How Employee and Customer Fans Make IKEA Brandful

I’m always on the lookout for brandful examples. Recently, I spoke to Rich D’Amico, Deputy Marketing Director, IKEA USA  to find out the inside scoop on the IKEA brand and how they create both employee and customer brand advocates. Below is an excerpt from the interview.

Julia Gometz: A brandful company has internal and external brand advocates. Do you have different strategies for employees and customers on how they can promote your products, or are they integrated? Can you explain the strategy?

Rich D’Amico, IKEA USA: We are a values driven company with a passion for life @ home. We have a very thorough understanding of how customers live at home. We spend a lot of time in consumers’ homes really understanding their needs, dreams and desires. We use these insights to provide products and solutions that help to make their lives better. We like to call this co-creation, working with consumers to provide beautiful, functional, sustainable, good quality products and solutions that are affordably priced. Presently we have 5 IKEA co-workers travelling the country (our Home Tour squad) working with consumers in different cities to solve their home furnishings challenges. Our co-workers in all of our stores have a solid understanding of how, consumers in their local markets, live @ home and translate that knowledge into solutions that meet their customers’ needs. I would say that the strategies are closely integrated.

Julia Gometz: What is IKEA’s philosophy on its workforce? Do they help define the brand? Who comes first: the employees or the customers?

Rich D’Amico, IKEA USA: IKEA is a values driven company with a very strong living culture. The IKEA business idea, culture and values are all connected. This reflects a caring and honest approach to partnering with our co-workers ( we call ourselves co-workers) and a way to move the business forward. They are founded on a simple thought that what is good for the customer is also in the long run good for our business. Each customer interaction with IKEA and our co-workers helps to define the brand. Our objective is to ensure that each touch point is a positive experience for the consumer. Our co-workers and customers/consumers are at the center of everything we do.

Julia Gometz: Part of the roadmap to building a brandful workforce calls for brandful recruiting – or hiring employees who genuinely love your products. Do you do this? If so, how?

Rich D’Amico, IKEA USA: We’re a diverse group of down-to-earth, straightforward people with a passion for home furnishing. We come from all over the world but we share an inspiring vision: “to create a better everyday life for the many people”. How we realize this vision is based on our shared humanistic values. These values are the foundation of our work and our inclusive, empathizing, open and honest culture. Working with us is like working with your friends. Our culture is based on the spirit of togetherness, enthusiasm and fun. And we’re always looking for people who share our positive attitude and values.

Julia Gometz: I read that egos are not tolerated among the IKEA workforce. I found this to be quite avant-garde. Not many companies specify what they don’t want in their workforce. How has this worked in your favor and has there been any downside to this approach?

Rich D’Amico, IKEA USA: Working together as a team allows us to achieve great things. We see everyone as a talent and that approach allows us to develop our co-workers and the business.  You can always be yourself, everyone has a voice and it’s a company that encourages open dialogue. IKEA wants diverse co-workers that can help build on that culture – straightforward and down-to-earth people with a willingness to learn. Another thing that is part of our culture is that it is ok to make mistakes as long as we learn and grow from them.

Julia Gometz: What are some stories of customers and employees promoting one of your products or services?

Rich D’Amico, IKEA USA: There are many and you can see them yourself on IKEA’s Youtube channel where we have many videos of our Home Tour Squad deployed across the country helping individuals and families improve life at home. One example was Sandra in Center City, Philadelphia who had moved into a small apartment from a large house. She was having trouble using a small space as a living room and dining room. The squad came in and helped her out!  You can see what happened in Episode 111.

Julia Gometz: Tell us more about your personal story of how long you’ve been working at IKEA, why you joined, and your accomplishments there. What’s your personal favorite IKEA product and why?

Rich D’Amico, IKEA USA: I have been with IKEA for almost 25 years. I joined the company because I really liked the values and culture. I was looking for a place where I could be myself and work together with talented people to achieve big goals. I have helped grow the business from just a few stores to 40 stores. My favorite IKEA product is my IKEA kitchen! It is beautiful, functional and makes the heart of my home an inspiring and great place to hang out.

Julia Gometz: Thanks for the interview Rich. On my own personal note, I love IKEA. first experience was as a child at the IKEA in Ottawa, Canada, and I vividly remember jumping into the ball pit. Now, I love going to the IKEA in Long Island with my family.

Read more Brandful Workforce blog posts or purchase your copy of the book: The Brandful Workforce: How Employees Can Make, Not Break Your Brand.

To see a clip from the television show, Ellen, where she plays a fun IKEA game that will make you laugh, check out the segment below.

AOL Has Guts. Do You?

We all know the story of the first day on the job, and things not seeming the same as they did in the interviews.

Is your advertised culture what it really is? It’s tough to compete for talent. Some companies try to be as hip and cool as their competitors, but are they really who they say they are?

