Brand Advocacy: It Starts from the Inside

Many of the greatest brands are realizing the untapped potential of internal audiences to build brand advocacy from the inside out.

hands touching in huddle

No matter the industry, every brand operating today is squarely aimed at building brand loyalty and brand advocacy.

Before any brand can make consumers fall in love, brands must focus efforts inward toward their first stakeholder – the internal audience. Who better than the people who represent the brand to sing its praises to consumers? One of the most popular brands to embrace this ethos is Disney, where the belief that “your best brand advocate is your employee” is lived daily by Disney’s staff.

Brand is at the heart of any thriving business; it’s what consumers connect to and what creates lasting loyalty. Gone are the days of a great product alone creating customer loyalty. Consumers may love your products, but do they love your brand? In today’s crowded marketplace, what happens inside an organization creates a meaningful experience for their customers on the outside. A company’s employees are their best brand advocates because employees know the most about the brand – what it stands for, what it delivers to consumers, and where it’s headed – and have direct contact with customers. There is no promotion, offer, price or campaign that can influence brand as heavily as employees.

This type of brand advocacy sits at the intersection of communication, management and human resources. Generally referred to as “culture,” initiatives that harness the power of the internal advocate has become a central focus for the best brands operating today. In fact, a 2014 survey conducted by Deliotte’s Human Capital Trends Index found that “learning and development” was a top-five focus for the year, and total spending on employee training is at $150B in the U.S. with tech firms leading the way, spending an average $1,847 each year per employee on efforts to retain and engage internally.

As with any business initiative, culture programs are developed with return-on-investment (ROI) in mind.  For Mercedes-Benz USA, their program to spend $30M over the next four years to train 26,000 employees will enable the brand to tap into the power of the internal audience and immerse employees into the brand’s culture. Their expected ROI: better customer service ratings and enhanced brand loyalty. Gareth Joyce, Vice President of Customer Services at Mercedes-Benz USA describes their training modules, “With a specific focus on the emotional element – how to create ‘wow’ factors, how to delight and how to create memories… it is less process-oriented and identifies opportunities to connect with your customer.”

Brand, Place and Culture

brand, place and culture overlap to form brand experience

When building a brand or the environment a brand lives in, like brick-and-mortar stores and online, culture transformation training is a vital and equal step within the brand journey. For a brand to fully realize its potential, it’s essential for brand, place and culture to be strategically deployed to work synergistically. To ensure that alignment, brands today must embrace a learning strategy that focuses on internal culture. Having alignment in all three categories is critical to drive optimal balance in the overall brand story. If any one of the elements falls short, it creates an imbalanced customer experience and, ultimately, disjointed brand perception.

As co-founder and former CEO of Costco James D. Sinegal is famously quoted as saying, “When employees are happy, they are your very best ambassadors.” We like to take that one step further and say that when employees are engaged, they are a brand’s best advocates. At Adrenaline, when we develop culture transformation learning strategies for brand or retail experience projects, we start by identifying, researching and developing a program for the internal audience first. This focus on a client’s employees allows the brand to leverage the power of these internal stakeholders–the very people who will interact with customers on a daily basis–as brand advocates.

When employees are happy, they are your very best ambassadors.”
– Co-founder and former CEO of Costco, James D. Sinegal

In Brand Immersion, the project usually involves a brand refresh, rebrand or rename. “During these types of projects, it’s especially important to get team members on-board with the ‘why’ behind the changes,” according to Rebecca Doepke, Adrenaline’s Director of Culture. “Since not only customers – but staff – can form very specific brand loyalties, it is vital to have their buy-in.” Brands that are successful in cultivating engaged employees see their companies grow profits three times faster than those that don’t focus on such employee engagement.

In order for a brand launch to be successful, internal communication and transformation is central to building brand advocacy from within. This transformation should take place before the brand is revealed to the public to ensure employees embody the new core values and beliefs to truly deliver on the brand promise and become brand advocates. As a part of this internal brand launch, Adrenaline creates a plan, designs communications and Brand Immersion programs to help educate, excite and engage the employees around the new brand. According to Doepke, “The more the staff believes in the brand, the easier it is to have customers believe and get excited, too.”

This process is based on developing, communicating and collaborating with this internal audience based on needs that are related to how they do their jobs and how well they understand and can communicate the brand’s pillars and values to the customer with whom they interact. As such, the overall approach includes the critical components of a communication strategy, learning journey maps, curriculum design and development, delivery, sustainment and stakeholder roles. The most important outcome is insights into how staff can build deeper and longer-lasting relationships and loyalty through the new or refreshed brand.

The most important outcome is insights into how staff can build deeper and longer-lasting relationships and loyalty through the new or refreshed brand.”

In Retail Experience Staff Immersion, the primary goal is to ensure that retail staff fully comprehends their new roles within their new space. Doepke says, “We want to get their buy-in because ultimately they are the people on the front line who engage with new and existing clients.” With financial institutions, for example, the shifting consumer expectations and the demands on the physical spaces have many bank branches realizing that their physical spaces do not flow well to enable the types of modern, efficient and focused interactions consumers expect. Today’s branches are focused on smaller, more efficient spaces that incorporate technology, like cash recyclers, tablets and digital signage, and staffing that is responsive to consumer needs. For many bank branches, that means implementing the Universal Banker and the reimagined spaces and roles that come along with it.

Through an immersive and interactive training session, retail staff are prepared to support the new operating model and ensure a successful launch of their newly designed space. In these training sessions, content focuses on addressing:

  • The reason for the change
  • Strategy behind the design
  • The customer journey and its desired zone experience and each component’s purpose
  • The tools, resources and technology that the branches will be equipped with
  • Being prepared to answer customers’ questions

In the instance of the Universal Banker role, Doepke says “The onboarding strategy is designed to transition tellers and financial service representatives from their current role to the new relationship banker. The transition into this new role requires updated communication, job descriptions and learning journey maps.” Employees will come to understand that every communication, choice and action will matter to the customers. How quickly employees get up-to-speed and embrace the new Retail Environmental Design (RED) branch environment and the new relationship banker position will determine the success of the branch and the brand.

Who Are You?

Your employees are your greatest asset.  More than it just being the right thing to do, the process of developing a strong dynamic culture can positively affect revenue and market share, as well as customer experiences. Engaged and impassioned employees result in lower turnover, increased brand advocacy, and in many cases, financial benefits. Examples of companies that have increased their focus on enhancing their culture include, The Cheesecake Factory which spends $2,000 per employee annually on training and gets a return on that investment of $1,000 per square foot in sales – nearly doubling the restaurant industry average. Payroll services company, ADP, includes coaching for sales associates that result in an average of 7% increased sales volume.

Engaged and impassioned employees result in lower turnover, increased brand advocacy, and in many cases, financial benefits.”

More than dollars and cents, leveraging internal audiences toward brand advocacy sets up brands for long-term success. For Mercedes, Gareth Joyce, Vice President of Customer Services at Mercedes-Benz USA says he wants their dealer employees to “walk out of the program with an infusion into their blood – of passion, the culture and the history of innovation of the brand Mercedes-Benz.” Inciting that type of excitement with employees and creating a strong dynamic culture is what all successful brands should aim to do. For inspiration, look no further than the Most Magical Place on Earth.

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