At the most basic level, a brand is a company’s reputation. It’s formed by the opinions of people outside the company based on their interactions with people inside the company. And we all have first-hand stories of how employees can make or break the reputation of a company.
While they’ve been around for decades, brand ambassador programs seem to be getting more attention these days, especially in B2B circles. A lot of companies are looking for ways to help their employees set the brand experience. And the majority of these programs are centered on the customer’s purchase journey. Which makes sense – happy customers, more sales.
A lot of effort is put into teaching the employees how to “live the brand”. Conducting training sessions, arming them with key messages, implementing rewards and recognition programs, providing reference materials and lots and lots of environmental graphics. And sometimes it works.
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with those activities, they are all necessary. The failed attempts occur when they are treated as tactical implementations that are rolled out over a fixed time period. Building brand ambassadors requires full and consistent engagement with employees.
How can you help employees connect the brand image to their experiences working for the company? Here are three make-or-break elements I’ve found in every project I’ve worked on:
- Start at the top. Get your CEO involved – really involved. For a program to find its way into every nook and cranny of a company, it needs to be part of the overall vision. So it’s essential to have clear buy in and support from top management. They don’t have to part of every meeting and decision, but they need to be acutely aware, genuinely interested, and publicly supportive.Then train and equip middle management to share the message with their employees. Make sure they understand the importance in how the program shapes the way they communicate, engage, support and resolve issues. Empower them to make decisions that reinforce these messages internally and externally.
- Share responsibility with HR. At first pass, it seems pretty obvious – cover your butt. Put someone who knows how to handle (if not avoid) sticky situations in charge. After all, empowering your employees to advocate for your company in a way that is genuine and authentic involves some risk. And that’s certainly a valid point, but HR can contribute in a way that goes well beyond risk mitigation. Building a brand internally means demonstrating the things you say and stand for at every touch point, starting with the recruitment process. Job postings, email responses, phone screens and interviews are all ways the potential employee is looking into you, just as you are looking into them. Once a person comes into the organization, onboarding materials, organizational policies, training and support are ways they are assessing whether they made the right choice. As tenure is established, ongoing communications, job performance reviews, special events and recognition programs are the things that they judge the health of the culture by. And finally, when someone leaves the organization, how you conduct yourself during support, exit interviews and referrals can leave a lasting memory they will tell others about. In this way, your brand doesn’t just sell to customers; it serves as a powerful recruitment tool.
- Involve your employees. Employees buy in to what they help build. Give them a voice in the process. Better yet, find ways to play to their strengths and personalities. Make sure your brand reflects your culture. Remember, social media makes everyone a brand ambassador. Opinions of a company are based on the personality that comes from employees as much as anything else. When people really feel they are part of an organization, understand why they are there, and know how they contribute, they build emotional connections. And when employees connect emotionally and engage around their passion, they go beyond what traditional marketing can achieve. Finally, the input, questions and perspective they bring not only validate your understanding of what motivates them, it serves as a great reality check to verify who you are as a company.
There are thousands of ways brand ambassador programs can take shape. But if you set a foundation with these three pieces of advice, “Living the Brand” moments will naturally emerge within your company and thrive.