Beware the Downside of Word-of-Mouth- Preventing Unintended Branding by Your Employees

Posted By On Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

wordofmouth

Companies spend lots of time defining, communicating, and reinforcing their branding. One of the least controllable representations of a brand is old-fashioned “word-of-mouth.” It can be helpful or harmful, depending on what’s being said and who’s saying it – including your employees.

A recent, real-life example: I’m on a commuter train and the person sitting in front of me is a buyer – probably in her 50s – for a national department store brand. She’s chatting up two 20-something women sitting opposite her. She tells them “you are our target demographic because you have almost 60 years of buying power. We’re trying to lose the Baby Boomers because they only have 20 years of buying power.”

She’s just represented her employer’s brand – a brand she has identified and one that everyone knows – as a brand whose management has decided to downplay 75 million consumers. While we don’t know if this is actually a corporate strategy rather than one woman’s opinion, would management be happy with how the company’s brand has been characterized?

Bottom line – Ask yourself two questions:

  • “How can I ensure that my employees ‘get’ our brand?”
  • “Do my employees understand that they represent what my company stands for every time they mention its name?”

In The Gallup Business Journal, authors Dr. John H. Fleming and Dan Withers describe results of research into how well employees “get” the company’s brand and provide the following suggestions to help transform employees into effective brand ambassadors:

10 Ways to Boost Your Company’s Brand

  1. Acknowledge that all employees play a key role in bringing the brand to life. Successful branding is not just a marketing or sales function; it is an essential activity for human resources, management, and leadership.
  2. Audit your internal communications to ensure that they are consistent with your brand identity and promise. Invest in making employees aware of your brand promise, and empower them to act on it.
  3. Articulate what your brand represents and what you promise to your customers. Inject the core elements of your identity into the workplace constantly and consistently across time, locations, and channels. Use these elements to define not only how you treat your customers but also how you manage, coach, and treat your employees.
  4. Deploy simple processes to ensure that you highlight and discuss the core elements of your company’s brand identity every day. Use minute meetings, lineups, or staff gatherings to provide specific examples of how to deliver the brand promise.
  5. Use simple tools such as wallet cards as ready references to the brand, and require employees to memorize the key brand elements.
  6. Regularly assess how well your employees know and understand your brand promise. All employees — especially those in customer-facing roles — should believe in and feel they have the resources and permission to deliver your brand promise. Provide additional support in areas that fall short.
  7. Ensure that new employees understand your brand identity and promise. All new employees should be able to articulate what your company stands for and what makes you different within their first 30 days of employment, and your managers should reinforce this message every day.
  8. Make sure that every employee understands how his or her job affects the customer experience. This is particularly important for roles that are not customer-facing. Constantly connect the dots between what employees are paid to do and what your organization stands for.
  9. Recognize employees who deliver your brand promise to your customers. Recognition is an important psychological need. Employees who know that they will receive recognition for acting on the brand promise will have a strong incentive to do so.
  10. Regularly solicit opinions from your employees on new and better ways to deliver your brand promise. Convene town hall meetings that allow employees to share their ideas and receive feedback. Demonstrating an authentic commitment to alignment is the best way to embed it in your company’s culture.

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