According to a Forbes article, fewer than 50% of employees believe in their company’s brand idea, and even less are actually equipped to deliver on it. The old model of focusing primarily on the external message and media, at best, leaves teams disconnected, and, at worst, dismissive or cynical.
Delivering an extraordinary customer experience has emerged as the single most important competitive advantage for companies across all industries. And customer experience begins with an organization’s people. It’s impossible to have a seamless end-to-end brand experience if employees lack a customer-centric mindset and do not have the motivation to keep customers happy.
That’s where employee advocacy becomes essential.
Employee advocacy occurs when employees are motivated to promote the company they work for both internally and externally. When an organization successfully earns employee advocacy, it can be the most powerful form of brand advocacy. Employees who are inspired to speak positively about their workplace are believable and authentic.
How can you inspire your people to believe in your brand, or better yet, take it a step further and genuinely advocate that your brand is exceptional?
How Employee Advocacy Impacts Recruiting and Retention
As Simon Sinek once said,
“Customers will never love a company until its employees love it first.”
When you truly love what you do, you’re more inclined to talk about it. People love talking to others who are grateful, have a positive attitude and bring light to bad situations. People are drawn to those who exude those traits. So when your employees are happy and motivated in their careers, it makes what they say about the company they work for that much more appealing to potential new employees. Recruiting is easy when your external brand image is positive and you have prospective recruits coming to you.
If you have a strong employee base that feels engaged and empowered, they’re going to talk about how they feel about the company they work for. Where will they talk about it? Everywhere. At barbeques with friends, at the grocery store, at the coffee shop and even on vacations. And people believe the person they talk to in the grocery store.
Build your brand by first defining it and then telling the story of what it is so your team can be proud to champion it. Your employees may have come to your organization for a job, but it’s the organization’s responsibility to make them want to stay for a career.
When recruiting new talent, have a business case to persuade them to join your organization. More job satisfaction, more engagement, a strong company culture, and authenticity are all traits that many employees look for during the job hunt. And if they can see that your people are living your brand and are happier and more engaged at work because of it, why wouldn’t they want to be a part of that environment?
Ways to Drive Employee Advocacy in Your Organization
People don’t always know how to share their company’s brand story. This isn’t necessarily because they’re not interested in doing so, but more because they don’t have the education and tools available to do so effectively. Here are three ways to solve that problem:
1. Educate them. In order for businesses to find customer experience success, they first need to engage, equip and empower their employees. Enable them to speak well of the organization by making sure they understand the company’s goals and values, understand product offerings and know how to speak to the company’s competitive differentiators.
2. Provide the tools they need. One way to get people to talk about the brand is to provide a tool or talking point that’s helpful for them. And it doesn’t just have to be your main marketing message either. Employee advocacy should be authentic and natural. Providing talking points about company values, culture and benefits—things that truly matter to team members—helps them talk about the brand in their own voice and communicate the aspects that make your organization unique.
3. Be repetitive. Your people will more easily remember your message if they hear it multiple times in multiple locations. Place your message everywhere. This could mean on monitor screens throughout the building, on your intranet, on flyers in the break rooms, on the physical walls of your offices or anywhere else it makes sense and makes an impact.
A Real-Life Example: How We Transformed Our Culture to Influence Employee Advocacy
At ITA Group, we had similar challenges within our organization. We wanted do a better job of equipping our team members with the tools they needed to feel more successful and engaged at work. And once we identified the challenges, we decided to strategically transform our company culture so that team members would feel more aligned to the organization, clearly understand how they impact our business and feel empowered to share their ideas that lead to better results for our clients.
When we did an internal culture rebranding, team members were given a series of communication elements to help them understand how our culture was changing for the better and how it relates to what we do as a brand.
We launched an initiative called Be the Reason—a technology platform that serves as the central hub to educate about and promote engagement with everything related to our culture. On the platform, team members can log exercise to participate in our fit club, issue recognition to fellow team members for the exceptional work they’re doing, learn about our company committees and clubs and more. The tagline “Be the Reason” was short and sweet and made it easy to remember what we stand for as a team and a brand.
How Starbucks Successfully Inspires Employee Advocacy
Starbucks represents more than a caffeine break for most customers. By creating a sense of community in its cafés, it has become a “third place” between home and work for many. Everything, from its baristas’ name games to curated music selections, is designed to deepen its connection with customers.
“We built the Starbucks brand first with our people, not with consumers. Because we believed the best way to meet and exceed the expectations of our customers was to hire and train great people, we invested in our employees.”
—Howard Shultz, Starbucks Chairman and Visionary
Starbucks positions its employees as partners and gives opportunities to climb the career ladder. The company’s focus on diversity and inclusion as well as benefits like its College Achievement Plan
are attractive aspects of the company that employees and prospective employees desire.
When you differentiate your organization with a thriving organizational culture, new recruits want to work there and current employees want to stay. Not only do you get recruitment and retention benefits, but you get the benefit of a positive brand story across channels in the digital space and human-to-human.
How to Strategically Improve Your Employee Advocacy Program
Once you’ve identified that an employee advocacy program is necessary in your organization, it’s time to think about some of the strategic initiatives involved in introducing that program. These tips will get you started.
- Internal change management. Studies show that the key to successful organizational transformations is found by deploying effective behavioral-change strategies in conjunction with a strong focus on building culture. HR in conjunction with leadership needs to assess culture gaps and define what changes need to be made. Leaders need to be modeling behaviors that influence culture change. Get leadership buy-in and have them incorporate changes into all-employee updates, staff meetings and anywhere else they can repeat the message. Win the hearts and minds of employees from all areas of the organization to effectively implement and manage cultural change.
- Incentives. Identifying motivators is the first step to developing the right incentives that are going to inspire your people to act. Using tactics like employee surveys and online and in-person research to learn what triggers excitement can help identify those motivators. Then, incentive strategy development can begin. Establishing the right mix of benefits, designing a plan for proactive employee culture change and tightly correlating initiative offerings with the organization-wide vision will drive positive behaviors and move the organization closer to goal completion.
- Culture transformation. Using a three-step approach to purposeful culture transformation, it is possible to create lasting cultural change, and in turn, bottom-line results for the business.
- Focus on your people: Give them the ability and autonomy to succeed and the benefits they crave, and you’ll get a boost in individual performance, engagement and motivation.
- Develop your culture: Once you map out your goals, motivators and strategy, it’s time to build and launch your culture transformation. To do that, you must ignite passion in your people and implement creative tactics that build excitement and ensure alignment with your new vision.
- Deliver results: Lasting cultural change requires constant evaluation, which is why measurement and refinement are crucial to achieve your goals.
“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”
— Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin Group