Last month, I conducted a webinar with my colleague, Susan Amori, Senior Director, AOL Talent & AOL Cultural Ambassador Program. Susan and I spent an hour with our listeners, most of whom were recruiters. I shared my how-to approach on attracting and hiring employees who would best serve the brand. (See my book, The Brandful Workforce for more info on that.) Susan chimed in with specific examples from AOL.

My favorite example from Susan was how AOL organizes informal events for employees to bring in friends and potential future employees. Being a content company, it aligns with the AOL brand to attract thought-provoking speakers and draw in top talent. These events create introductions and comfortable peeks into the AOL culture, for perspective workers. The AOL team maintains a contact list of everyone who attends their events and later can tap into that resource in their hiring efforts. According to the brandful workforce approach, this program simultaneously supports their business and their employees.

Later on in the webinar, I spoke about the importance of employee involvement in the continued evolution of the brand. Selecting employees who want to participate in shaping the future of the company is a win-win for any company and especially AOL. That’s when Susan mentioned the AOL hackathons. These are specific days in which employees are encouraged to think up and submit new ideas and collaborate across the company. If you don’t have this kind of program, you should think about starting one. Your employees may be sitting on your next big product or new service, and you don’t even know it.

But back to the employee promise.

Susan did something following our webinar that many corporate executives don’t have the guts to do. She put the AOL employee promise to the test. She asked her team to tell her the AOL employee promise to see if it was in fact what she thought it was. An employee promise is like a brand in a certain sense – you have one whether or not you know what it is. It’s a perception.

An employee promise answers questions like: “Why am working here?” What am I getting and what am I giving here?” or “Why should I join?” or “Why should I leave?”

Here’s how the test went according to Susan:

The experiment with our recruiting team was quite interesting. I asked them just to jot down their personal view of our employee promise. The top 6 consistent bullets that came up were summarized as follows:
• The opportunity to work in a great culture (Culture)
• The opportunity to work with smart, passionate and dedicated employees (People)
• You will have the freedom to be creative and create change (Culture)
• You will have the opportunity to grow your skills and manage your career with support from leaders and AOL University (Development)
• You will have the opportunity to work with cutting-edge technologies (Exposure/Tech)
• You will have the opportunity to get involved with community/volunteer initiatives to help others (Volunteerism)

Compare this to what I thought our employee promise was:
• Fast-paced, agile business – you will never be bored here (Business)
• Work with global brands that have tremendous reach and continue to grow (Business)
• Encouragement and support to help others – especially at the local community level (Volunteerism)
• Strong emphasis on personal wellness – ‘whole’ person wellness, not just fitness and nutrition (Wellness/Benefits)
• Company values that are ingrained throughout the business – and reinforced through recognition programs (Culture)
• Fun, creative working environment – you get back as much as you give (Culture)
• Structured training and leadership development programs – with special focus on training for people managers (Development)

This was just a quick experiment that Susan was interested in running to see if her team was on the same page. Any organization dedicated to building and sustaining a brandful workforce needs this kind of guts. And I mean the guts to continually check in to see if what you advertise is really happening within your organization. And if it’s not, do something about it. It helps with authenticity and sustainability of the culture and brand.

Yes, it’s sometimes easier not to ask any questions and plow full steam ahead. Of course, you risk having something unforeseen thrown in your path that you could have avoided, if you’d only asked. You might even be surprised at much more value your workforce can bring to your business in addition to their daily responsibilities. If you decide to do a similar experiment with your team, post it here. I’m sure Susan would love to see results from other organizations. And so would I.

Watch the webinar referenced above. See more brandful workforce blogs.

Do You Have A Community Manager?

What are community managers and why are they important to building a brandful workforce?

I recently met a community manager from The Huffington Post. According to Wikipedia, community managers “work to build, grow and manage online communities around a brand.” They are familiar with emerging technologies and ways to engage customers purposefully. As well, they understand how various communities form around specific products and services and how to keep them interacting during ongoing evolution of the brand.

Tim and I met over the holidays, online. We both commented on a LinkedIn update. Then we started looking at each other’s profiles. Tim shot me a message saying: “Hey, we’re both in New York if you ever want to meet up.” Then after the holidays I shot him over a quick message: “How about coffee next week?” We had a plan to meet. Of course, this was after we already knew everything there was to know about each other online.

Tim was supposed to come to my office, but as luck would have it (or not), he forgot his wallet that day and couldn’t come, so I offered to go to his neck of the woods and buy him lunch over there. He immediately took me up on my offer and suggested giving me a tour of his office at The Huffington Post. What a treat! If you haven’t watched the live stream of Huff Post Live, you should check it out. They have shows on politics, entertainment and general interest and it appears to be gaining in popularity.

