Brandful Approach Gains Momentum

Last week, I spoke to a fantastic group of Long Island human resource professionals who understood the value the workforce can bring to the brand.

While I do give a lot of presentations, I enjoy customizing my message and content for each unique audience. When deciding what to include for this group, I carefully reviewed my materials including videos, stories, and company examples. I decided to feature one of my favorite videos from Clear Vision Optical, a small Long Island-based company of 250 employees, that designs and distributes eyewear for all ages. The video offers a quick peak of what can happen when an organization has a brandful workforce. While companies can spend thousands of dollars on a single video (or even millions for a series of videos), brandful employees have the genuine desire to create their own videos that come across as more authentic than corporate-produced versions.

As I passionately spoke about how to build a brandful workforce, up popped the Clear Vision video. Immediately, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the excitement from two women about eight rows back in the middle and I heard them whisper loudly so as not to interrupt the presentation: “Hey, that’s us!” They got out their cameras and began to take pictures. Later I found out that they had emailed their co-workers saying that Clear Vision was on stage. The pride they exhibited only confirmed their brandful workplace.

Following my presentation, we chatted and someone snapped the picture below of me with Jennifer and Ann Marie from Clear Vision:

Clear Vision

The Brandful approach is gaining momentum. And it’s not just from audiences such as this.   I see more and more the need and desire to merge the external brand perceived by customers, with the internal culture of the employees. Customers and employees have direct relationships that are real. Well, on second thought, sometimes they aren’t real, but those aren’t the strong relationships. Companies that truly understand this bond have the potential to succeed, but only if they can build an action-based strategy around the brandful approach, which is based upon employee involvement in the evolving brand.

A company like Rolls-Royce is part of this new trend which is encouraging employees to become part of the living brand. For example, one of the employees was inspired with a wild idea to gain more exposure for the changes going on at Rolls-Royce. She thought it would be cool if the company could build a jet engine out of legos.  This would highlight the focus on jet engines, as well as the fresh innovative spirit at the company. When she conveyed her idea to Jeff Lackey, a leader in Global Sourcing, he immediately supported it. Yes, there would be investment – Who knew a lego project could cost as much as €20,000? However, it ended up paying off. The project, which took eight weeks for four people to assemble, ended up generating about one million euros worth of brand advertisement given the response it generated on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. As well, it drew notable attention at the Farnborough Air Show. Check out the video.

While many companies haven’t even attempted to involve their employees in shaping the brand, many are starting to test the waters. They aren’t accustomed to giving up control or empowering employees in this manner. They may be averse to risk or change or what damage such actions might do. But this attitude will ultimately stunt growth.  Other companies like IBM and General Electric are at the forefront, investing in employee ideas.

Investing in employees as brand innovators and brand ambassadors is not just about employee engagement, or employee motivation to be productive on the job, which usually relates to liking their boss and/or peers. Being brandful is about employee participation in the ongoing creation of the brand, the products and services that they help deliver.  Isn’t that what a workforce comes together for anyway?

Share what your company is doing to become brandful. I’m always on the lookout for new examples and ways to encourage others to be brandful.

Check out my previous posts and don’t forget to share this one with your colleagues and friends.

 

 

 

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.

How Much Is a Brandful Employee Worth?

Never mind calculating your company’s brand value, let’s skip straight to your individual employees. Sure, they are hired to do a job, and getting that job done is first and foremost. However in this age of customer and employee engagement where success is built on authentic and on-going relationships, every employee can be doing more than getting their work done. That’s what a brandful employee is all about – being a part of the growing brand and adding value to it.

But how significant can one employee be to the brand? When you think about the thousands or millions of individual interactions that make up a company’s product or service offering, you can begin to understand and appreciate the value at the individual level. One employee can make or break the brand for any given customer. And this is where the focus should be.

Here are some questions to consider:

• Are your employees set up on social networks to best advocate for your brand? (either helping with recruitment or customer engagement)
• Do your employees participate in product or service innovation?
• Are your citizenship efforts integrated with your brand and the employee experience?

