Companies exert a great deal of time and effort to build their brands and position themselves positively, and effectively, relative to the competition. Much of that time and effort is focused externally—on creating marketing messages that are disseminated through a wide range of communication channels from the traditional (print, broadcast and outdoor) to the digital (websites and social media). The external audience is certainly an important area of focus, but there’s another audience equally, if not more, important—the internal audience, or your employees.
Employees are in a great position to either make, or break, a company’s brand. As they interact with friends, neighbors, relatives and others, they’re often turned to as a source of information about the companies they work at—and the products and services those companies offer.
When that happens, what kinds of message and information are they sharing?
Employees as Ambassadors
HR has an important role to play in ensuring that employees are positioned to serve effectively as brand ambassadors–from hire, to onboarding, and throughout the employee life cycle. Beyond that, of course, the HR function plays a pivotal role in making sure that the work environment is supportive, positive and conducive to being called a great place to work.
As an article in Business 2 Community (B2C), by Dan Hickey, pointed out earlier this year, “fully engaged employees can become ambassadors for the brand.” The flip side of that statement should be obvious: disengaged employees are unlikely to be strong brand advocates.
If you think about your own experiences as a consumer, it’s abundantly clear that what employees have to say about the companies they work for and the products and services those companies offer can have a significant impact on decisions to buy those products and services.
Cultivating a cadre of supportive brand ambassadors, though, requires a focus both on the work environment itself and on ensuring that employees have the information and knowledge they need to help support the organization’s message.
It’s not a simple process and not one that occurs in a linear fashion. There are a number of factors that impact to what extent employees are positioned to serve as ambassadors to help spread positive, brand-supporting messages.
Partnering With Marketing
Do an online search for “HR is the new marketing” and you’ll generate more than 103 million results (on Google). For good reason. More companies are recognizing the value that employees bring to the marketing equation. That elevates HR’s role as an important element of supporting brand value. It also requires HR and marketing staff members to work together to ensure alignment, consistency and relevance of key messages to support employees in a brand ambassador role. There are tasks for both sides to take on:
- Take on a leadership role in working to ensure that the work environment and culture are strong and supportive; monitor and measure employee satisfaction and engagement and take steps to address potential areas of concern
- Provide managers and supervisors with the information and training they need to create a positive work environment and support the corporate culture
- Ensure that the recruitment messages are brand aligned, carrying the same key points as other corporate communications
- Ensure that the hiring process screen candidates for the traits and capabilities that will position them to serve effectively in a brand ambassador role
- Establish policies and guidelines to ensure that employees understand their role in communicating company information, how to participate in social media channels, when they can (and, perhaps, can’t) act on behalf of the employer, etc.
- Reach out to connect with marketing colleagues to create positive working relationships and opportunities for ongoing interaction
- Provide HR with the messaging and support needed to ensure that their employment communication materials are aligned with marketing messages
- Ensure the HR department is updated and aware of new communications, campaigns and initiatives
- Provide training, coaching and support to help HR colleagues understand general marketing principles and best practices
- Reach out to connect with HR colleagues to create positive working relationships and opportunities for ongoing interaction
- Identify areas where employees may not have the information and knowledge they need to serve effectively in a brand ambassador role
- Develop messaging and support to provide employees with ready access to the information they need
- Communicate internally about the importance of employees assuming a brand ambassador role
- Commit to working together to support both the employer and company brand
The employee audience is often overlooked as an important channel of information to help support the brand and provide reliable, credible and timely information to key audiences. Don’t make this mistake. Take steps to build relationships between HR and marketing, to identify desired outcomes and to work together to develop brand ambassadors.