With customers increasingly wary of being sold to, the idea of using employees as brand advocates has come to the fore. Customers trust what employees have to say far more than any communication from the brand. And the combined total of the employees social networks is usually much greater than the brand’s own network.
However, simply asking employees to pass on brand messages rarely works. It still feels like brand communication to customers, only this time with employee networks used as media. To be effective, it needs the voices of enthusiastic employees, engaged in the brand.
Of course, that's much more challenging: as Gallup has repeatedly shown, nearly 70% of employees do not feel engaged by their organization. However, a well-designed program that involves employees in telling the brand story can actually help boost their engagement, while promoting the brand.
In my experience, there are three essential elements:
1. Make your brand purpose clear, and memorable. Your employees need to understand the brand - if they don't, how do you expect customers to? And it needs to be compelling. As David Ogilvy once said, "you cannot bore people into buying your product", and the same is true for engaging employees in the brand. The purpose needs to be told as a dynamic brand story.
2. Let your employees express themselves. Locking a brand message so that it can't be personalized before sharing is not involving employees, and it will not feel genuine to customers. But if you let them tell it in their own words, it will feel more heartfelt - and you'll have shown your employees trust.
3. Use your employees expertise. Most of your employees know more about their particular aspect of the business than the marketing department, so why not allow them to show it? Let them answer relevant customer questions directly, or share content or information that customers would find interesting or useful. This way customers will see the quality of the people behind the brand, while your employees can demonstrate their mastery.
This can feel like handing over control of the brand (although in reality, brands today are defined more by customer experience, than by brand marketing). And to mitigate legal concerns, it does require an ongoing program of guidelines and training. But in a world where customers (and employees) are ever more difficult to engage, a well-thought through employee advocacy program certainly has much to offer...
A version of this post first appeared in Supermarket News.