Employee advocacy is a critical component to any brand’s success. Employees are not only the face of a company; they ARE the company… from internal culture to consumer engagement and brand image. By turning employees into trusted brand ambassadors, companies bring their strongest assets and their most vocal internal advocates into direct contact with their customer base. Internal employee communications strategies can have a direct impact on building consumer brand loyalty. When employees love their job, it shows, and the ripple effect of that honest and organic company adoration can be greater than any pre-planned marketing campaign.
There are more and more companies out there who are ditching the top-down internal communications approach and moving to a more employee-driven engagement model. Why? Because it works on many levels! Here are a few ideas of what successful brands are doing to engage employees:
Encourage employees to help build (and live) the brand mission and company culture. Create a sense of shared ownership in the goals of the company, and focus on using employee experiences and feedback to improve products/services and customer service. Seventh Generation, a green cleaning company, included employees in both setting goals and accountability for achieving them. In 2012, a group of Seventh Generation employees came together to help simplify the company mission into four aspirational principles: Nurturing Nature, Transforming Commerce, Enhancing Health and Building Communities. The principles help to provide year-to-year goals and business plans across all company units and is used as the road map for long term company planning. The Whole Foods “Declaration of Interdependence” is a sort of creed that works in conjunction with the company mission and values – Whole Foods believes the ideal that company success is dependent upon the collective energy and intelligence of all team members. By being empowered to fulfill the organization’s mission and values in every way they can, the company builds trust but also unleashes creativity and innovation. When employees are empowered to make decisions and problem solve, they feel appreciated and valued and thus work harder. Having employees who live and breathe the brand promise will result in better consumer experiences.
Cheer on Volunteerism. Corporate volunteer programs drive employee engagement, help recruit younger staff and increase visibility. There is a recent trend of companies offering volunteer opportunities and incorporating those opportunities into the company mission. LUSH, Seventh Generation and New Belgium Brewing Company are only a few examples of companies who have volunteerism baked into their corporate culture – offering benefits to those employees who volunteer their time within the local community. The outdoor clothing manufacturer Patagonia has also been successful in building a loyal employee base for not only the laid-back work environment of the company, but also the emphasis the company places on social and environmental causes. Through the Patagonia Employee Internship Program, employees can take paid leave for up to one month to intern with environmental organizations around the world. How cool!
Reward good work. LUSH, a fresh handmade cosmetics company in North America spearheaded a recognition program that builds on the company philosophy of employee interaction and volunteerism. Using a program called Kudos, LUSH encourages employees to reward each other for good work. Each staff member is given 50 points a month that they can use to reward each other with. In addition, LUSH team leaders have a larger pool of points to give out so that they can reward staff for positive things that they see each day. Employees can earn points by exemplifying LUSH values or for great customer feedback, leading by example, learning skills in new areas, perfect attendance, and random acts of kindness. Once received, the employee can exchange Kudos points for chocolate bars, movie tickets, gift cards, and even a big reward: a day off with pay. The goal of the program is to encourage staff to live in LUSH core values, participate in volunteer opportunities and find ways to thank each other each day. And, it isn’t just LUSH that’s doing it… even companies like Safeway has recently jumped on board!
Encourage social interaction. Be it through external social media or an effective and engaging Intranet, employees must have the opportunity to engage with one another to build friendships that go beyond the brick and mortar business walls.
Lead through Leadership. Leadership is more than just having a written mission statement. True leaders must have a genuine commitment to team members’ happiness, excellence and transparency. It is about leading by example, not just talking the talk, but being able to walk the walk. In order to foster a culture that adopts and truly believes in the mission, the leaders must set the bar themselves.
Empowered employees can be brand advocates and industry thought leaders who can help to increase a brands positive footprint both online and off. At the end of the day, an adoring employee base isn’t just great for word-of-mouth marketing, but it’s also good for the bottom line – impacting everything from brand awareness, to the recruitment of new employees. Simply put, engaged and motivated employees translate to happy customers. Helping employees to feel equipped and motivated to support the company may be one of the most important and effective elements in building market share. They are the front lines of any brand – don’t leave them out of the loop!