January 14, 2007

In the normal course of life, I, like everyone else, encounter a plethora of brands. Similarly, I encounter employees of organizations that own or market these brands. Often, the disconnect between what the brand projects itself through advertisement, promotions, and quality; and what the employees' behaviour tells about the brand and the organization is palpable. In the end, I am left wondering - is the brand true to what it is projecting or are there things deeper than what meets the eye?

Probing a little deeper and combining the insight with my own experience in corporate world, it seems clear that organizations are not using their employees in enriching the brand experience of the customer. As it stands in majority of organizations, brand and branding is a domain that is considered the exclusivity of brand managers and marketing managers. For an average employee, brand management doesn't seem relevant and he/she is hardly aware of the nitty-gritty of the brands and brand management philosophies of his/her organization.

Why integration of employees with brand management process is important?
Brand is like an iceberg – 10% of it is visible externally and 90% hidden. And these 90% determine how the 10% is perceived. The 90% is all about people, processes, policies, organization, etc.

During the course of interaction with a brand, a consumer has several moments of truth – those vital moments that give insights about the hidden 90% of the brand iceberg. More often than not, the moments of truth are encountered by interacting with employees of the organization for one thing or the other. And this is one reason why employees are key players who can significantly shape up the perception of a brand.

A brand experience has to be complete to be effective i.e. it delivers the promise at every point of interaction the customer has with the company. The product or service may fully satisfy your need or want as promised, but if the customer encounters a bad receptionist during one of your interactions with the brand, a question mark may pop up in the mind of the customer. The challenge is to give a standardized brand experience at every point of interaction with the brand. And it can only be done if the all employees have brand orientation – what the brand stands for and what it promises to deliver.

Every employee has a personal and a professional life. In his personal life he will have many interactions with people. Many times the talk may veer towards the organization where a person works and the products and services of the organization. What an employee will speak during these personal interactions may have an impact about the perception of a brand in the mind of the other person. And through this channel of personal interactions, a number of things may be said about the brand to a number of people thereby affecting the perception of the brand in question. Do organizations give thought to this phenomenon of personal interactions of the employees about the brand and how it may impact them? Very few companies do. But this channel of interaction about the brand, the employees have in their personal life can be a powerful tool to enhance the image of the brand. If your employees are part of the brand management philosophy, and they are aware of its importance, then they will make sure they don’t blurt out something in their personal life that may negatively impact the brand. In essence, employees who are intrinsically engaged with the brand management philosophy will turn out to be “walking talking brand ambassadors” wherever they go, in personal or professional life.

Creating Brand Ambassadors out of employees
Once the importance of employees in delivering brand experience to the customer is recognized, the next step is to create “walking talking brand ambassadors” out of them. The process of transformation of an employee to a powerful brand ambassador is not as simple as it may sound. It’s a process driven activity that is done over a period of time to create a brand oriented culture in the organization – where the employees eat, drink, and sleep brand!

Some of the ingredients of this transformation process are:
  1. Brand Ecology: First step of the transformation is mapping the brand ecology – how various interactions with the brand happen, both internally and externally. More importantly, how the employees interact with the brand and what kind of relationship they share. Once this is done, one can analyze if the interactions and relationship is in line with the defined philosophy of the brand and its essence. Identification of the gaps is essential so that proper actionable agenda can be chalked out to fill those gaps.

  2. Brand Story: Based on the understanding of Brand Ecology, a brand story needs to be developed that can, in simple terms, explain what the brand is, its philosophy, and how employees are expected to drive it. People learn and adopt change readily if done with excellent story-telling. Driving a culture of brand among all employees is no different. If a simple story can tell how the image and the perception of a brand can get affected by behaviour of employees then employees would be more receptive to the brand orientation. At the same time, one needs to drive home the benefits and hardships to the employees accruing from their efforts or lack of it in driving the brand towards desired image and perception. In simpler terms, every employee must understand how his behaviour affects the brand and why it is important for them to drive the brand initiative.

  3. Brand Communication: The next step is the role of communication. Here the focus is on the channels of communication to bring out the relationship that employees are expected to have with the brand. It may be through use of stationery, frequent informal talk by the leader, stickers, dress code, official parties and get-togethers, etc. The important thing here is reinforcement of the desired brand behaviour from employees. Communication about the brand and how employees are expected to drive it should be frequently communicated to have an impact on their subconscious. Communication should be such that desired brand behaviour becomes an intrinsic part of employees’ life. Consistency is another key word here. Consistency of communication will ensure that misunderstanding is avoided and a standardized brand interaction happens internally as well as externally.

  4. Brand Alignment: Brand conscious employees are expected to perform three functions: to perform their work, to align brand values and philosophy to their work, and be the brand ambassadors. An organization which endeavours to create a battery of brand ambassadors out of its employees must develop processes that measure an employee’s effectiveness on all these three parameters of his work. This is very important to drive home the point that aligning brand values to work and being an effective brand ambassador is very much part of their core activities and something that should not be relegated down the order of priorities.
Finally, the world is all about brands and branding. The better brand you have, the better you are. If your people can become effective brand ambassadors, then there is only one way to go i.e. forward.

3 comments

  1. Jonathan Willard // March 13, 2007 at 4:44 AM  

    excellent thoughts and very well communicated

  2. Anonymous // April 28, 2009 at 6:09 PM  

    great info

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