Turn Your Staff into Your Biggest Fans
Your people are your brand and your brand your competitive advantage.
Whether or not they headlined punters’ lists at the local bookies, Germany had a distinct advantage over all other teams in this year’s Soccer World Cup that shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s no secret that, statistically, teams who play on home turf win more games than when on tour – an advantage attributed in no small measure to the support, energy and passion of their fans. While not downplaying the merits of skills, discipline and good old fashioned talent, a loyal and committed fan base is the secret weapon in any team’s arsenal.
A recent study, cited in Marketing Week (UK), identifies the following drivers behind fan support: love of the game, active appreciation, gloating, player excitement, a sense of belonging and nostalgia.
And it’s no coincidence that further research goes to show that organisations that inculcate a winning culture from the inside out, based on such similar drivers and values, are top of their game. And aspirant organisations would do well, really well, to inspire those very same qualities in its employees – its team players – who in turn should be its biggest fans.
While perhaps overstating the obvious, many companies are only now coming to grips with the notion that unless they focus on their internal priority first and turn their team players – their staff – into their most loyal fans, they risk losing the game.
After all, a company’s primary means of service and brand delivery are its people. And unfortunately companies do not spend near enough time in equipping them with the skills, knowledge and processes to effectively do this.
Research shows that without intervention, usually only a third of a company’s employees at any given time are completely on your side – while two-thirds are not. That’s not to say that 66 percent of your employees are match fixers, out to sabotage your company with ill-intention. Often enough, there is a real willingness to deliver, but that willingness has not been correctly coached.
And unless your staff are behind and aligned with your brand’s message and promise – not only playing by the same set of rules, but buying into your brand’s broader game plan – the very best strategy will fail.
Winning brands begin with winning cultures. And to do this, you need to recognise that your fan base not only includes your customers but – arguably more importantly – your staff. You need to win the hearts, souls and “fanship” of your employees.
According to the Vivaldi Brand Leadership Study (2002), companies that earn a high brand rating from both its customers as well as its employees consistently outperform others on the Standard & Poor’s Index.
But the key question is how?
According to the Brand Ambassador Benchmark, 41 percent of clients will remain loyal to a company because of favourable service. And a staggering 70 percent of customers’ perceptions of a brand are determined by their direct experiences with people, in other words, your staff.
If the key means of raising your game and improving bottom line brand equity relies largely on the way the brand is delivered through its employees, brand engagement – whereby your staff are aligned behind brand strategy, purpose and promise – is your best tool to create a winning culture.
Love of the game
Before you can inspire in them a love for your game, you need to teach them how to play your game.
A survey by HR consultants Watson Wyatt showed that the number of people who are happy at work has fallen from 25 to 7 percent in recent years, with more than half saying they “lacked a clear line of sight between their job and the company’s objectives”, cited in a report published by UK recruitment company HarveyNash last year.
Employees need to have a clear and powerful view of what they are part of, where the brand and business are going, and how to get there. Engagement happens when employees hear the message, believe the message and then live and act upon it.
You need to equip your staff with the skills and training that they require in order to use the company’s values to drive brand behaviour through action. The key is recognise that it’s not a top-to-bottom but a two-way approach: management needs to avoid coaching from the sidelines but get on the field and practically align the company’s brand attributes with your employees’ familiarities, personalities and frames of reference.
A primary step in inspiring this winning culture in your workplace is through performance measurement: every player is motivated by a gold medal. And while reward and recognition structures are not new concepts to most organisations, what is often overlooked is that the form that those gold medals take needs to be in line with your brand’s values. In other words, reward and recognition structures should reflect the behaviour you’re trying to inculcate.
Drawing on its primary identity of a lion, the Kenyan Commercial Bank (KCB) emphasised the values associated with its visual equity in order to inspire the qualities and actions in its staff that it desired. Through the use of inspired language, it brings to life its brand values and interprets these throughout the company. Based on simple but symbolic connections, the staff actively strive towards an “inner pride”, celebrated with reward and recognition structures called Simba Snaps, Quarterly Pride, the LionHeart award and Brand Warrior – unique to that organisation and its brand. In this way, KCB is actively striving to nurture these values within its organisation in order to project them outwards.
Research, backed by experience, has shown that monetary prizes are not always the most appropriate way to inspire a winning culture underpinned by your brand’s values. Consider the notorious case of Enron where profit was isolated as the overarching performance indicator: the resultant value was greed. Without similar emphasis placed on other values such as ethics and integrity, monetary incentives can misalign a company’s value set and need to be balanced with other forms of team incentivisation.
Reward systems need to tap into the emotions in order to nurture motivation. While perhaps in the past staff were happy to be compensated by a prime parking place and a gold watch, times have changed and today’s working generation seek flexibility and recognition, and they’re motivated by more emotive things such as the company’s reputation, pride in a job well done, an increase in status and active appreciation. Rewards need not be lavish but are more gestures of good will. Ideas could include an extra day’s leave or a spa treatment, and so forth. In consultation with your employees, you need to devise a scorecard of goals and measureables towards which they can work and be appraised by – as well as a clearly defined first prize.
