public on a personal level can be just as important in the cultivation of strong brand identity as anything tangible. Interpersonal skills affect business culture all the way from the highest to the lowest levels. Branding is, at the most base level, about connecting with people. This is why emotional branding is so incredibly successful. Staff training for brand advocacy should not only focus on the kind of things you are trying to achieve with your branding. An element of training should focus on the interpersonal skills that will help your employees carry out communications with consumers in a way that truly captures the essence of your branding.
Activate Your Employees On Social Media
Your employees should be perfectly placed to be the mouthpieces of your organization on social media – an incredibly important realm for the advancement of a brand. Social media is a huge new fertile field for branding. Online platforms are digital spaces where consumers and businesses can be in direct communication with each other. Online culture frames public reaction to branding efforts. Hoffman’s frame theory can help unpick the way in which online culture and conversation can set the tone of a public’s reaction to branding. It concerns the development of prejudices towards concepts and the expression of these prejudices within interactions. Frame theory is an interesting way to approach online reactions to branding. Your employees should be aware of how their interactions on company social media help change the frames people use to develop an opinion on branding.
Employees should also be briefed on the things they shouldn’t do on social media. Employees logged on to company social media accounts can wreak huge amounts of damage to a brand by posting derogatory statements, breaking customers’ confidentiality, and deleting important messages. Most large companies now require employees with social media access to sign an agreement on what they can and can’t do when logged on to company accounts.
Positively Affirm Branding Successes
Positive affirmation is a necessity if you want your employees to advance your branding efforts. Employees will quite rightly stop caring about the success of a branding effort if they feel disconnected from its success. Brand advocacy should be a supporting factor when considering employees for promotion into management roles. Consumer success stories should be displayed on company property to motivate staff members and provide them with examples of brand advocacy. Avoid patronizing employees by constantly shoving other people’s success down their throats. If you have picked the right staff members, they will be able to make intelligent decisions about representing your business in their own way.
Allow Personal Discovery And Expression
Interestingly, some of the best branding results come from a personal expression of identity instead of corporate. This, at least, is the crux of a recent report published by Administrative Science Quarterly. The report indicates that employees best represent a brand and help with brand identity when they are allowed to develop an authentic relationship with it. This means that there needs to be an accepted plurality of experience amongst employees: they need to be able to work out – and express – their own association with a brand. This does not mean that employees should not be fully briefed on the ethics and aesthetics that drive a branding effort. Instead, employees should be given the space to express the aims of the branding effort as individuals.
Allowing employees to express their own individual expressions of your business’s branding can, of course, backfire. Care needs to be taken to facilitate expression within the bounds of your company message. The happier an employee is at work, and the more comfortable they feel with your branding efforts, the more likely they are to express genuine and positive individual reflections of what you want to convey.
The points discussed in this article are some of the ways how your employees can aid and improve your branding efforts. Be sure to utilize your staff to help your branding spread and, as a result, grow your business.