Jeffrey L. Cohen
Customers are the lifeblood of every business. Without customers a business would not exist. But there’s an argument to be made that there is a group of people more important to your business than your customers.
In his new book, Brand Now, Nick Westergaard lays out a framework for understanding what “brand” means for every company in today’s world.
There is a chapter on the community that supports a brand and it is represented by a series of concentric circles. Nick likes concentric circles. Not as much as he likes Star Trek, but enough that he created several guides using circles.
Illustrating that marketers should not focus on the wrong members of the brand community, Nick presented the circles below. The core of the brand community is the company employees. This is the most important, as it sits in the center of the circles. It is followed by partners, best customers, transactional customers, and prospects.
Marketers generally view these constituents backwards. We spend so much of our marketing resources and energy on prospects and much less on customers. That is a post for another time. For now, I want to focus even further inward, on employees.
1. Start with the basics
Employees are the most important brand advocates. They need to be informed about the brand and what it stands for. How many of your employees can express your brand value proposition? Do you have an elevator pitch that employees can deliver consistently? Brand is created by ensuring that when the company message is presented, that it has the same meaning. How can you convey that to your employees?
You can send them emails with the brand information – even share it on company webinars – but it won’t really stick until they have to try it themselves. Consider shooting videos of employees explaining what your company does, what the brand means, and what it stands for. If everyone has to explain it, that will help them learn it. This is not about memorizing lines, but truly learning the meaning of the brand.
2. Email your best offers
Depending on your business, you can treat your employees like your best customers. Retail businesses can create employee segments who get emails with the best deals on clearance items, exclusive merchandise, and logo items. Employees need to know more about products than anyone else. How else can they learn about it without trying the products?
There is nothing worse than employees serving one channel (retail stores) not being aware of sales in other channels (ecommerce). It is okay to send promotional announcements and explanations to employees, but they should also receive exactly what customers are receiving.
Sure, you can provide free samples, but employees will feel more connected to your products if they spend their own money for purchases. This also provides the benefit of having employees go through your buying process. They will quickly identify any problems they encounter. If you sell specialized products or very high-dollar items, then this is not really an option, however, you should make sure you send marketing emails to employees anyway. Especially front-line employees. There is nothing worse than employees serving one channel (retail stores) not being aware of sales in other channels (ecommerce). It is okay to send promotional announcements and explanations to employees, but they should also receive exactly what customers are receiving.
3. Happy birthday and more
Your HR system has a record of your employees’ birthday. And while you might consider an automated email to your customers wishing them a happy birthday, that’s not a great idea for employees. They know it’s automated, and unless you give them the afternoon off or some other office perk, it really won’t have much meaning. But what if the automated message goes to their manager or to their team? This way their co-workers can send authentic messages for their birthday or take them out to lunch. Some companies and teams have very specific rules around celebrating birthday, so be careful not to upset the party planning committee.
4. Fun employee emails
Most internal communications emails are about company business. Add a monthly employee email that features interesting things about a different employee each month. This builds culture and community among your employees. Companies often share posts like this on their social media channels, but it rarely goes out internally.
People like talking about themselves. Interview employees about charitable activities, hobbies, travels, accomplishments and create simple emails with photos. Rotate around departments and locations so more people get to know each other. By focusing on outside of work stories, it shows that the company cares about employees as people, not just workers.
5. Donuts for all
When a new employee starts, their manager can get donuts to put on their desk and send an email announcing their first day (Nick probably likes donuts since they are a pair of concentric circles). People will stop by and get donuts and introduce themselves. Consider introductory video chats for remote employees or large distributed teams. The people who work together will get to know each other, but this helps broaden the group of people the new employee meets early on.
When you start thinking about your employees as the most important members of a brand community, you want to make sure they can explain the brand, understand your products, feel valued, and connect with other employees. This will make a big difference to your employees. And your customers will notice too.
Jeffrey L. Cohen is the director of content strategy at Cheetah Digital, where he creates entertaining and educational thought leadership content to grow the brand. He’s an award-winning marketer, strategist, and author (The B2B Social Media Book) with a 25-plus year marketing career.