September 1, 2011

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Article

Living the Brand

Turn Employees into Ambassadors for Your Brand

Pamela Ostermiller Olson

September 1, 2011

What is the secret to Disneyland’s magic? It’s not the thrilling rides or spectacular fireworks displays. It’s not even the happy faces of children or a sprinkling of Tinker Bell’s dust. The secret lies with the friendly and professional employees, who are unfailingly cheerful and knowledgeable. The attitude of each Disneyland employee goes beyond training: the employees believe in the brand with every bone in their bodies and without them, there would be no magic in the kingdom.

Turning employees into extensions of your company’s brand is no easy task. Surveys conducted by Enterprise IG have shown that on average, only one third of employees are highly engaged champions of their brand. For starters, not every company is as fun to work for as Disneyland. But more importantly, employees may not feel engaged with or inspired by the brand.

But never fear: there are strategies to get employees—even the disgruntled or indifferent ones—in any field to embrace a company’s brand and become an advocate for it.

Play to Strengths
“The single most powerful medium you can have for a brand is the employee,” says Todd Wolfenbarger, president of The Summit Group, a marketing firm in Salt Lake City. Among other strategies, The Summit Group (TSG) creates custom employee engagement programs for clients in need of branding tools. “What we try to teach our clients is that they’ve already made an investment in the people—in accounting, marketing, any department. Now get them to live, breathe and exude your brand.”

The best place to start is at the beginning, when you hire someone, says Wolfenbarger. Look for people you know will be able to embody your brand. For example, TSG screens job candidates for five qualities: they must be serious, competitive, client-obsessed, accountable and fun.

Employees of TSG can look to Wolfenbarger for an example of how to live the brand—the firm represents dozens of Subway restaurants in the West, and he emphatically avoids the competition. “My kids don’t eat at Blimpie. They don’t know why, they just don’t.”

Hire the right people, he says, and then give them permission to adopt the brand in their own way. At Southwest Airlines, for instance, flight crews are known for cracking jokes. “You don’t have to tell them to be funny,” he says. “You give them permission” to live the brand uniquely.

Beyond the Logo
Should employers tell employees what to say and wear, all in the name of the brand? Not necessarily, but training is key. Marketing leaders should engage co-workers in a process that builds employee knowledge and shapes attitudes, enabling them to deliver on the brand promise.

Brian Rallison is vice president of Citywide Home Loans, a mortgage firm with 140 employees. Each agent at Citywide is an individual, but all represent the Citywide brand of people helping people strive to rise above mediocrity.

“What every employee does either enforces or weakens a company’s brand, which carries far past a logo on the door,” Rallison says. “Don’t just assume that employees know what you are doing. The best training I have had over the past 25 years has been how to develop company structure and make sure that everyone in the company understands it. This helps carry the company’s brand. Training and more training is the key.”

How employees interact with clients can sweeten or sour a brand experience, says Rallison. “How a client is greeted, whether in person, by phone or email, is remembered a lot longer than how the logo is displayed,” he says. “Most people only recall the last thing they hear. For this reason, I have always had our receptionist answer with the name of the company first, then good morning, afternoon or evening. It is powerful for people to hear something nice every time they call your company.”

The Empathy Factor
For employees to engage in branding, they need to know what the brand is and share in the marketing plan. Employees who get involved in brand-inspiring activities become more engaged and can see the impact they have. With proper training and tools, employees become empowered to put the customer first.

“A brand is more than just a look. It is a feeling,” says Rallison. “The way you treat your employees is a feeling that is then conveyed to your clients. It’s this feeling that, if it remains consistent, creates a strong brand.”

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