So you want to be a hot dog in a sea of princesses. Well, why not? You’ve got a hot steam bun and a snappy sausage to boot. But you’re building a brand that is bigger than you. So how do you get everyone around you to think, act and look like a hot dog too?
People use brand ideas every day to make decisions on purchases. When relevant, compelling and well-communicated, a brand promise can help to create enough positive meaning in the minds of your buyers that they choose your offering above all. However, as anyone who’s ever been at the broken end of a promise will know, even the most compelling promise is only as good as its delivery.
Conflicting messages between a brand’s promise of performance and daily business operations occur all the time: the business that promises to be family-friendly, but makes no room for prams and highchairs between tightly packed tables; the business that promises same-day delivery, but then weighs down delivery drivers with far too many to make in an eight-hour shift. This kind of disconnect between the brand promise and delivery causes problems for customers, because it creates a gap between what customers expect (based on what you’ve told them), and what they actually experience.
Problems like these are almost always caused by employees who are ill-prepared to deliver on a brand promise. Today, we’re going to look at the six simplest things you can do to turn every employee into living, breathing brand ambassadors for your business.
1. Articulate your values
So your brand promise is a statement of differentiation, but also a promise of performance. But what is the link between this and the actual behaviours of the employees in your business? You guessed it: your values.
Don’t even think about shortcutting this by spending a day nutting them out in your home office. If you want your people to own them, find meaning in them and be motivated by them, then it is your people who need to uncover and articulate these values for themselves - and for everyone who joins the business from this day on.
Inspirational stories, events and actions that have occurred in your business are a great source of what the business values, so getting everyone together for some beer and pizza. Encourage your people to recall a memorable event and why they liked it so much. You’d be amazed at how this can reveal a shortlist of values in record time. Remember that time you broke up with a customer because they didn’t respect your creative process? Or the time you won that long-shot deal ahead of the market leader because your idea was grounded in the reality of the customer’s commercial goals, while theirs was focused on winning some glitzy award? What about the time the whole team went en-masse to the blood bank, inspired by your production manager’s monthly commitment and keen to show support? All of these stories reveal the kinds of values your people hold dear, and give you a sense of what motivates their behaviours.
Discussion groups and qualitative research can help to refine these ideas, pushing the most relevant and meaningful of those to the top. Careful facilitation can ensure that the values are not just what individuals hold dear, but also what the group needs to demonstrate to deliver on the brand promise. This process can result in a compelling list of values that are already owned by the people and exemplified by the strong brand stories they’ve lived up to now.
2. Translate your values into behaviours
It can be tricky for employees to understand how particular values play out in their role. Mavis in accounts, for example, may wonder what Creativity First means for her accounting practices. If you want to avoid Mavis’ literal interpretation of creative accounting, we’d suggest facilitating your teams into documenting some sample behaviours that ladder up to each value.
For Mavis, you may want to explain:
Creativity First: if there is a better way to do something, we find it. Creativity for us is about finding a better, more effective or efficient way of getting your message across, or our job done.
The kinds of behaviours you’ll want to articulate will differ from department to department, so make sure you give teams the time to get together, articulate and agree on the kinds of behaviours they’d like to see represent the values and ultimately deliver on the brand promise. Then make sure they are shared somewhere loud and proud.
3. Set the example
Remember the time you worked for that manager who went completely rogue on organisational values? You know the one - he passed off your work as his own, hid what he was working on from the exec team and left the office for a ‘meeting’ every day at 3.30pm?
Nothing is quite as disillusioning for an employee than the anti-values behaviour of their managers. So first step to bringing your values to life is ensuring your senior management team is committed to demonstrating these values. Keep them accountable to it with their own KPIs and performance scores, and make sure you have your 360 degree reviews in place to get insight from all sides.
4. Hire for culture, not for skill
If you’re looking for the delivery of a brand promise through every touch point, your values screen should be your first candidate interview. Anyone not fanatical about your purpose and your values and able to tell authentic stories to this effect in the first interview is a flat-out no.
Remember, most skills can be taught, but values are deep-seated and ingrained, and an important hire that doesn’t sit well with your values can quickly become a costly error.
5. Reward and recognise values-driven behaviours
Awards, rewards and recognition initiatives that centre on values are great ways to deepen employees’ understanding of the kinds of behaviours the business appreciates. A company I once worked for held Friday Firedowns, where peers could nominate each other for demonstrating a values-driven behaviour during the week, and the whole business would vote (via a clap-o'meter) on which should win the weekly prize - usually a bottle of wine or a cinema tickets. Firedown was not formally compulsory, but employees were strongly encouraged to attend, not least to enjoy a beer or soft-drink with colleagues to close off the week.
This set up a chance for regular reward and recognition for values-driven behaviours, but additionally weekly winners got the opportunity to get voted onto the company’s annual trip for top performers. One year, the group climbed Kilimanjaro, the next, they cycled across Vietnam together. And while on these trips, more stories were made, the culture of values-driven performance was ingrained, performance improved.
6. A structure that empowers good decisions
Values and behaviours make up the culture of an organisation, and aligning the culture with a brand promise is the way companies deliver on them. The issue here is that there is just no way you could ever predict every touch point and situation that will arise - particularly in a services business. So while values and sample behaviours can be listed and exemplified in document form, employees need to be completely educated, motivated and empowered to make a good decision about how they can live up to their brand promise and meet customer expectations in the moment.
An effective way to empower employees is to make sure they understand the commercial goals of the business. For example, if revenue and retention are the current goals in the business, employees should be empowered to make decisions that sacrifices short-term revenue for the sake of long-term revenue, and that also positively impacts retention. Senior leadership needs to agree the parameters for which they feel comfortable, share them, and then give employees the power to step into these decisions. While going through this change, be careful to positively recognise the behaviours you’re trying to encourage. Bad decisions should not be reprimanded, rather, gently coached. Meanwhile, share an employee’s good calls with the wider group as an example of great decision-making.
Your brand is the sum total of experiences a customer has with your business - existing in their minds, not in your marketing materials. So finding your compelling promise and putting it into all of your marketing materials is only the first step in bringing your brand to life. If you want an authentic, high-performing brand that delivers a consistent and relevant customer experience, spend some time educating your people on your brand promise, and creating processes and cultural programs that ensure they can deliver on it. Learn how an experienced marketing agency can help you deliver on your brand’s promise. Download our 7-step checklist to choosing your inbound agency today.