Category Archives: Employee Brand Engagement

So Banks Have Lost Trust…Do They Care?

What a difference a day makes!

In my last post, I referenced the Edelman 2010 Trust Barometer survey. In another example of market research telling us what we already know, financial services (banks, insurance, mutual funds, etc.) came in dead last when it comes to the trust factor. In a nutshell, banks and their brethren have gone from being a necessary evil to potential charlatans. This is the kind of news that can make companies shake in their boots.

When I created the first draft of this post yesterday, I had a very cynical tone about the likelihood that banks would really change. Today, I am slightly less so and here is why.

The New York Times today carried this headline in its Business section: “Bank of America to End Overdraft Fees. This is an example of a bank that is voluntarily and publically taking action on behalf of consumers.

Is this action going to start a trend of banks competing to be the most kind and loving to their customers? Of course not. But it’s telling, and a small step towards regaining some trust.

Below, a reprise of the Edelman recommended actions to regain trust, and my take on each.

1. Work with regulators instead of fighting them. That’s not happening. Consider the words of TARP Chief Elizabeth Warren:

“The reason that we’re not changing things in Washington is that the banks have lobbyists in Washington in numbers I’ve never seen.  They’re coming not just once a month or once a week, or even once a day.  These guys are coming in two, three, four times a day.  They’ve got their position papers, and they just keep slamming in the same direction over and over and over.  And people that want to advocate for American families, that want some changes, or want to level the playing field just don’t have that kind of lobbying power.  And so what we’re really watching here is a David and Goliath story of monumental proportions.”

2. Be honest and transparent in communications. Yes and no. Frankly, a lot of transparency has been forced on the industry. A top example is the Credit Card Act of 2009. How much stupidity, pain and suffering could have been avoided if consumers had seen what I just saw on my Visa bill–that it would take 16 Years!!! to pay off my account if I paid the minimum each month. Why didn’t any single institution think of this themselves? Thus, my skepticism.

3. Focus on quality, not quantity, of communications. Maybe. Banks like to measure things. If they really listen to their customers (and Bank of America gets kudos here), they may realize that they make more “noise” than they need to. Less can definitely be more.

4. Spend less time pushing product and more time providing service. This is the crux of the matter. If banks do this, much of the other problems will retreat into the background. It’s going to be hard to do and it will take time because banks are filled with product managers and sales people, all with individual goals, and frequently a culture that rewards speed and volume over one to one marketing and personal relationships.

5. Engage customers and employees alike. The financial meltdown and the visibility of banks as major contributors to the problem has had a major impact on employees. If they don’t feel good about the company they work for, how can they be expected to engage customers? Banks have the power to do this, but do they have the will?

Only time will tell. My guess? Banks will behave less badly, at least for the next few years.



Filed under Brand strategy, Employee Brand Engagement, General Marketing

Brand Advocacy the Apple and Amazon Way

Sometimes I get tired of seeing Amazon and Apple at or near the top of various brand rankings. It just seems like a cliche. So I received a much-needed jolt of reality this morning on my morning commute.

I was reading Groundswell on my Kindle. As the train reached 125th St., I noticed my seatmate looking at me. That usually means that the person needs to move past and exit the train, so I asked him if he was getting off. He said that he was actually looking at my Kindle and that it reminded him of his wife’s recent experience with her Kindle. Apparently, she was reading while exercising, and dropped it. Although the device didn’t shatter, the side controls were loosened, and her Kindle was unusable.

Hoping that it might be repairable, she called Amazon customer service. To her amazement, the Customer Service rep said not to worry–just mail the broken Kindle to them, and they would replace it. Two days later, her replacement arrived, with all of the books in her original Kindle intact. My seatmate and I agreed that Amazon was quite generous in their terms.

(In fact, I was curious enough to check out the Kindle warranty on the Amazon site. It is quite open to interpretation, and customer service would be within their rights to claim that dropping it on a treadmill or elliptical machine wasn’t covered in the warranty.)

Continuing on the subject of great customer service, the same gentleman began talking about a similar experience with the Apple Powerbook that he purchased for his college bound daughter. The laptop arrived the week before she was to head off to school in California. When she turned it on, it was clear that something was very wrong with the hard drive. It was now Friday afternoon, and she was due to leave in five days. Her father called Apple customer service in a bit of a panic.

Again, the customer service rep was totally reassuring. The rep informed the father that someone from DHL would arrive at their home by 6:00 p.m. with a box that would fit the laptop, that he ship it back to Apple, and that a replacement would arrive by the following Tuesday. The father emphasized to the rep that his daughter was leaving for school on Wednesday morning, so there was no margin of error.

Sure enough, the laptop arrived on Tuesday as promised. He said that this experience alone persuaded him that a Mac was worth the large price differential over a comparable Dell or HP.

By now, we had arrived at Grand Central Terminal. As I walked to work, it occurred to me that my seatmate is a genuine advocate for both Apple and Amazon. Customers like this is what all companies yearn for. What made both of these examples so great was that it had nothing to do with “features and benefits”. What drove his loyalty to these two technical devices was the interaction with human beings in customer service.

All the brand strategy, advertising, brochures, cool websites in the world cannot improve on the personal interaction with a brand. It is clear that in a purposeful way, both Apple and Amazon create engaged employees. Engaged employees are infectious in the best possible way–they pass along their infection to customers.

My hat is off to both of them.


Filed under Brand strategy, Employee Brand Engagement

Branding Brilliance from Mary Kay

My daughter and I were on a drive for a college visit. I was in the center lane of a three-lane Westchester County parkway. Before I knew it I was passed on the left by a most unusual SUV. At first, I thought that the sun was affecting my eyes, but, yes, driving along in distinctive splendor was a pink Cadillac Escalade.

