Something that always intrigued me in business studies, was how employees can improve brand image. One of the first a-ha moments I had in business school, wasn’t some matrix or a combination of marketing buzzwords…
It was the realization that a brand is not a piece of paper or an ad campaign, it is the sum of every single employee in the organization. And this is huge.
It means that every single employee can single-handedly improve (or weaken) the brand’s image with their actions. As an example, I could work as a cleaner for Unilever (I don’t… I rejected that job opportunity), and I would be part of their brand.
I wouldn’t affect the brand image as much as the CEO, obviously. But I could affect it enough for it to matter.
Back then, I never stopped to actually ask myself… What are the ways employees can influence brand image? The why’s were clear (and at this point everyone knows that’s what you have to start with), but any layman’s advice for it – nowhere to be found.
For this blog post I went through more articles (both academic and blogs) than was medically advisable, and have collected the best bits into this list. As per usual on the topic of business, branding, and marketing, if the advice is too specific it might only work for a select handful of industries, and if it’s too broad we might as well watch some Seth Rogen movies and inhale harmful, potentially illegal substances, and go “duuude”. We’d still end up with the same insights.
Nevertheless, if there’s one thing I want you to take with you from this post, its this:
What can employees do to improve brand image?
Every single task your employees do on a day-to-day basis (it does not matter if they’re in contact with the end-costumer or not) will either improve brand image, or decrease it. So to answer the question in the headline: everything (or nothing. Which is still something).
“Well that tells me nothing.”
Yeah. But that’s the answer. Everything else would be a lie, or not an answer at all. A simplification of that answer is this.
Employees can improve brand image by making the same positive small action one million times.
But they can also make that same small action in a negative way, one million times…
Let me illustrate this with two examples:
In their day-to-day duties, employees can act and react according to the company’s values and vision. At Starbucks, the baristas greet you with a smile, and (attempt to) write your name on your cup. They don’t do it because they just felt like being nice that day. They do it because they are Starbucks. The company that defines itself as being in the people industry, serving coffee. As opposed to being in the coffee industry, serving people.
On the other hand, at my local hardware store the other day, the employee was having a bad day, and was clearly not in the mood to listen to a customer’s admittedly overbearing questions. The employee mumbled something along the lines off “it’s at aisle 6” and promptly stormed off into some back room.
Imagine this customer first went to Starbucks, then this hardware store. Which one would she more likely return to? Which one would she more likely refer to her friends? What company would be given praise, and what company would receive nothing but critique and negativity?
Improving brand image is one small act repeated one million times, by one hundred per cent of the employees.
How can I inspire my employees to improve brand image?
What obviously does not work is ordering, demanding, and expecting your employees to “do as you say” simply because they are your employees.
Instead, focus on making them actually connect with your company’s vision and mission on a deeper level.
If you ask them “Why do we, [Insert company name here], exist?“, the answer should come quickly and instinctively. There shouldn’t be any need to stall on the answer and ponder “What does he/she want me to say here”.
It should be as clear as kindergarten level math.
This of course means more than just sending a company-wide memo where you align the company vision, mission, and purpose straight out of a marketing 101 textbook.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.Will Durant
If you want your employees to improve, nurture, and cultivate the brand image of your company, you have to lead by example. And it cannot be a fake mask or avatar that you activate at 8 AM on Mondays. Faking it will never last in the long run.
This is why establishing the cornerstones of your brand (vision, mission, deeper purpose) is quintessential for improving it. Otherwise, your looking at a house of cards. And it just got windy.
The bigger the company, is the harder it will be to change the culture of your employees. This is why the smaller your company is, the better. Start by hiring people who share the values of your company. Teach them and inspire them to fully inhibit the company values.
You’ve succeeded in inspiring your employees to improve the brand, when they’ve become it.
How can I help my employees improve brand image?
Whatever action your employees make, it will affect brand image. Even indecision will affect brand image. You’ll want to ensure that the actions (or inactions) your employees take are congruent to your brand’s guidelines.
So what are the best ways to do that?
Hire the good ones from the start. Now, how to hire good employees is a completely different topic altogether, but at the same time it is vital. A great employee will see to it that coming to work every morning is a joy rather than a chore, and a team of great employees is what will create the next Apple or Tesla.
Lead by example. In moments of indecisiveness, your employees look at you for a hint on how to act in any given situation. What would the boss do? If you aren’t practicing what you preach, the game is over, maybe even before it’s begun.
Reward your employees for caring. You want to nurture and reward your employees for taking part of your brand and slowly becoming a true vital piece of the brand. In the beginning they might not need anything else than just a few words of encouragement (obviously depending on the employee). But the buzz of a new job will fade away eventually, and this is when you need to show up with something (be it a monetary bonus, a present, a fun activity for the branch or anything along those lines). Hiring a great employee is something that doesn’t come along often, but when it does, hanging on to them is a must.
Establish crystal-clear guidelines. These are your company values, the vision, the mission, the purpose. Call them what you may, they are the reasons why your company exists, in written form. “Making money” is not something you write here. Income is the by-product of creating something great, with a great team, that helps a great deal of people. It cannot be the main motivator.
Make sure your employees inhabit these guidelines. Notice how I didn’t write “know” or “understand”. There is a difference between “knowing” how to drive around a race track and actually winning a Formula 1 race there. There is a difference between “understanding” how a mathematical formula, and being able to apply that same formula to complex problems. And lastly, there is a monumental difference between “knowing”, “remembering”, or “understanding” what the company core purpose is, and actually acting on it.
Employees can affect brand image in a million different ways. But what’s even more important to remember, is that you can effect how much your employees want to effect brand image, also in a million ways. I mentioned the 5 best ones in the previous section.
Branding is extremely important for companies and individuals alike, as I mentioned in my earlier post Why You Need To Brand Yourself. But what is even more important to realize, is that You are the most important point for the brand. You are the QB of your brand. People look up to you, and if you feel like your company’s brand isn’t where it should be, the first place you should look for problems is yourself.
It won’t be fun, but it will be necessary.