Gloating & Player excitement
What’s a team without cheerleaders? Winning cultures resonate with energy and excitement when empowered and motivated staff become willing brand advocates, going above and beyond the call of duty. A brand advocate is that staff member who, at the end of the day, off-duty in the local pub, is still espousing the values of your company and your brand over a pint. And word-of-mouth is arguably the best marketing any brand can enjoy.
Besides the internal mechanisms that help build environments that create brand champions, companies must be acutely aware of how their every behaviour and communication as an entity to external audiences hugely affects staff willingness or natural inclination to stand up for their company in their own social environments. Likeable advertising (Vodacom’s popular TV advertising campaign), high profile brand ambassadors (Accenture’s sponsorship of Tiger Woods) and great PR management in difficult times (Pick ‘n Pay’s response to the wage debate) are all examples of companies who recognise how “gloating” in the right way positively affects player excitement.
Activated employees resonate throughout an organisation – like an infectious Mexican wave that ripples throughout a stadium. You can’t help but jump out of your seat and rise to the occasion. Pride is a very powerful driver and identifier in many fans: give them something to gloat about.
Remember that a true fan is he who exhibits unwavering support throughout the season. While nothing motivates like success, the promise of success or a goal within sights is sufficient to sustain a fanship, even when your company is experiencing some down time. But you need to ensure there is understanding and buy-in of the message.
A sense of belonging
A key indicator of how well a company is achieving its brand engagement is its staff turnover record. Wal-Mart loses nearly half its staff annually, according to Wolfgang Grulke, CEO of FutureWorld. And according to a website called www.wakeupwalmart.com, last year the group battled a staggering 30 class action law suits from employees. “The notion that Sam Walton cared about its workers, and the community … those positive aspects have gone,” said Chris Kofinis, spokesperson for WakeUpWalMart.com, a campaign group funded by the United Food and Commercial Workers.
Despite the fact that Wal-Mart strives to project a reputation for being a value-for-money retailer in the consumer market, communities across the US are now campaigning to keep the group out of their regions, one of the reasons being the way its employees are treated. For example, in California, opponents say the company has cost taxpayers millions by shortchanging its employees on healthcare.
Another essential concept is to hire for attitude and train for skill, a notion that underpins Richard Branson’s entrepreneurial empire. Hiring the right people to match the brand values is the cornerstone of a winning culture. Companies need to recruit attitudes rather than skills. The latter can be acquired – but good employees have great attitudes. And they are key to successful brands.
What’s a team without a coach?
It’s essential to recognise that instilling a winning culture is impossible without buy-in and drive from management. Essential to success is securing senior leadership’s participation, and the process needs to be managed.
To be effective, brand engagement requires a process of planned, considered and deliberate roll-out. The day-to-day operational implications of the brand message needs to be deliberately embedded in the sinews of the organisation: aligned work patterns and priorities, systems, policies, incentives, processes, structures and recognition systems. How can FNB ensure that its staff truly deliver upon its payoff line of “How can we help you?” unless FNB’s entire structure is designed to empower its staff with the capabilities of quickly, efficiently and helpfully meeting their customers requests?
Similarly, ACSA – the local airport services company – realised that a good many of its staff had never experienced the process of air travel. They realised that their customers’ complaints regarding the lack of empathy and understanding from its staff were legitimate to a certain degree. ACSA then embarked on a simulation exercise called Soaring Service where its members of staff mapped out the customer journey by undergoing the exact same “journey” as the airport’s customers, from travelling to the airport and finding parking, to checking in and eventually collecting one’s luggage off the conveyor belt upon arrival. In this way, its staff were able to better appreciate the customer’s position, frustrations and experience, and are better equipped to provide better customer service.
To deliver a great brand experience to customers, employees need to be supported every step of the way – with the right training, tools, processes, incentives and so on. Brand engagement is unlikely to happen without intervention.
“Once a Pirate, always a Pirate”. So goes the mantra among local fans. A loyal fan is a fan for life. In classic marketing theory, the concept of a Client’s Lifetime Value proves time and time again that securing a new customer costs up to 4X as much as retaining an old one. The same applies here. Nurture internal brand champions who will be on your team for life, long after they’ve ceased to work for your organisation. Make your mission statement their war cry. Give them something to be proud of, and proud to have been a part of.
It is becoming ever more vital in a field with an ever increasing number of players that your staff are on your team – aligning behind the strategic purpose of your organisation, which should be manifest in your brand. Employees who believe in and live the brand can make a company. They can also break a company.
True loyalty is not fleeting but is Social Capital that should be written into your bottomline. Rand Merchant Bank, for example, is rated South Africa’s leading investment bank and commands significant brand equity in the local financial services industry – an achievement undoubtedly attributed to its policies that have seen it placed in the top seven of Deloitte’s Best Company to Work For survey six years running. It is no coincidence that the maxim of the Best Company award is “your employees are your first customers: show them your commitment”.
Brand Engagement taps into that energy within your organisation that is as unique to your company as your brand. Your people are your brand and your brand your competitive advantage – harness those qualities and ensure your team players are playing your game.
David Blyth is Managing Director of Enterprise IG Johannesburg. In his prior role as Strategy Director, he was responsible for the delivery of brand positioning, architecture and employee engagement projects across a blue-chip client base in Africa and the Middle East.