I was reminiscing the other day about the rather sniffy response I got from some of my senior colleagues at the major retailer where I once worked, when I would don an own-brand wardrobe on results days or for media events. I am very much someone who likes to live the brand. I think that if you don’t believe in a product or idea you can’t effectively sell it.
I have turned down well paid gigs because they didn’t match my own personal brand values. I have bought particular chocolate, drunk specific champagne, purchased certain financial products, am loyal to cast iron cookware and favour one grocer. I realise that not everyone adopts my approach to embracing one’s work, but I do think we need to encourage our colleagues to be brand champions.
You would be surprised at how many businesses just do not engage colleagues in this way. They may have highly efficient internal comms operations (far too often sat within HR – don’t get me started) but their main purpose is to tell people when they’re getting paid over the Christmas period, report what Jan and the finance team did for Comic Relief, and share the CEO’s holiday photos. (Yes, I really did have to sit through a staff meeting looking at the boss and spouse in Australia, by a bridge, with a koala, with two koalas, with a kangeroo in the background.)
Whether you are a business with tens of thousands of employees or two, it is foolhardy not to attempt to use them to promote your organisation and its business. It isn’t rocket science but let’s be honest, how many of us include staff in our media planning at all, let alone include them in the first pass?
I am not talking about putting a story up on the intranet on the day of a new product launch with photos of the launch event. I mean engaging with the whole workforce in advance so that on the day of the launch they can all promote the new product, not just the sales team.
It is easy to plan but hard to pull off. It requires engaging all your staff – a serious challenge if you have staff in multiple locations (in stores, in warehouses, on the road, in admin and call centres, at home), with different work patterns and varying access to computers and mobile devices. But to get the best results it is worth it.
Whether you are a business with tens of thousands of employees or two, it is foolhardy not to attempt to use them to promote your organisation and its business.
You have to engage early – ideally when you are developing the strategy for the business – to give people a real opportunity to influence and buy into the plan. And then you have to keep the dialogue going, inviting all to share ideas for new products and propositions, and to feed back on how those on the market are really going. Before a big campaign, it is definitely worth investing the time to brief everyone, so they talk about it with confidence and, dare I say, excitement to their customers, friends and family.
As importantly, it will help ensure that the brand experience you are selling is matched by reality. We all know what it is like to go a shop and it disappoints because the staff clearly didn’t get the memo.
On the other hand, I go out of my way to go to Jigsaw, not just because I like the clothes but because the staff seem aligned to the values of the brand. I feel the same about Boots and Pret A Manger, which I will always select when I have a choice. Those with direct contact with consumers can make or break a brand.
This fact presented a real challenge when I was running the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign for Sport England. We were trying to inspire women and girls to get active by encouraging them to dispel their fear of judgement. We were saying you are not alone: women come in all shapes and sizes and levels of ability; the point is you’re a woman and you’re doing something, so feel good about it. A bloody brilliant message and one I am proud that millions of women bought into.
The problem for me was that I was only in charge of the marketing. I had no control over the plethora of organisations, clubs, leisure centres, pools and gyms and their tens of thousands of staff upon whom I depended to give the women inspired by the campaign a This Girl Can experience.
With some it really wasn’t an issue; they got it. Alas, for the majority it was really hard work, made even harder because I had no direct relationship with them. It is perhaps not surprising then that so many women moved by the campaign chose to get active on their own terms – running, cycling, swimming and jiggling on their own or with their mates.
But for those of us selling products rather than ideas, we need consumers to make a purchase – in competitive markets and in the midst of economic uncertainty – and we have to wring every last drop from all the communications channels available to us. So, alongside websites and social media, let’s start including colleagues as a matter of course.
Tanya Joseph is director of external relations and Nationwide