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.

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.

The Dangers of Employee Advocacy

Before I get into the dangers, let’s first understand what employee advocacy is. It’s getting employees involved in amplifying your organization’s brand message through their own personal and social networks. They can share company news, success stories and promotions. Many companies have a social media program to engage consumers such as initiatives that drive the number of Facebook fans or Twitter followers. Taking it even further, they can track their most engaged fans and followers and get them involved in their promotions. Now, companies are realizing that the employees, beyond the marketing team, can also bring value to their social marketing strategy.

It sounds great, right? Who wouldn’t want their employees out there advocating for the brand? Well, I don’t want to name anybody, but think for a moment about a company that you absolutely hate, or a place you would never want to work. Now, picture yourself working there as an employee and being told that you now need to participate in an employee advocacy program to promote the products or services. Just think about it. Now, I know this is an extreme example, but I hope it illustrates my point: Not every organization is ready for an employee advocacy program. If they build one prematurely, it may backfire. There are also dangers even if the organization is ready for such a program. For example, it may not genuinely connect with how employees want to promote the brand or what they want to promote. Each employee is different and can uniquely contribute to the advocacy program.  In my book, The Brandful Workforce – How Employees Can Make, Not Break Your Brand, I address these issues and much more. I describe six channels through employees can help the brand; it’s not just about employee advocacy but the entire organization and setting the right business foundation and internal culture that will naturally be excited about an advocacy program.

Does your company have a successful employee advocacy program? I’d love to hear about it. For previous posts on The Brandful Workforce, click here.