2014 Most Brandful Moment

Only a few more hours until 2015.  Quick: What was your most memorable moment of 2014?

Mine was a brandful moment: Rolling out brandful to a new audience.

Looking back on 2014, one of my favorite projects was working with DeVry Institute to provide some brandful resources to their community of students and alumni.  Prior to the engagement, I had an idea of what DeVry was all about but after getting a deeper inside view of this educational organization, with over 90 campuses, nation-wide, I now understand more fully the value of the DeVry brand.  They have a sweet spot for mid-career folks who are working and want to make a change for the better. I believe this population is growing, especially as the average job tenure is only about three years. Top that with longer average life spans, working retirees, a growing trend for multiple changing careers, and DeVry’s business model, which includes affordable education, and you can see that they are well-positioned for success.

DeVry was excited about introducing their students and alumni to the concept of brandful as a new career trend. Instead of just looking for any old job, the idea is to look for an organization that you believe in, first.  So just as employers want to find the right brandful employees, job-seekers also should proactively look for their own match that aligns with their personal brand.

I spoke to faculty, students, alumni and administrators about their views on a brandful career path, its importance and relevance to career success and how they could go about becoming brandful. The conversations were enlightening and thought-provoking. I started out by asking each person to talk about their current job, their field of study and career. It was a typical conversation. Then came the curve question:

“What are some of your personal favorite brands?”

That’s when their eyes would light up and the smile would come on. Hmmmm. They would think with grins. Then they would start naming companies, both big and small, whatever came to mind.  Just as they would get on a roll with the list, I came with the punch:

“Have you ever considered working at any of these companies?”

The grin turned to a look of wonder and then fireworks. Why has nobody really thought of a career in this way? Most answered: “I don’t know, but they should!”

Some of the folks with whom I spoke, left with an enthusiasm for a renewed career approach and ideas on where they can bring value beyond the specific job. I also left with greater drive for the future of brandful. http://brandfulworkforce.com/most-brandful-moment/ http://brandfulworkforce.com/most-brandful-moment/ http://brandfulworkforce.com/most-brandful-moment/ http://brandfulworkforce.com/most-brandful-moment/ http://brandfulworkforce.com/most-brandful-moment/ http://brandfulworkforce.com/most-brandful-moment/ http://brandfulworkforce.com/most-brandful-moment/Witnessing the personal lightbulb moments was quite powerful. I look forward to many more of these in 2015.

Stay tuned for upcoming 2015 launches including Top Brandful Companies List and the New York City Brandful Tour.  Have a Brandful New Year!

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. http://brandfulworkforce.com/employee-customer-brandful/ http://brandfulworkforce.com/employee-customer-brandful/ http://brandfulworkforce.com/employee-customer-brandful/ http://brandfulworkforce.com/employee-customer-brandful/ http://brandfulworkforce.com/employee-customer-brandful/ http://brandfulworkforce.com/employee-customer-brandful/ http://brandfulworkforce.com/employee-customer-brandful/My 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.

San Jose PayPals are Not Brandful

Soon after writing my last blog post, PayPal’s President, David Marcus, did exactly what I had advised not to do. He threatened his employees to use PayPal products or leave the company.  While that is one way to transform your workforce into a brandful one, it is not what I recommend.

I commend Marcus for being on the forefront of understanding the value that his workforce brings to the success of his company. Most CEOs do not rely enough on their employees to build the brand. In an email to his “San Jose PayPals” he asserts: “everyone at PayPal should use our products where available. That’s the only way we can make them better, and better.” This kind of executive mindset is exactly what’s needed in any organization that wants to build or sustain a brandful workforce. However, how you do it, needs to be effective and genuine.

Let’s not forget, people are not only rational, but emotional human beings. While it may seem simple: “Just tell them what you want them to do,” it doesn’t work that way. Last year, I wrote about the emergence and growing importance of the field of organizational psychology to the corporation. It brings something to the table that the traditional MBA approach misses: feelings. And yes, we all have them.

What PayPal needs to do is better understand why the employees in San Jose are not as brandful as those in other locations. Marcus says they don’t use PayPal or refer business nearly as much as the rest of the employees, who are so passionate about PayPal that they even hack into vending machines to make them accept PayPal. Trying to change behavior without understanding it does not make sense. Hey, I get that businesses need to move quickly, but consider the consequences of doing it the wrong way.

I tried reaching out to Marcus to see if I could help. http://brandfulworkforce.com/jose-paypals-brandful/ http://brandfulworkforce.com/jose-paypals-brandful/ http://brandfulworkforce.com/jose-paypals-brandful/ http://brandfulworkforce.com/jose-paypals-brandful/ http://brandfulworkforce.com/jose-paypals-brandful/ http://brandfulworkforce.com/jose-paypals-brandful/ http://brandfulworkforce.com/jose-paypals-brandful/Stay tuned and I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, you can read an article and the full email he sent out.

