Employees Must be the Biggest Fans of your Business’s Brand and Culture

The importance of employee engagement to brand and culture has been severely underrated in the past. Now, however, it is a crucial aspect of running a successful business. If one’s employees do not believe in the brand and the brand’s culture, why should customers?

You need the cultural glue that binds the company together. A single organising idea which every employee understands, believes in, and can convey to customers. Pret á Manger is an excellent example of a company which wears its promise on its sleeve and ensures that every employee understands the brand, and can champion it.

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There needs to be alignment between the internal and external values of a brand. Very often the person serving you at the bank or in a shop will tell you if there’s a better deal on offer somewhere else! Brands need to enlist the kind of employees who share the same values and thus ensure they’ll be true ambassadors. Again Pret á Manger are explicit about this.

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Another great example of a piece of cultural glue is “Never knowingly undersold, on price, quality, and service.” This mantra has driven the huge success of the John Lewis Partnership. As important is their partnership model in which all employees are owners. This fundamental structure ensures that everyone is pulling in the same direction.

Another key feature of the JLP partnership structure is their ratio of the pay of highest paid partner being no more than 75 times the average basic pay of non-Management Partners. This creates a sense of fairness which is highly motivating and is a stark contrast to those companies with ‘fat cat’ remuneration schemes.

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Increasingly we’ve realised that a brand promise has three main components: rational/functional, emotional/psychological, and ethical/spiritual. The management needs to construct the brand in the context of its market sector, competitive set, and target audience.

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The centre of gravity of the promise will be a key differentiator. There are many brands which operate largely on rational/functional such as household cleaners. There are others which focus more on emotional/psychological such as fashion and lifestyle brands. The third category is linked more to ethical/spiritual values and contains brands which either have corporate social responsibility built in, such as Body Shop or who have adopted it as P&G has done. Tom’s is a great example of a newer company which built CSR built into its DNA. You buy one pair of shoes and another is donated to a needy person. Latterly he’s done the same with eyewear.

This customer desire for ‘higher order’ benefits in a brand can be explained by Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ and the increasing number of people in Westernised economies who have risen above the ‘happiness threshold’.

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But CSR isn’t for every brand. In their book ‘The New Brand Spirit’, co-authors Christian Conrad and Marjorie Thompson cite recent Marks & Spencer research. This indicates that only 10% of UK consumers are really enthusiastic – so called “Green Crusaders”. 35% are willing to be green if it does not cost them anything, while 35% are “Defeatist” with a “what can I do – it doesn’t make any difference” attitude. The remaining 20% are hostile, and absolutely not interested in sustainability.

So there’s a core target market of about 10% with a further 35% being clearly susceptible to a CSR positioning. This is a big segment to go for, and those companies and brands which grab the opportunity are on a rising tide. They’re being buoyed up by the gravitational pull of massively influential retailers like Walmart, Waitrose, and IKEA who have CSR front and centre in their supply chain policies.

Wherever the brand’s centre of gravity, top management needs to create an organisation that naturally helps people deliver the brand promise, while providing the maximum opportunity for developing the potential of each individual. That’s how to create real fans inside the company.

In the old days, most companies were run on a ‘command and control’ model. Instructions were issued from the top to be obeyed and implemented at the bottom. The trouble with this model is that it’s demotivating and disempowering. Very often the bosses’ dictats are issued in a climate of fear, and this too leads to employees being cowed and less likely to give of their best.

The new approach is through creating a ‘self-confident’ organisation. Here the top management has responsibility for setting the strategic direction and writing the script as it were. But employees are empowered to ‘ad lib’, interpreting it in their own way for the benefit of their customers.

The way to really engage employees is to enable them to recognise and make the most of the myriad ‘moments of truth’ they encounter. They need to appreciate the customer’s level of expectation, then exceed it.

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Self-confident employees can have a very big impact on a business. Recent research has shown that for a retailer the impact of friendly staff can be more important than rational and functional factors such as product range or car parking.

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A key role of the CEO is to be the ‘brand author’ and to create an interesting, engaging, and entertaining narrative to drive the company forward, taking employees along. The stories about the founders of the company can also be a powerful element in binding the employees in and making them true fans. These ‘foundation myths’ provide the beginning of the narrative. Great leaders are walking talking brand ambassadors who create the narrative and broadcast it both internally and externally. In many ways an employer needs to see their workplace as in competition with their employees’ leisure time. So the top management needs to create a work ‘drama’ that as exciting and engaging as an employee’s favourite soap opera they’ll watch at home.

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But woe betide the brand that undermines its own story and breaks its brand promise. Here’s what Terry Leahy said in the Foreword to ‘Brand Manners’ way back in 2001: “There can be a huge improvement in business performance by applying the incredibly simple principle that good manners – good conduct, good behaviour – motivate everyone. Staff, of course, but also customers, suppliers, communities – everyone. And the Improvement lasts – it’s self-sustaining.” This attitude, expressed so memorably in the copy line “Every Little Helps”, propelled Tesco to be one of the most lauded companies in the world.

However, as we have seen, the culture changed. Suppliers were bullied, as were employees. There were food scandals and financial irregularities. It took time, but the inevitable happened. At the depth of the crisis Tesco’s shares have plunged by 53 per cent in a year, wiping £14 billion off its market capitalisation.

New CEO Dave Lewis is having a clean sweep of the organisation in order to turn it round. In one of his most significant acts he’s closing the Cheshunt HQ, where so much of the bad mannered and unethical behaviour took place.

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The Tesco business is already responding and in the most recent period has actually gained market share. Maybe his employees are becoming brand fans again? 

Written by Hamish Pringle, Strategic Advisor, 23 Red
For more on brand and culture engagement, join Hamish Pringle at BridgeTalks on 14th April 2015. To reserve your ticket, click the Book Now button below.