Interbrand recently released their list of the Top 100 Global Brands with the usual suspects topping the list, including the likes of Apple, Google and Coca-Cola (Globally ranked 1, 2 and 3, respectively). At Lumentus, the new list sparked a conversation about the role internal communications play in brand building for large and small companies alike.
Why is this all important? The customer loyalty strong brands enjoy translate into higher sales volume and can validate premium prices.
But what is too often overlooked is that strong brands aren’t just the result of brilliant advertising campaigns or high end marketing departments. In fact, often the most undervalued asset in the toolkit is the company’s own people. In the many-to-many social media communication world, the asset of human resources, when activated, can significantly impact a brand’s strength and corporate reputation.
Every day, employees deliver brand messages to those they communicate with, resulting in positive or negative word-of-mouth marketing. In fact, a 2010 McKinsey study revealed that word of mouth is the primary factor behind 20-50% of all purchasing decisions.
However, organizations are not properly leveraging one of their biggest word-of-mouth assets to spread the word about all their companies are and what they do.
A recent Gallup poll revealed that “70% of employees are either ‘not engaged’ or ‘actively disengaged” in their workplace. Gallup estimates that disengaged employees regularly cost the U.S. between $450 and $550 billion per year in lost productivity.
So how do you get them engaged and serving as brand ambassadors for your company? Here are six tips:
1. Know Your Brand
What differentiates your brand? Take your time. The answer should inform key communications, from tone of voice of your customer service representatives to the messages and images in your ads.
2. Invest in Your Employees
Evaluate how your overall company culture is influencing employee behavior and communication. The Gallup poll found that “Only 41% of employees felt that they know what their company stands for and what makes it different from its competitors’ brands.” Ask employees at all levels what your brand message says to them. Are they getting it?
3. Arm the Troops
Ensure all communications directed at employees raise awareness of the career development and human resources your company offers. Engineer your corporate social responsibility (CSR) platform to positively engage and naturally benefit from the good will of your employees. Enable employees to advocate for the company by providing the tools and rules they need to do so. Consider the following from a recent report on employee activism:
• 88% of employees use at least one social media site for personal use
• 50% post messages, pictures or videos in social media about their employer
• 14% have posted something about their employer in social media that they wish they hadn’t
Many companies still have a dense, jargon-rich and fine print-laden social media policy written by a liability-averse legal department. While privately held companies have more leeway here, even public companies need to start viewing their employees’ social media activity as a brand building asset, the worth of which outweighs the risks of a possible infraction. Otherwise, many would-be enthusiastic brand ambassadors will remain deactivated instead of positively broadcasting brand value to their extended networks.
4. Use Social Media
It’s time to transform your social media policy into a brand marketing tool. Build out an easily understandable and accessible policy. Need inspiration? Check out Ford (Global rank: #39), who distilled their policy into five core principles:
1. Honesty about who you are
2. Clarity in the opinions that are your own
3. Respect and humility in all communication
4. Good judgment in sharing only public information – including financial data
5. Awareness that what you say is permanent
Consider making “social media education” a key part of your internal communications strategy, acknowledging and even rewarding employees who demonstrate social media activity that supports the brand’s key business and communications objectives.
MasterCard (Global rank: #88) is a great example of a brand that recently revisited and revised its social media policy and guidelines for employee engagement. The brand rolled out a “reverse mentoring” strategy, which encouraged younger employees to teach older employees the ins and outs of social media, regardless of whether content was work-related. The casual one-on-one meetings gave senior employees the chance to ask for help while younger employees gained business insight from industry veterans and built inter-generational relationships.
6. Get On It
Time is money, so stop procrastinating and pushing internal communications and social media to the “when we’re not busy” list. Elevate it now as an investment in your brand and you just might solve some of your other pressing business challenges in the process.