How Can Customer-facing Employees Help Build Brand Equity?
Nearly half (45 percent) of recent Maritz Poll respondents indicated that their companies' brand or image played an important role in their decision to apply for a job at those firms.
Posted Nov 10, 2003
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Companies today must do more with less, yet must continually find ways to strengthen their brand offering and provide a differentiating product or experience for customers. This is especially problematic since service delivery has never been more important. However, companies are questioning how they can possibly continue to deliver the same level of customer service while they are forced to make cutbacks. The answer to this challenge is effective management of human capital. Attracting and keeping the most talented and productive employees is more important than ever. If a company wants fewer employees to contribute more, then it must do everything it can to attract people who have a natural knack for the job. Furthermore, companies must do everything they can to keep these individuals motivated and engaged in their jobs, since they are likely to be in high demand elsewhere. Maritz has studied the attitudes of working Americans through recent national polls. These polls have shown that a company's brand image and reputation is a critical factor in attracting and engaging employees. Nearly half (45 percent) of recent Maritz Poll respondents indicated that their companies' brand or image played an important role in their decision to apply for a job at those firms. However, the power of a great brand doesn't stop there. A company's strong brand image can turn its employees into engaged advocates. Consider the following:
  • 85 percent of those who joined due to brand image believed that their companies' products and services were "the best" in the industry, compared to only 71 percent who were not influenced by brand image.
  • 68 percent agreed that they would be willing to invest their own money into their companies when the organization had a strong brand image, compared to only 53 percent when the company did not possess an attractive brand image.
  • 75 percent would like to spend their entire careers with companies possessing a strong brand image compared to 58 percent who worked for companies without an appealing brand reputation. All are statistically significant differences. In addition to being a means of attracting great talent, "brand pride" serves as a great motivator for engaging employees in their workplace. For example, employees who join companies with attractive brand reputations are: significantly more likely to be satisfied with their managers and feel a sense of personal accomplishment. They feel as though they and their colleagues are working on the same team toward the same goals, and believe that they and their colleagues meet or exceed customer expectations. They also hold significantly higher opinions of senior leaders. Clearly, marketing to employees is as important as marketing to customers. Enthusiastic employees lead to enthusiastic customers. Becoming a great brand So how does a company become the kind of brand that instills such pride in its workforce? It starts at the top. Many senior managers are not focused on building a brand identity and do not even believe in the brand management concept. The focuses of these senior managers is operational effectiveness and cost efficiency. The worst thing that senior leaders can do is to espouse brand values and then behave in a manner that is contradictory to the values they state as important. For example, if a senior manager builds a brand identity around innovation, but quickly abandons new products or programs if they are not immediately successful, many employees will refuse to take risks. The Maritz Poll findings have consistently shown that the most important influence on employee attitudes is whether employees believe that their senior managers act consistently with their words. Unfortunately, the poll findings show that only 12 percent "strongly agree" that their managers' actions are completely consistent with their words and only 16 percent "strongly agree" that their managers inspire employees to do their best. This represents a great opportunity for company leaders. It is the responsibility of senior management to establish a distinctive corporate culture that serves as a platform for the brand promise. Developing a clear brand promise that resonates with both customers and employees creates strong brands. Recently, for example, a hotel that was rated especially high by its meeting planner customers commented on how it created what it calls a culture of service. Everyone from the general manager to the housekeepers live out the values of this service culture. Regardless of job description, hotel staff members are empowered to respond to any request. Without the buy-in of the broad spectrum of employees at every level of the organization, this service culture could not effectively exist. In this case, brand values are aligned across functions. Establishing an emotional connection with customers A great deal has been written about the emotional component of branding. The most powerful differentiators available are not related to the features and benefits of the product, but rather the emotional, experiential, and self-expressive benefits of the product or service. Ultimately, customer loyalty is established because customers like doing business with a particular brand. Brands develop a personality based on the people who represent them. Emphasizing great service represents a tremendous opportunity for brand differentiation. Strong brands rule for employees as well as customers. The impact of a strong brand image is both direct and indirect. Although customers may, at least in part, be drawn to a brand because of its reputation, talented employees may also be drawn to companies whom they've identified as "great places to work." In turn, these employees show greater commitment, stay longer, and feel a greater sense of personal loyalty. These talented people continue as guardians of the brand image as the company's culture becomes permanently ingrained in their hearts and minds. Brands are the personification of organizations. Guiding brand values, modeled consistently by senior leaders and owned at every level of the company, translate to an appealing brand identity to consumers. When the culture of the organization consistently reinforces core values and principles, employees become "true believers" and advocates for the brand. Companies strengthen their brand image by helping employees to consistently deliver the brand promise to customers. The customers, in turn, are reinforced that the perceptions of the brand they chose were correct. This closed-loop approach to brand management can pay dividends in many ways, including more efficient operations and labor utilization, improved service, and consistently satisfied customers who also become advocates for the brand.
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