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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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New Year Resolution: Become Brandful in 2014

As you make your new year resolutions, consider adding one to your list: being brandful. Becoming brandful means closing the gap on who you want to be and who you really are. This can apply to you personally, or it could apply to an organization such as your employer.  When an organization becomes brandful, its external perception (the customer experience) matches the internal culture (employee experience). When you are personally brandful, you acknowledge your passions and interests and actively pursue them on a regular basis, including in your work-life. Merging your personal brand with the brand of your organization can bring greater value and meaning to your personally and to your employer.

Why else should this be on your new year’s list? I believe 2014 will be a year of authenticity. With the rise in social media and escalating global competition, consumers are no longer easily fooled by traditional advertising and marketing. They are getting close up and personal with brands and becoming more involved with the products and services they love. Becoming brandful allows both individuals and organizations to keep the curtain raised and be transparent, without worry. When you are, who you say you are, there is confidence.

Put a resolution on your list that not only catches you up to everyone else, but thrusts you ahead. Here’s to a healthy, happy and prosperous 2014!

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Top Brandful Organizations in 2013

Welcome to my final blog post for 2013. The following companies make the list of of top brandful organizations this year: Trader Joe’s, Netflix, Zappos, Starbucks, IBM, L’Occitane, Patagonia, Nick’s Pizza & Pub, Viking Cruises, Ikea, The Container Store, Wegmans, Rackspace, and Tesla. What sets these companies apart from others? It’s quite simple: the employees genuinely believe in the products and services they help deliver… so much so that they actually help promote them, voluntarily. Employees at these organizations are critical to current and future success of the business.

While many experts are now posting their recommendations for 2014, I believe one of the most strategic actions any company can make in the new year will be to connect employees meaningfully and authentically with the brand. For example, at Trader Joe’s, some of the employees spend most of their paychecks on purchasing groceries in the store. And most employees there can tell you their favorite products, if you ask.  Or employees at Rackspace may spend more time than necessary online interacting with each other and customers about optimizing the services they provide because they are just that passionate about them.  Brandful employees help to evolve the success of the business.

The organizations mentioned above do not necessarily depend on employee engagement programs or internal marketing campaigns or even employer branding initiatives, to create a brandful workforce. They rely primarily on the strength of their products and services and how they run their business from a people perspective. These are the principles of the brandful approach.

In 2014, more organizations will understand the potential of the workforce. And it will be great timing as we will embark on a project to design a measurement tool so organizations can understand the level at which their employees are truly behind the products and services they deliver every day. Once they receive their results, they can take necessary action to move the needle on building a more brandful workforce. Please stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the last few days of the year!

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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!

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.

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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.

Failing Provides Insight

We held our third executive roundtable at the end of April, hosted by IBM in Manhattan. We had a fantastic, intimate group of folks from different industries and organizations (pharmaceutical, social media, financial, business services, pharmaceutical, publishing, and healthcare), and all came with a similar goal: to share their experiences on specifically how they are creating and sustaining a workforce that truly believes in the products and services they help deliver.

I’m not going to give you a “blow-by-blow” of the discussion, which continued to be just as engaging as the first two sessions, but I will provide some key points that struck me. One is that folks were just as interested, if not even more interested, in what wasn’t working. Due to the confidential nature of the discussion, participants were able to openly and comfortably share their struggles. One executive revealed that some of the work they did over the course of two years – just plain didn’t work. He said: “You can’t just add water and get an instant culture.” Some consultants lead you to believe that they can do the work for you, however, he feels that you have to do the hard work yourself, so it will stick.  While it may be easier to get someone to come into the organization, introduce employees to a set of behaviors or values, or organize your performance management system so that it rewards the right behaviors – this may not be creating the meaningful and real connections needed for brand sustenance and authenticity.

Another participant shared that her organization spent a lot of money “blasting” communications at employees aimed at informing them about the brand. She confided in the group that while this method did get the point across, it was not motivational nor did it inspire employees to want to be a part of the brand. It was more of a “one-way street” approach rather than a way to build a meaningful relationship.

While many of us learn the hard way, by failing and trying again, some of us can learn from others’ mistakes. And that’s what our forum is really about. Once we realized some of the big mistakes, it helped us focus on what seemed to be most important – how to meaningfully involve employees so they can have a direct impact on the brand. Some suggestions that were working within organizations were to involve employees in solving business problems, outside of their day-to-day job. Encourage them to speak up when something’s not working and praise them for doing so. Have direct employee voices be the norm, not necessarily “official” corporate communications.

These were just a few tidbits from our day together. There were many more insightful exchanges. Our next gathering is being planned for September in California. Let me know if you’d like to join.