Building Brand Advocacy From the Inside Out
While our tendency as marketers is to discretely segment, the real world is much more porous and fluid than that. Certainly a brand's most powerful ambassadors can and should be those who work within its walls. The irony is that in many companies external and internal communications operate in independent silos so that more often than not employees learn about new brand messages and campaigns at the same time they are released to the rest of the world, if not later, without any additional context. This means when they go home and interact with family, friends and their wider networks they aren't armed with any of the messages the company wants consumers to know about their brand -- a huge missed opportunity.
Whether they number in the tens, hundreds or thousands, employees offer a valuable layer of credibility that sits in a unique place between company management and an objective third party. As a collective of insiders they can vouch whether the brand lives its values every day or if they are simply taglines. They can organically spread the word on a new product or service with the power of ownership and pride. An employee (or many of them) authentically excited about the brand mission can in some cases be a more effective spokesperson than a media-trained executive or celebrity in igniting consumer action.
To engage employees and inspire them to become ambassadors for your brand, approach them as you would your most valued consumers.
It's important to remember that the employees of one company are the target consumers for many others, yet some of the brands who have the most engaging consumer campaigns are the least creative when it comes to talking to their staff. As every parent of a teenager knows, just because your audience is captive doesn't mean they have to listen. Ditch the standard company announcement and Intranet post in favor of consumer-friendly tactics to grab your internal team's attention and get them excited. For example, a new ad campaign launch announcement could be as elaborate as a theatre-style screening or as simple as a clever desk drop of popcorn and branded treats inviting staff to preview the spot from their own screens. The key is that it does not feel corporate or like business as usual.
Other consumers look to employees as brand experts - What do you mean you don't know? You work there, don't you? While most brands can't and shouldn't require employees to promote a new product or campaign, many err on the side of being so conservative that they don't provide employees who are eager and excited to share with any tools or parameters to do so. Here is where marketing, corporate communications and HR need to be closely aligned in developing a rollout plan and guidelines that are engaging, easy and clear, including parameters on social posts, special offers to share with family and friends, and key messages - written in simple, clever language - to know about the product or campaign.
Being on the inside yet feeling like an outsider can create a sense of disenfranchisement and apathy. Perks as simple as thoughtfully-designed, staff-only commemorative t-shirts for company milestones reinforce insider status and serve as conversation starters with people outside the brand. Consumer tech companies, such as Google, Twitter and Zappos, are particularly savvy in ensuring their employees feel like an integral part of their brand - from product launch rituals to social events to their own lexicon of brand-inspired terminology - employees at all levels of the organization feel connected to the greater whole and as a result are some of their brand's most enthusiastic evangelists.