I learned a lot from Tim. Not just that community managers are probably the most brandful employees at any organization. (It’s actually part of their job description to be a brand evangelist.) But the insights and experience of community management can be brought inside of an organization. What they do to engage customers can be done with employees. I’m going to start to follow Tim and other community managers more closely.

Thanks to Tim for meeting up. I’m glad to be part of his community. And thanks for reading this and being part of mine.

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WestJetters’ Christmas Miracle Goes Viral

At the Canadian airline, WestJet, the employees call themselves “WestJetters.” It’s usually a sign that a company has a brandful workforce when the employees come up with a more endearing name for themselves than employee. At IBM, they are called “IBM’rs” and my favorite is still Wegmans who employ “Wegmaniacs.” (Please send me your examples as I like compiling them for future reference.)

Back to the WestJetters. About 150 of them recently volunteered to participate in a recent Christmas miracle for the passengers flying from Toronto to Calgary. Imagine the following travel experience: You are with your family at airport check-in. You notice a large screen in the check-in area with a live streaming video of Santa Claus interacting with you and asking you what you want for Christmas. So you tell him with a chuckle what you want. You board your flight and spend about five hours before landing in Calgary and wait for your bags to arrive at baggage claim. But before your bags arrive, you start to see individually wrapped gifts coming off the conveyer belt. You start to notice other passengers finding gifts with their names. Then you see a gift with your name on it! You grab it and open it and find that it’s exactly what you told Santa a few hours back at the check-in. This blog post cannot do justice to watching the 5-minute video synopsis.

Now, imagine you are a WestJetter. How would you feel to have participated in or simply been employed at a company that produced such an event? Would you want to spread the news about your employer and promote the brand? I would be thrilled to reach out to everyone I knew to brag about such a true story. If you have a holiday story about a brandful employee or a brandful workforce, please share it with me.

For other brandful examples or to share this one, click here or purchase my book, The Brandful Workforce: How Employees Can Make, Not Break Your Brand.

Happy Holidays!

Gift Giving At Its Worst-Best

A colleague shared quite an interesting story with me this week about giving a gift to his seventy-five year old mother for her birthday. He had spent some time searching for the perfect gift and finally found it at Nordstrom’s. He had set the perfect plan that fit neatly into his busy schedule. The birthday dinner was at 7:30pm. He would leave the office at the exact time to allow him to stop by Nordstrom’s, pick up the wrapped gift (that he had purchased online) and make it to the restaurant on time. Everything started out well, however when he arrived at Nordstrom’s, his gift was not ready. Not like the Nordstrom’s we all know. Listening to the story, I was in disbelief as this is a company known for exceptional service. And not only was his gift not ready, they didn’t even have the purse he had purchased online, in the store. The staff explained that there had been a glitch with the online service.

I considered to myself whether this would be the first story about bad service at Nordstrom’s that I would hear. Then my colleague proceeded. After apologizing, the staff assured him they would immediately start to look for the purse, not only at other Nordstrom’s but at any other retailer – anywhere they could find it, and to please give them a few moments. Within a short amount of time, one of the staff (and there were a few on the case), found the purse about fifty miles away. They made arrangements for someone to personally drive over, pick up the purse and hand-deliver it (fully wrapped) to my colleague at the restaurant before the end of the meal.

If this isn’t a brandful workforce, what is? I talk about companies having a customer promise that employees can deliver, as being critical to the foundation for building a brandful workforce. This situation made it extremely difficult for the employees to deliver exceptional service, however they never gave up, and they were able to deliver on the company promise, at least in the mind of my colleague.

As we approach the gift-giving season, I’m sure some of us will experience customer service without such happy endings, however I’d like to encourage you to send me your positive stories as they do inspire others and provide the examples necessary to help build  win-win situations for customers and employees during the holidays. The days ahead truly represent opportunities to connect consumers, brands and employees meaningfully.

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State Employees Can Be Brandful

When you think about the workforce and who’s proud of the services they provide, you may think of employees at Disney, Apple, or Google. But who would think of a federal or state employee? Should their jobs be taken for granted as something they have to do? No.  Any government (city, state or federal) can and should be in the business of delighting taxpayers and putting their money to good use – in a way that motivates employees to continue to provide for their communities as best they can.

For example, the state of Tennessee may be looking to their employees to help promote their entertainment brand. This article mentions that employees are engaging in social media to spread interest in ABC’s show “Nashville,” which may be attracting more business to the state. There’s so much that employees can do on their own initiative, that’s genuine and heartfelt that will support Tennessee’s brand. Large corporations, like those mentioned above, have empowered their staff to create new products and services, and by doing so, have actually been able to meet consumer demand. If governments take similar actions, there’s no telling how much their services and reputations can improve.