Once you know the value your workforce brings to your brand, you’ll also learn how to increase that value. The power of building a brandful workforce is that it simultaneously improves both customer and employee engagement. For more on this topic, follow my blog at www.brandfulworkforce.com/blog, follow me on twitter (@juliagometz) or join the LinkedIn Group (The Brandful Workforce).

Don’t Tell Me A Story – Do It!

A colleague of mine who is a brand strategist, launched a book this week about story-doing – as opposed to story-telling. What’s the difference you may ask? Story-telling seems to be more about what a company wants to be, rather than what it actually is – which is what you get with story-doing. The company’s story gets defined by actions, not words. I like Ty Montague’s inner message which is about authenticity, which connects to my approach, The Brandful Workforce.  For a company to be good at story-doing, they would necessarily need to have their employees onboard as part of those who are actioning the story.

I agree with Ty when he says: Instead of building a business around a product or message, you have to think about building your business around people, and what they want to share with their friends. And I would define “people” as both consumers and employees. In many cases, employees are consumers and I would argue that some companies can aim to have all employees as consumers (provided it’s the right industry like retail or hospitality). When both employees and consumers are equally passionate about sharing information about a product or service with a friend – this action – repeated many times over – is quite powerful because it’s authentic.

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

Don’t Do It For Employee Retention- Do It Because You Believe In It!

I saw an article this week entitled, 86% of Employees Not Engaged By Companies’ Sustainability Programs. You can read it here. It says that while many organizations promote sustainability, most employees are dissatisfied with their employers’ sustainability efforts. And many believe that organizations do it just for marketing and sales.

I do believe that some organizations push corporate social responsibility programs, like sustainability, as way to attract and retain employees. Most likely, an executive came up with the idea because that’s what college graduates want. And in order to attract them, that’s what you have to have. If you develop any program, not because it’s the right thing to do, but solely because it’s a means to an end, it will not help you in the long-run.  

The brandful workforce roadmap is about authenticity and passion. Keep your eye on what special product or service you deliver and how it benefits society. In this, you will find the right citizenship platform that really will propel your brand as well as your community.

One of the six channels through which employees can promote the brand of the organization is citizenship, or as I like to call it, “doing good.” When employees can get out and do something they care about, that truly makes a difference in the world, and to the organization, they want to promote that everywhere, because they are proud.

I highlight two areas that are most critical to building an authentic citizenship program:

One is alignment with the business. There should be a sensible connection between the cause and the product or service of the organization. Take Hagen Daaz. They had a big campaign to protect the honeybee. This makes perfect sense because they use honey in their ingredients. I wish all programs could be so simply connected.

Two is internal support. Employees need to be able to participate in the programs, provided time, resources and moral support.

When employee participation in your corporate social responsibility programs is low, that’s a bad sign. Employees should not be incentivized to participate. Re-think your strategy. Make sure it is integrated to your business and there is real passion behind it. You can really make a difference and so can your employees.

 

Being Brandful Is Taking A Risk to Be Yourself

I saw an inspiring video with Barbara Corcoran. She started out with nothing and went on to be one of the most successful real estate entrepreneurs. The video clip ends with her telling the audience the worst advice her mother ever gave her (and most of the advice was good): “Don’t go out and start something on your own. Build up your resume first.” Barbara says that she never meets anyone who was disappointed to have tried a new venture, to have taken a risk, even if it failed. On the other hand, she says that most people she meets are disappointed to have never tried what they always wanted to do.

Just like the saying: “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” I like to think “It’s better to have tried and failed than to have never even given it a shot.” We need more folks to take risks, but not just financial risks. Being brandful is taking a risk on doing something that you love, falling in love with a product, and following that passion over a certain promotion or career ladder. By the way, ladders have made may to lattices and not all momentum is upward. I see many folks that have invested so much into their profession or career, only to find out along the journey that they are really passionate about something else. Don’t allow yourself to become trapped. Thank you Barbara for inspiring my blog today.

