Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact.

– Robert McKee, Screenwriter

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Why your Employee Brand is just as important as your Customer Brand

Your employees are your brand come to life. They work every day to carry out the mission of your company. They must be always walking and talking the very core brand values upon which your company was founded. If your employees aren’t engaged with your brand, your customers won’t stand a chance.

As we enter the Experience Economy of the 21st century, never has the opportunity to strengthen a brand holistically been more apparent. Consumers are buying based on the experience they have with a product are service, rather than merely the product or service itself. Starbucks, Apple and Southwest Airlines, for example, all provide a service or product. But people do business with them because of the experience they have when interacting with these products or services. And nearly every experience being sold today (and also every service, for that matter) involves the employees of that brand.

Employees are, after all, a company’s direct touch point to customers. So why wouldn’t we spend just as much effort in engaging employees with our brand as we do our customers? Some companies are spending that effort. The companies whose brands are leading the way in the experience economy surely are, and this is a big reason why they stand where they do today. Take Southwest Airlines’ CEO Herb Kelleher for example.

Over the years, whenever reporters would ask Mr. Kelleher the secret to Southwest’s success, he had a consistent response: “You have to treat your employees like customers,” he told Fortune in 2001. He believed in engaging employees, just as you would a consumer. Friends and peers of Kelleher’s would often see his philosophy in action.

“There isn’t any customer satisfaction without employee satisfaction,” said Gordon Bethune, the former chief executive of Continental Airlines and an old friend of Mr. Kelleher’s. “He recognized that good employee relations would affect the bottom line. He knew that having employees who wanted to do a good job would drive revenue and lower costs.”

And we know from Gallup surveys relating to employee engagement that the employees who want to do a good job are the engaged employees. So what are the hallmarks of an engaged employee?

Engaged employees identify with their employer’s values. They see themselves or see who they’d like to become in the core brand values that their employer has set forth. Any employee’s sense of belonging and inclusion in a mission larger than their daily work tasks directly affects the quality of the service they provide to customers. So at every touch point, your employee brand directly affects your consumer-facing brand. One can’t be strong without the other.

The good news is that this is not a difficult goal to accomplish when you create authentic, emotionally engaging employee brand messaging. But what types of messages will resonate?

We must work to tell the stories of the core brand values in action. Every day your employees are bringing them to life. You’ve surely heard stories from the front lines that exemplify the ideals of the company at its best. Do everything you can to tell them and share them with everyone in your organization. And do it in a way that captivates, engages and inspires.

Once an employee sees a colleague whom they respect living the brand values they themselves admire, but have been unsure about how to bring to their day-to-day interactions with customers, they will adopt those same demonstrations of that value in their own work. It’s called model participation. Not only will those employees carry the brand ideas forward, they will find and reconnect with the ways they already live the brand on a daily basis.

And once employees are actively engaged with the brand, they become evangelists for their employer. Every single interaction they have with a customer will remind those customers why they identified with your brand in the first place. The experience your customers have with your brand while in the physical presence of your employees is the single most memorable demonstration of it they will ever have.

Why wouldn’t we always do everything in our power to be certain our employees are carrying forward the right brand values in the best possible manner? In doing so, there will be big rewards in the form of long-term employee loyalty, improved work performance, reduced staff turnover and a pool of top talent keen to work with you because you have a strong employee brand as well as a strong customer brand.

This holistic brand approach means that when your employees win, your customers win.  Which is why we believe your employee brand messages should be given just as much thoughtful care and attention as those your customers receive.

You can begin to build a stronger, more holistic brand today by giving your employee brand the attention it deserves. Doesn’t that sound like something worth building?

Brand Storytelling Quote of the Week

Posted: May 8, 2010 in Uncategorized

“Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.”

– Hannah Arendt, Philosopher

There’s a great article published today by Ad Age about the rise of long form ads. These are short films, music videos and the like that feature brands within the context of a larger story. Rupal Parekh argues that it is the future of brand engagement and that 30 and 60 second spots are no longer where brand love is going to be created (were they ever, really?). And companies are certainly starting to see results to prove that point. Ms. Walnum of Oliver Peoples had this to say about their branded short film series:

“The traffic to our site has doubled each of the last three years and we attribute this in part to the demand for our short films. More importantly to us, the time a potential consumer is spending on the site continues to go up, which we believe leads to a better and deeper brand experience, and of course an increase to our e-commerce sales.”

As we shift to more and more longer form ads or perhaps more appropriately titled ‘branded entertainment,’ one thing will be clear: quality storytelling will become the in-demand method by which to engage customers with your brand.

Read Rupal’s AdAge article here:

http://adage.com/madisonandvine/article?article_id=143603

See an example of one of the Oliver Peoples short films starring Zooey Deschanel here:

“As long as people still have aspirations and goals and dreams, they will always crave Mystery. Whoever heard of anyone craving…statistics? Mystery lies in stories, metaphors, and iconic characters that give a relationship its texture. Mystery is a key part of creating Loyalty Beyond Reason.”

– Kevin Roberts

Today we’ll take a little breather from the heavy lifting and just enjoy Sarah’s story. I created this little short last month for my friend Sarah who was jumping into a very frozen Lake Calhoun. A day or two after I posted this on Vimeo I got an email from the VP of Marketing from Special Olympics Minnesota asking if they could use it on their website and in all communications about the event moving forward. I said absolutely and Sarah’s little story got a lot of mileage for a very good cause. Hope to see you at the polar bar dive next year! I’ll be in my trunks.

There’s a new name association game in town that can tell us a whole lot with a little (one word actually). It’s called Brand Tags and you can play the game yourself at http://www.brandtags.net.

The concept here is that the site flashes up a well-known global brand and participants type in the one word that comes to mind when faced with that logo/brand name. There have been 1.7 million brand tags and counting. Once you’ve personally tagged five brands, the real fun begins as you are able to scroll through those 1.7 tags by brand name. Enlightening fodder indeed.

So what do all of these brand tags mean for brand story? They mean that we can and should find brand story themes by listening to our customers.

Let’s take 3M as a case study. If you scroll through 3M’s tags, you’ll notice many words that describe customer perception of 3M – paper, post-it, technology are among the most tagged. But what’s the singularly most tagged word of all for the 3M brand? INNOVATION. Now that sounds like a compelling theme to inform a brand story. And even more importantly than the fact that it’s a compelling theme from which to begin weaving a story is that it came directly from customers of 3M. Which brings us to another major guiding principle of brand storytelling:

The best way to create a truly authentic brand story is by inviting your customers to narrate your story with you.

Your customers’ perceptions and experiences already contribute to the living and evolving story of your brand. And actually, your customers will keep telling stories about your brand whether you invite them to or not. So why not continue to encourage their voices and let those honest and authentic customer experiences guide the themes of your brand stories?

And once you’ve begun (or continue to) identify and refine those core customer experience themes or “brand tags,” the real fun begins: you’ll have some storytelling to do.