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.

 

 

 

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.

Check out more Brandful Workforce blog posts or download the book, The Brandful Workforce: How Employees Can Make, Not Break Your Brand, on your kindle app.

“I Don’t Care!”

What NOT To Do To Get Employees To Care

Here are three methods that I would rather not try.

I was speaking with a colleague recently who was complaining about employee complacency. It happens in many workplaces and it can become a downward spiral. When a critical number of your employees are disengaged, it seems to rub off on the others. How can you inject some motivation or positive energy to turn this around?

While I can suggest a great book that offers solutions The Brandful Workforce – How Employees Can Make, Not Break Your Brand, I’m writing this post to let you know what surely does not work.

No-No #1

One failed tactic is to rely on a rewards program to create a caring environment. Even though, it can be set up to reward those employees who are most caring, rewards programs are usually not properly integrated into an on-going and sustainable culture of caring and the programs seem more of a staged and temporary approach rather than a genuine attempt to make permanent change.

No-No #2

Why not just tell them to start caring?  Have you ever heard a manager say: “Hey, I need you to care more about your work.” It’s wrong to think that apathy is a rational decision being made every day. Talk is cheap and that’s why this approach does not work.

No-No #3

Here’s the best way to permanently ban caring from your workplace forever:  Use threats. They typically become a tactic, not out of thoughtful consideration, but out of desperation. Sometimes senior leaders place ultimatums on middle managers who don’t know what to do. And unfortunately these managers may be victims of poor corporate cultures. Without support, tools, and resources, some managers turn to penalizing employees with bad reviews, bad schedules, extra work, no bonus, or other punitive measures. This usually creates even further deterioration of employee sentiment as they can start blaming each other.

Yes, Yes, Yes

So, what’s the secret to having employees who care? Care about them.

 

 

Brandful – Quick and Simple

Every employee matters, especially when running a small business. A single employee could be responsible for bringing enormous success to your business. Or one employee could bring you down. Why not motivate your employees to work FOR your brand, rather than against it, by cultivating a brandful workforce.

How It All Began

The brandful workforce approach was developed as a practical guide to help business leaders better engage employees with the products and services they help deliver every day. It was informed through my own career journey, working for both small and large organizations, private, public and non-profit.

Most recently, I was in charge of employee engagement at JetBlue Airways. My colleagues at other companies used to ask me: “How do you get your employees to be such fantastic brand ambassadors?”

It wasn’t something that JetBlue purposefully set out to do. It was the result of a successful business. Yet there wasn’t a recipe that others could easily follow. So I took it upon myself to figure it out!

Let’s look at how you can create brandful employees for your business.

Building a Brandful Workforce

Start with your product or service. After all, who will want to promote something that they don’t personally believe in?

One common mistake small business owners make with employees is not defining and communicating the consistent delivery of the business. What does it look like? If you don’t know, then how will your employees? Help them understand the details of your business, your brand and especially your customer promise.

When your employees understand your business, the customer promise and their role in it, they can get to work promoting your brand. In fact, they may even exceed your expectations!

Create Brandful Communication Channels

The next step in creating employee brand ambassadors is giving them the means to go out and promote your brand. I call these brandful channels.

These include tools and resources such as social media, swag, celebratory events, and community volunteer efforts that spread awareness of your business.

Remember: not everyone is going to want to engage in social media, so it’s helpful to offer your staff some other options.

For example, you may have an employee who enjoys the backstage planning of an event.  Or another employee may be athletic and can represent your business in a marathon. The brandful channels approach provides opportunities for everyone to participate in amplifying your brand in a genuine and authentic way.

Recruit Brand Ambassadors

. Some small businesses find it hard to compete for talent with larger organizations.  Yet, as a small business, there are a few areas where you can favorably recruit top talent by accentuating your unique brand:

  • Offer a “jack-of-all-trades” employee experience. Employees can learn and be involved in many aspects of the business, rather than be narrowly focused on a specified role within a larger organization.
  • Provide a family feel and local culture as opposed to a larger, bureaucratic environment.
  •  Give employees the opportunity to make a direct, meaningful impact on business success

Keep in mind that brandful candidates care less about salary (as long as it’s within a reasonable range) than the quality or purpose of the job. If you have to negotiate hard to get someone to accept, it may not be the right fit for your business.

Here’s a quick checklist to help determine if your job candidate is brandful-minded:

  • Do they love or use your products or services?
  • Do they know how to talk about your products or services?
  • Do they have fresh ideas about how to expand or improve your business? (Do they act like “owners,” or do they simply want a paycheck?)
  • Do they give you honest – and helpful — feedback?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, then you’re well on your way to leveraging the talent you’ll need to create a brandful workforce of your own!

Holiday Parties Turn Employees Into Brand Ambassadors

This is the time of year to focus on amplifying the fourth brandful channel: Celebration. What better time of year for employees to get behind your brand, than the holidays? It’s the perfect opportunity for your internal brand ambassadors to spread the love for your products and services to their friends and family as they gather together.  Is there a heart-warming story about one of your products or services that can be re-told across your organization as an example of your powerful brand? What accomplishments have the employees made during the year that can be celebrated as part of the holidays? By shining a spotlight on your workforce as an important part of your brand’s success, holiday parties can be transformed into truly engaging events that build a more brandful workforce.

Comment below if you attended a holiday party that made you more jazzed about the brand.  Did you share your enthusiasm on your social network? Did you donate anything on behalf of your organization to help others? How did your actions impact the brand? I’d love to include it among my brandful examples.

To read more about how celebrations can be an effective way for employees to advocate for your brand, please see my book, The Brandful Workforce: How Employees Can Make, Not Break Your Brand. For previous blog posts or to share this post, click here.

 

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.

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).

Should Every Employee Be a Brand Ambassador?

I’ve seen organizations designate certain employees (over others) to be brand ambassadors. They have a set of criteria and if the employee lives up to it, he is chosen. This doesn’t make any sense to me. What message does this send to the employees who are not brand ambassadors and doesn’t every employee represent the brand anyway?

Don’t worry about the potential bottom 5-10% of your staff who are underperformers or “problem employees.” These folks already suck way too much time and attention from your managers and should be held accountable.  It’s like the problem child that gets all the attention when the good kids are left alone because they are doing what they’re told to do. Keep the focus on the ones who deserve it. Having a brandful workforce simply means that you have employees who genuinely love your products and/or services. If this is true, they are more likely to behave in a way that promotes your brand. The level to which they actually do this may vary according to each employee’s personality and lifestyle, and it should be genuine.  I believe this simple concept has been left out of most organizational strategies and I do believe that employees are the biggest missed opportunity in branding today. Don’t miss the boat on this one.