Click here to see the short video clip of Barbara Corcoran

Being Brandful Is Telling The Truth

It’s one thing to lie to your employees so they can be truthful with the customers, without knowing they’re lying. And it’s another thing to actually instruct employees to lie to the customers. But why have any lying at all?

This week, I was early for a meeting so I decided to check out the hand cream at L’Occitane, a global retailer of beauty products, at their Fifth Avenue flagship location in Manhattan. I was greeted by a warm smile and “Would you like to try a fresh cup of rose tea?” Still being a bit chilly at the end of March, I accepted the offer. Mineli was the store associate who poured my cup of tea and asked what I was looking for. As I tried various fragrances, I noticed right away that she was definitely a role model for being brandful. She knew the products inside and out. She was passionate about them and used them herself. And she raved on and on about the French CEO and how she knew him personally. She also told me – without my asking- about the corporate social responsibility programs and how the company supports women.

But what caught my attention most was when she told me about her previous employers -who shall remain nameless. (For those of you who don’t know me, I have a golden rule: If you don’t have something nice to say – say it, but without damage – only a lesson.) Mineli told me that she had worked at three other beauty retailers, and consistently left when she was lied to or worse – she was asked to lie to customers – about what was actually in the products. For Mineli, who takes her work quite seriously and passionately, like any other brandful employee, would rather not work at all, than to compromise her own value system. She was head-over-heels to be at l’Occitane for over a year now – at a company she truly knows, understands, believes in and can promote.

I do believe that organizations that allow integrity to be compromised, will be exposed if not by the customers, by the employees. They will erode from the inside out, as shown through Mineli.

If you know a brandful employee, I’d love to hear about him or her. Please email me at juliagometz@gmail.com and thanks for reading my blog!

Customer Surveys Get Kicked by Brandful Employees

Forbes recently released its 2013 Forbes Billionaires list. Believe me, I wasn’t waiting on pins and needles for this to come out. I just happened to hear it on the radio and something caught my attention. No, it wasn’t the fact that this is the first time since 2000 that Warren Buffet was not in the top three. And no, it wasn’t that Amancio Ortega of Spanish retailer Zara, made it to number three for the first time. But it does have to do with Zara, the company he founded.

Zara’s success can be attributed to their supply chain speed and customer-centric approach. Clothes move from concept to design to stores within days. But the real secret seemed to be their pulse of the customers. They listen to their customers and are attentive to their needs. How? Through their employees. While most organizations have a centralized customer team, who usually is in charge of customer surveys and feedback, among other responsibilities, Zara zeros in on employees who contact headquarters daily with customer needs. If someone wants a shirt in a certain color, that information gets transmitted immediately. No waiting for customers to fill out surveys, and with a typical response rate of 5%, would it even be helpful?

How empowering is that for an employee to be able to advocate on behalf of the customer and provide quick results? The entire process is a win-win for the company and for employees.

PetSmart – Brandful Example

I continue my hunt for examples of brandful employees and today, I found another great one! The title of this Forbes article really aligns with the entire essence of what it means to be brandful: “How Just One Great Employee Can Make the Brand.” Getting a glimpse of the employee, Mike Miller, through the article, validates my brandful recruiting model on how to bring brandful employees into your organization. Wouldn’t you just assume that any employee at a pet store, should be a pet owner? Sure, then why don’t all teachers have children or plan to have children? Or why don’t folks who work for an airline love traveling? Or folks that work at electronics stores, own a lot of electronics? It seems so common-sensical (is that word?) but all too often, I find employees who are completely out of touch with the core business they are delivering.

Anyway, back to Mike Miller, PetSmart and the article. Mike, of course, owns a dog, and is 100% passionate about pets and helping them…and I mean genuinely. This is what I would call a good “brand match.” Mike is getting paid to do what he loves. You don’t need to incentivize Mike – like give him a $25 gift card if he sells a certain amount of products. There’s no price you can pay someone that will improve his performance, if what he does comes from his heart. Mike clearly does what he does because of his passion. And this translates to his customers, one of whom, wrote this article. Click here to read it. If this is your first time on my site, please join me in helping employees and employers to become more brandful – and truly express their brand authentically.