A few weeks ago I facilitated a team offsite for a client I’m working with on an engagement project. The location was this really cool art studio in a trendy part of town. As I pulled into the lot, I quickly noticed that the owners must value “green.” There were some vegetated swales and designated parking spots for fuel efficient and “HOV” vehicle parking. I was instantly lured in and appreciated the respect shown toward the business’ environmental impact…before even stepping foot in the door.
I wasn’t sure what HOV stood for, so it was the first question I asked the young man working in the reception area. His response – “I really don’t know. People ask me that all the time.”
Hmmm….I thought. Was this all for show? Was it the trendy thing to do? Are they just trying to keep up with competition?
About a week later I did some research on their website. It ends up it’s a LEED Silver Certified green building. The rooftop has a solar panel system, and their property features a monarch butterfly conservation waystation, a bioswale rain garden, and a garden of native plants and prairie grasses. Being married to an environmental scientist and having worked in an environmental industry, I know that this level of commitment to green takes an investment, not to mention motivation and passion.
So this was clearly an internal brand alignment issue, which resulted in my brand experience being compromised. I cared enough to do further research on my own, but I’m part of probably 1% who would. Most customers would have stopped with thinking, “This place is just trying to be trendy but has no idea what being green even means” and potentially take their business elsewhere due to a feeling of fakeness during their experience.
Even if it was a false perception of the brand due to this one comment made by the receptionist, we all know very well that perception is reality.
Two important takeaways from this story:
- Your employees ARE your brand.
- Your employees can make or break your customers’ brand experience.
How many employees are aligned with their organization’s brand?
When asked how much they agree with the following statement, “I know what my company stands for and what makes our brand(s) different from our competitors,” 2012 research conducted by Gallup found that only:
- 60% of executives strongly agreed
- 46% of managers strongly agreed
- 37% of all other employees strongly agreed
Maybe even more concerning is that 9% of other employees (non-executive, non-manager) strongly disagreed that they understand their company’s brand promise and brand differentiation.
Why is this more concerning? Because it’s typically your frontline that has the most touchpoints with your customers. It’s the receptionist greeting customers as they walk in, the customer service rep answering your customers’ calls, the entry-level sales associate running a Lunch & Learn webinar about your products and services.
What can I do to align my employees with my brand?
1. Answer: What is it?
First thing first – develop a brand strategy if you haven’t already. Be intentional about what you want your brand to feel like, look like, be differentiated by, etc. Include the following in your brand strategy:
- Brand platform/positioning
- Brand personality
- Brand naming and architecture
- Brand experience
- Brand imagery
- Brand alignment plan (!!!)
2. Embed it consistently into your internal communications.
Plot out your internal channels, create messaging around the brand, and insert it frequently and indefinitely into every employee touchpoint.
3. Reward and recognize brand-aligned behaviors.
Create recognition schemes that positively promote brand-boosting behavior. This could range anywhere from public “shout outs” to performance-driven compensation plans. Are your employees living your brand? Reward them for it!
4. Onboard every single new employee around the brand.
Even seasonals and temps if they are going to be interacting with your customers. It is highly likely that the young man at the art studio who didn’t know what HOV stood for was a summer temp. Have employees “drink the Kool-Aid” from Day 1 by not focusing solely on policies, forms, and medical benefits, but also on your brand promise. Have them “feel” it first-hand through experiential learning embedded into your onobaridng program.
5. Regularly solicit input from employees about the brand.
Where are they feeling a disconnect? What aspects of it do they feel the closest connections to and why? What are their clients saying? Make it an ongoing discussion, and address needs and/or make changes as warranted.
Oh, and just in case this has been eating at you since you started reading – HOV stands for High Occupancy Vehicle. 🙂