By Ron Johnson
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Thursday August 24, 2017 – Yep! Your employees are your brand. Well, sorta. If you’ve never heard this definition (that your employees are your brand), don’t panic. The reality is, of course, that there is no ‘one size fits all’ definition of the word ‘brand’. This particular definition is just one of many useful ways to describe a brand.
For many, the word ‘brand’ conjures up images of great logos, packaging or brochures produced by a bunch of snazzy ‘creatives’ at a design shop. For others, the word ‘brand’ is synonymous with images of clever advertising campaigns dreamed up by a top-of-the-line advertising agency. These images aren’t necessarily wrong – they just don’t give a complete picture of what a brand really is.
There are many different definitions of a brand, but when you strip away all of the industry jargon, a brand can simply be defined as the way your customers (and the wider public for that matter) feel about your company, its products and its services. And that’s how your employees come into the branding equation. Your customers’ interactions with your employees can have a tremendous impact on how customers view your organisation. Even employees who don’t have direct interactions with customers can have an impact on your brand. If your “out of sight” employees are unproductive, produce shoddy work or are otherwise disruptive, your company culture will certainly take a hit, and this will eventually make it difficult for frontline staff to do a good job of wowing your customers.
Certainly, your company’s logo, packaging, signage, brochures and advertising campaigns play an important role in helping to shape customers’ views about your organization. But the reality is that all of this can be easily overshadowed by your employees, and by the level of service they deliver to customers.
So that ad campaign you just had your agency work on? It can easily be derailed if your employees dish out poor service to the very same customers that your campaign brought through the door. That expensive visual rebrand you’re planning? It probably won’t mean much to customers unless it is also accompanied by a real, noticeable change in the way your employees treat your customers.
On the other hand, if customers come into contact with engaged employees who are committed to providing outstanding customer service, those customers are more likely to have a positive impression of the organization.
If you want to build an awesome, long-lasting brand, you absolutely must include the topic of customer service into any discussions about your brand. And you can’t have a conversation about customer service without having a conversation about your corporate culture. It is unreasonable to expect your employees to be overjoyed about delivering exceptional customer service if your culture is divisive, disrespectful or distasteful. If you want to improve your customer service levels, you must improve your employee engagement levels. Because as the saying goes, “your customer experience will never exceed your employee experience”.
Focusing only on structured advertising campaigns without addressing your company culture can be detrimental to your brand, and by extension, to the long-term viability of your business. This doesn’t mean that you should shelf all of your marketing and advertising plans, but it does mean that you should pay close attention to the company culture of your organization.
Okay…so your employees may not exactly be your brand, but without a shadow of a doubt, they definitely have an impact on it. Here are a few quick-fire tips on how you can start improving your company culture and inspiring your employees towards greatness.
It is very important to have a shared vision that everyone in the company is committed to. In his book Awesomely Simple, John Spence (one of our favourite authors), describes a true vision as “an exciting, focused, realistic, and inspiring picture of what you and everyone else in your organisation are trying to accomplish together.” Well said! Take John’s advice and create a true vision that inspires your team.
- Use your core values as a compass
Your company is never too big, too small, too old or too young to have core values. If you don’t have defined core values, consider going through a process to articulate them. And if your business already has a set of core values or guiding principles, take them seriously. Don’t stick them on a plaque somewhere and then forget about them. Use them as a compass to guide your leadership decisions all the way down to your hiring and firing decisions.
- Take a look at your recruitment processes
It is very important that your recruitment processes filter out potential hires that could negatively impact your company culture. Take a tip from some of the world’s most admired brands and hire for both technical competence and cultural fit.
- Improve your internal communications
Use team meetings, huddles, internal newsletters, town hall sessions and technology platforms to improve two-way internal communications. Tell your team about your goals for the company, and how each team member can contribute to the growth of the organisation. Be sure to give your team ample opportunities to provide ideas, suggestions and honest feedback. Take your employees’ recommendations seriously and incorporate them into your plans for the brand.
- Improve your leadership skills
Some of the leaders of the world’s most admired companies share their leadership insights in books, blogs, videos, social media posts and on a range of other platforms. And much of this information is free. Take advantage of these great opportunities to learn from successful business leaders and improve your own leadership skills.
There are many, many ways to improve your company culture, and partner with your employees to build a stronger brand. The options are almost limitless, but we hope that these five tips will be useful to you and your company.
Ron Johnson is co-founder and Managing Director of Blueprint Creative, an award-winning Branding Agency specialising in Brand Strategy, Communications, Design, Employee Brand Engagement and Customer Experience.