I’ve spent the last two days observing focus groups and interviewing the employees of one of our long-term (20+ years) clients . . . a great way to gain insight about the brand – how do consumers understand us? What is the essence of our brand in the hearts and minds of employees and Board members? Where are the gaps for consumers? How can we better express what we stand for?
What I’m struck by in this particular brand exercise with this organization is the passion with which the employees believe in what they are doing and how they can help their customers. Our job is relatively easy – to convey the brand. What’s hard, really hard, is to make employees the brand emissaries so that as they interact with customers on a daily basis, they express the brand in their actions, words, and choices. Marketing can express the brand to various constituencies, but if your employees aren’t living it, no one will believe your marketing.
How does our client consistently create brand emissaries?
1) They select employees with potential for leadership and help them to succeed within the organization. They have supported that philosophy by establishing a University for training and development. Most of the senior leaders of the organization grew up there.
2) They live by the idea of “do the right thing.” What does that mean? The organization decides to do the right thing for their customers, even when it’s not always in the best interest of the organization. They’ve seen, over time, that this practice ultimately serves them well. And “do the right thing” extends to the community – they are huge community players, actively engaged in a myriad of not-for-profits in every community they serve.
3) They have learned the art of “business friendship.” They care about each other and their customers. Honestly, it’s hard to believe until you witness it. They engage in each other’s lives; they help each other; they surprise each other by going just a little further than expected.
4) They treat employees with respect. They provide good benefits, set reasonable expectations and keep their promises.
By consistently adhering to these four practices, the company has created a culture that encourages and rewards employees to rise to the occasion, and exceed it, over and over again. Employees like their jobs, and it’s infectious. By creating this caring environment – for employees and the people they serve – they have built something very special. And it’s a powerful, believable brand.