And by the way, a state can and does have a brand. In my upcoming book, The Brandful Workforce, I argue that every entity has a brand, whether they know it or not. A brand is simply what people say about you behind closed doors. Kudos to the state of Tennessee for getting in front of its brand, calling it out and involving its employees to push it forward.

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“Just Doing My Job” Can Be Extraordinary

The customer is not always right, especially to Joey Prusak, an employee at Dairy Queen in Minnesota. This past week, Joey’s response to a customer’s dishonest behavior made headlines and earned a phone call from Warren Buffet. When Joey saw a customer secretly take a twenty dollar bill that belonged to another customer, he confronted the dishonest customer asking her to return the money. When she refused, he refused to serve her. Then he went a step further, he took out his own twenty dollar bill and gave it to the victim. Interestingly, Joey didn’t believe he did anything special. Others believe Joey’s actions were extraordinary.

At Ritz Carlton, employees have access to discretionary company funds that allow their daily jobs to be extraordinary in the eyes of their customers. Under certain circumstances described in this article, employees can utilize the funds. I don’t have any specific examples such as Joey above, however I would be willing to bet Ritz Carlton has some heart-warming stories of their employees going above and beyond. Even though Ritz Carlton and Dairy Queen can hardly be compared, especially their vastly different customer base, both companies want employees to do the right thing for the customers. Employees honesty and caring should be the norm in any customer service company, rather than the exception, however what makes Joey’s act extraordinary is that too often employees either don’t have the support to do what’s right or just don’t care. In a brandful workforce, which depends on great employees who can just be themselves, Joey’s example could be more the norm, than the exception.

Storytelling Isn’t Just For Customers

Everyone love storytelling. It’s not just about spreading your brand message. It’s about constantly creating and evolving your brand with those who love it most. And those people should include employees, who routinely go above and beyond to make the brand promise come alive.

One great example that I saw recently was someone who jokingly tweeted from an aircraft as he was boarding his flight: “Hey, @Mortons – can you meet me at newark airport with a porterhouse when I land in two hours? K, thanks. :)”  He was absolutely shocked when he landed and found a guy in a tuxedo greeting him, holding a hot porterhouse steak in his hands. I’d love to hear more of this story from the employees who made it happen and how this story continues to serve the excellent brand, inside and outside of Morton’s.

Read the full text, see the photo and read about other stories here:

In brandful organizations, these kinds of stories are real and frequent, and they fuel the ongoing brand promise internally among employees, as well as externally with customers. They reinforce the reason that everyone is brought together by the unique products and services the organization delivers.

For more brandful workforce blog posts click here.


A Photo Is Worth More Than Just Words

Last week, someone asked me to describe what a brandful workforce actually looks like. I hesitated to answer as I needed to clarify the question: “You mean, visually?” My colleague nodded. I hadn’t actually thought of it before, but my mind immediately came to an image of photos. I had heard that the lobby of Southwest Airlines corporate headquarters was plastered with photos of cabin crews, airplanes, gate agents, families, managers, friends, and office employees that were taken throughout the history of the airline. When I worked at JetBlue, I could walk up to any office cubicle and see not only family photos, but photos of co-workers and fellow Crewmembers. Photos can be quite telling about the personality and culture of the organization. But a photograph can also be engaging and bring out feelings. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but sometimes words cannot describe feelings. And this is similar to the visual results of a brandful workforce – a strong emotional connection between employees, the organization and the customers.

Was it a coincidence that just hours following this conversation I happened to walk into a Starbucks and see photos of the employees? When I read the blurbs beside the photos, it told me more about the personal lives of the baristas. I noticed some things I had in common with some of them. It immediately felt more like a friendly hangout, not just a great place that serves coffee, but a place to meet others. Every employee has a story and a personality that can be part of the experience, and be authentic. Kudos to Starbucks for encouraging their baristas to be themselves and share their individual interests and who they are – as part of their brand. This is a great example of being brandful.

starbucks photos

Patagonia’s Business Changed Because They Listened to Employees

This week, I came across a great story from Patagonia. Prior to using organic cotton in their clothing, Patagonia had opened a new store in which employees were suffering headaches. They listened and brought in an environmental engineer to investigate the problem. The engineer found that the air in the work environment had toxins due to the materials being used in making the clothing. From this, Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia’s CEO, took it upon himself to research what all goes into clothing and could there be another way?  From his journey, he is now not only a proponent of organic cotton and top quality, long-lasting clothing with growing sales, but a leader of a healthy workforce.

What can we learn from Yvon? He says that when he listens, he learns and evolves. He says that 10% of his customers buy Patagonia clothing simply because of the organization’s good practices. Could he also be attracting employees for the same reasons and is this number expected to grow? I believe this is a big part of Patagonia’s success. And I bet they continue to listen to their employees.

Watch the Patagonia video.