Investments in staff commitment key to brand growth

15 Mar 2003|Added Value

“Without employee commitment, the disconnection between consumers’ expectation of the brand – created through advertising – and the in-store service experiences leads to an erosion of the brand, which undermines the brand image that is so carefully, and expensively, built up by advertising and communications” says David Blackshaw and Emma Bechgaard, strategic marketing experts at Added Value.

Blackshaw explains that the consumer experience of a brand is threefold – the story the brand communication tells, what the actual product is like and finally, the service experience around the brand. This can be a once-off buying experience or the on-going service interaction that consumers have with their brands. Crucial for businesses, it is the employees themselves who deliver this third facet of the brand experience: service.

Whilst companies are well aware of the importance of brands and invest hugely in traditional brand-building exercises, like advertising and direct marketing, Blackshaw sees them to be reluctant to address the role that employees have to play in service delivery. “Companies are not investing in inspiring employees to live the brand promise. Unlike their international counterparts who are seeking to improve employee service delivery, South African companies are still under-investing in their employees when it comes to communicating or training in brand service delivery”, he says.

The key phrase here for Bechgaard is ‘brand appropriate service delivery’. According to Blackshaw, some companies profess to be making these investments, but they tend to focus on some generic measure of ‘good service’. This is often based on what ‘seems’ good to the company’s staff, rather than on building an understanding of what consumers expect of the brand, and building service delivery around these expectations.

Ultimately, from a consumers’ point of view, ‘good service’ is service that delivers on the brand promise of the brand they have bought into. Thus consumers would expect service of one kind from say Volkswagen, but might well have entirely different service expectations from Audi, and this difference in their expectations is based largely on how they perceive the brand and what it promises them”, says Blackshaw.

For employees to be able to deliver service of the kind that consumers expect, they must be able to ‘live the brand’, which requires them to develop both an intuitive feel for the brand and what it stands for, as well as deep pride in the brand. This means that employees need to understand what emotional promise the brand is making to consumers, as well as understand that to consumers they – as brand custodians – are perceived to be extensions of the brand itself and are thus expected to behave in a brand appropriate way.

Employees need to understand how the promise and the brand values can be translated into ways of behaving and acting towards consumers. Once they have understood what types of behaviour are expected from the brand by consumers, they need to be inspired to make a commitment to behaving and acting in ways that will contribute towards building the brand image and creating an emotional connection between the brand and the consumer.

Blackshaw believes that it is really very simple; the more employees understand how they add value to their particular brand the better they perform. “Every day, companies all over South Africa entrust their customer facing employees with their customers, so should they not be investing time and money to ensure that employees are provided with the best information and experience about their particular brand? By aligning employee values with those of the brand, true satisfaction is achieved for the employee and the customer” he says.

Achieving this level of understanding and commitment in employees requires “a sustained internal marketing investment, that not only motivates, but also inspires, internal audiences”, according to Blackshaw. By actively involving and engaging employees in understanding the promise and developing appropriate behaviours – rather than ‘passively telling’ employees what is expected of them – greater buy-in and commitment is achieved.

In addition, Bechgaard says, “When companies set out to give employees an understanding of “what’s in it for them”, and give constant reminders and reinforcements of the goals with corresponding rewards, greater success for the internal marketing initiative is ensured. Measuring the success of an internal marketing investment could be set out as performance management goals, but companies do not typically make this big, bold move”.

Experts from Harvard Business School have gathered evidence that directly links profit and growth not only to customer loyalty and satisfaction, but also to employee loyalty and satisfaction. Employees have become companies’ most valuable asset in the quest for brand growth and competitive advantage – especially in service businesses. The companies that have launched internal campaigns in South Africa – Volkswagen and Unilever – “have all felt the benefit”, says Blackshaw. If developing employees understanding of service delivery does indeed build the brand, why aren’t more companies making this investment?

Short-termism is a major obstacle says Bechgaard, with businesses under constant pressure for any investment to have an immediate impact on their bottom line. While it is difficult to quantify the result of these programmes in direct monetary terms, it can be determined in other ways like measuring people’s understanding of the brand, measuring customer behaviour and monitoring their feedback. Sears Roebuck in the USA for example experienced a 4% increase in employee and customer satisfaction over a two-year period that translated into a $200 million increase in revenue.

In a quantitative survey undertaken by Added Value, only one third of companies were found to measure their employees’ commitment to their products or services. However, industry experts agree that this mindset is beginning to change as companies develop a growing belief in employees as a key to sustained brand growth.

“The most successful companies in future will be the ones who invest in building high levels of employee engagement with their brand, while their competitors are still waiting for the evidence to emerge”, Blackshaw concludes.

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