Brand ambassadors are more than just nice uniforms who conduct guidelines: they are your cheerleaders when things are tough, your biggest supporters when things are going well and your guiding light when things are off-track. Do not miss the chance to build your own brand ambassadors.
By Jessica Shrout

Can we talk about something…touchy? Do your employees actually enjoy working for you? Let’s put that another way: if there was some negative press about your company, would your employees support the brand or throw you under the bus when they talk freely with their friends and family? Your answer to this question has a great impact on the success of your brand.

When employees are aligned and involved with the brand, there is a direct correlation to key business outcomes. A Gallup study of 1.9 million employees confirmed this relationship between engagement and performance. The top quartile of highly-engaged employees outperformed the bottom quartile by 10 percent on customer ratings, 17 percent in productivity, 20 percent in sales, and 21 percent in profitability. There was also an impact on employee turnover, safety incidents and absenteeism.1

Your employees are an incredibly valuable asset for your brand’s marketing strategy. If they are aligned with your company’s values and brand, you will see good results in both their performance and their touchpoints with customers. More importantly, if they are not aligned and happy to promote the brand, you have an excellent opportunity to get things back on track and make improvements that could yield better business outcomes. Are you thinking this has little relevance to you? Well, 51 percent of employees consider themselves unengaged with their business and say they have been unengaged for quite some time, according to Gallup’s 2016 analysis. It is a problem affecting most businesses. Making organizational changes to improve your employee engagement is a large undertaking that requires a long-term commitment and coaching—something best left to engagement experts—so let’s assume your employees are engaged and simply need a little guidance to achieve better results. What can be done to help them understand the brand and become true brand ambassadors?2

Brand Education
Your brand is obviously clear to you: you created it. For anyone who was not directly involved in this process with you, the brand might seem a little vague or strange: after all, what does this “brand” have to do with my job? Your employees need to understand that a brand is more than a logo and some colors and fonts. It is a promise to your customers, and it is what sets you apart from the competition. The brand sets the stage for all your business operations—from how drivers interact with people on their routes (do they smile and wave or are they “all business?”) to the speed of your customer service inquiries being resolved; it all comes back to the brand. For example, let’s say your brand is portrayed to be the friendliest in the area. If your customer service agents are answering the phone with a polished, but neutral, greeting instead of the biggest smile on their face and in their voice, there is a disconnect between what the customer experiences and how the brand has marketed itself. This disconnect is your employees and the training they need to receive from you.

Plan to meet with and train everyone on your payroll—not just customer-facing employees. Deciding who gets to be involved in this training and who does not creates unnecessary divisions amongst your employees. Think of it this way: the employees you choose to leave out are still members of the external community and potentially the only brand ambassador his or her family and friends get to meet. Even the employees who never talk to a customer end up speaking for your brand. Are you willing to pass on the opportunity to educate that person?

Start by sharing your company’s marketing goals. Let each person know how his or her contribution moves the needle forward for the entire team. Put it in terms of how their help in these goals positively impacts everyone—not just the C-Level employees. No one wants to feel like a cog in a wheel. Make sure that your brand training focuses on how this information will help their daily work. What is the impact that living the brand will have on their own goals? Perhaps becoming a brand ambassador will have a ripple effect on the customers they deal with and, as a result, they have fewer negative, angry phone calls to handle and they are happier or less stressed at the end of the day. You will build better brand ambassadors and engaged employees by showing them how living the brand promise is not a condition of employment, but the key to feeling confident and satisfied in their roles.

Give your employees the vocabulary you want them to use when they explain what they do to the outside world. I was reminded of the importance of this as I was going through Customs a few weeks ago. The border patrol agent asked me about the nature of my business travels. I explained that I was here to attend a conference on waste and recycling. He responded, “Oh you’re here to make the world a better place. Welcome.” What would be the impact of every single one of your employees using such powerful terms to describe their job?

Continue to build on this training for as long as you intend to be in business. Recognize employees who are “living the brand” and reward this talent with opportunities. While everyone should be closely adhering to your brand guidelines, there is some room for flexibility and creativity. Allow team leaders to take ownership of how their crew pursues helping the organization achieve its branding goals. This kind of ownership increases employee engagement and creates actual brand ambassador—not just employees who are doing what they are told to do. Find new ways to reinforce the brand values and keep training your staff. Be sure to hold training in the event of any company changes. If something dramatic is about to happen—like a move, a consolidation, or a change in leadership—brief your employees on it in advance and give them the right tools to help them speak about it in ways that are honest, but positive towards the brand. While they may not be authorized to speak on behalf of the brand to the media, they will be speaking about it to their friends and family. Do not miss the opportunity to get ahead of the intrigue with a company-friendly message.

Ambassador Feedback
Brand ambassadors are not robots speaking the way you want them to speak. Good ambassadors are promoting the brand, but also bringing information back so that you may refine your approach. Ask your employees how they and you are matching up to these brand ambitions. Maybe you do not want to know what they think, but it is important that you hear it. Sales and customer retention data can tell you how the company is performing, but it takes a deeper look to see the reason behind these results. Your employees are good witnesses to how the things you wish to see actually play out in reality. Create a simple survey to ask them about their observations, the challenges they face, and any support they need in order to be true brand ambassadors. Conduct this survey a couple times a year—and create a company culture that permits your employees to provide honest, constructive feedback without the fear of negative consequences. Your employees are valuable not just for the tasks they perform for the company, but for also helping to create a brand that thrives within the communities you service. They are dozens of eyes and ears when it comes to finding threats and opportunities for your brand—but they have to have faith in the brand in order to do this. Listen to them and show them you have heard their concerns or kudos. Always keep them actively engaged in promoting the brand. | WA

Jessica Shrout is the owner of Circle Three Branding—a marketing agency devoted to the waste industry. For more information, visit CircleThreeBranding.com.
Got a burning marketing question? Send it to jessica@circlethreebranding.com for an answer in an upcoming issue.

Notes

  1. Gallup (2016). State of the American Workplace.
  2. “Brand Ambassadors” can also refer to individuals hired to promote a brand (corporate ambassador) in a positive light to increase brand awareness and sales.

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