My daughter gasped and said, “Is that a pink car?”. “Yes”, I replied, “it belongs to a super salesperson for Mary Kay”. Susannah immediately asked whether anyone could buy a car that color, and my response was that it was unique to Mary Kay.

I had always heard about the pink cars, but had never seen one. I had assumed that they would be awful-looking, but that was the wrong assumption. Pink the Escalade was, but it was tasteful, and believe me, it stood out from every other car on the road. It conjured up so many positive attributes as well:

  • Cadillac is an American car, and Mary Kay embodies the American dream. Good for her for not handing out a Lexus to her top salespeople
  • Pink is Mary Kay’s signature color, and this particular shade was so special that it remains in my mind over a week later
  • This is a business that encourages and–better yet–rewards the entrepreneurial spirit. Whoever was driving must be an incredibly successful person and clearly an advocate for the Mary Kay brand

All of those associations came crowding in within seconds. Although there was a discreet “Mary Kay” on the rear of the vehicle, it was unostentatious. Bravo!

Mary Kay doesn’t advertise. It is sold on a one-to-one basis. I have no idea how to calculate the collective impressions each time the vehicle is seen in the area, but I bet it’s worth a lot.  You gotta love the clarity of purpose and creativity behind this program. And my guess is that it grew organically, not as an overt way to “raise awareness of the brand”. Mary Kay was a woman ahead of her time in more ways than one!

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College and University Branding

I am the proud mother of twin daughters, who happen to be in their senior year in high school. Anyone who has gone through the college search process in the last few years is well-aware of the marketing prowess demonstrated by even the most unknown colleges. If you haven’t experienced it, you would be amazed.

Some of this we brought upon ourselves. As neither daughter seemed to comprehend the importance of good grades, we began visiting colleges after their freshman year–hoping to give them an inspiring glimpse of why exactly they were in college prep schools. Those first tours did not have the desired effect. In fact, they might have boomeranged. But not surprisingly, those early schools began to contact us regularly. Impressive follow-up.

Then my husband discovered the book, “Colleges That Change Lives“, which is a cottage industry unto itself. The book is terrific, uncovering some of the best, smaller schools that connect with their students in meaningful ways. The book came first, then the schools seemed to capitalize on it, and thus a specialized college fair was born. My husband and daughters attended one, and at the Cornell College booth, the recruiter knew of their great-aunt Geneva, who had been an renowned English professor there for 40 years. Then they visited the Ohio Wesleyan University booth, where the recruiter had been a classmate of my husband’s (back then a ne’er do well) brother, and remembered him well and fondly. Each school was more impressive than the next. Now the girls were starting to “get it”. What is so interesting about this group of schools is that they have, in effect, created a branded class that in total begins to challenge the commonly accepted top tier of schools.

As a brander, I applaud them. As a mother, I realized that many of them were beyond the academic reach or geographic interest of my daughters. And so we continued to search.

Today’s college fair (if you live near a large city) is an amazing experience. It’s like a trade show, but what is interesting is that everyone plays on an even field. Each school has a table. What they do with their table is up to them, but there is no change to create a fancy two story, over the top, booth. Business could learn a great deal from the “sales” efforts of the recruiters. The best of them have attended the school they recruit for, and they provide detailed, insightful and personal information.

Another great resource is “America’s Best Colleges for B Students“. It’s not as rigorously researched as CTCL, but there is helpful information about how and where students may access academic support and get the tools for success. We found several intriguing schools, some of which cross-referenced with CTCL, which made them even more interesting.

The best schools understand how 17-year olds today communicate, which is not always in a formal interview or a formal essay. Most have FaceBook pages, and they communicate via email–and direct phone calls. Again, this is evidence of total focus on the target audience.

We are far from done. What were the memorable experiences? High Point University, whose president is a businessman who has both a vision and a deep understanding of marketing. It may look glossy, but it is not fluffy. A surprise finalist is McDaniel College, which is both a CTCL and a “B Student” school. The information session purposely had no fancy PowerPoint or video, just an incredibly intelligent and articulate representative who focused on the school’s commitment to the holistic education of each student. Instead of being put off or intimidated by the academic excellence, my daughter found herself challenged and insprired by it. Bravo!

Right now, we are in the thick of it. The phone rings nearly every day with a recruiter or student representative from a college. Our mailbox is overloaded with post cards and brochures.

If you are a marketer, just think of the challenge. There are the Ivies, the Big Ten, the major State Universities. But there are thousands of schools under the radar, all trying desperately to stand out from the pack. The best have a deep sense of who they are, their heritage, and their vision for the future. The remainder have bought into expensive marketing communications programs, but they still have far to go. As many people say, “There is a college for everybody.” Some make their case far better than others.

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Why Is The UK More Enlightened About Employee Engagement?

This is a question that has nagged at me for well over a year. So, when I read “Engaging for Success”, a report commissioned by the UK Secretary of State, my idle curiosity turned to amazement and awe. Consider the forward by Rt Hon Lord Mandelson, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills:

A recession might seem an unusual time for such reflection – in fact, the opposite is the case. Because Britain’s economic recovery and its competitive strengths in a global economy will be built on strong, innovative companies and confident employees, there has never been a more important time to think about employee engagement in Britain. 

This 150+ page report was authored by David MacLeod and Nita Clarke. It is extensively researched, and offers fascinating insights and recommendations. What is most impressive, however, is that it focuses on the tangible and quantifiable business links between engaged employees and business success.

Here in the US, as a lonely traveler seeking to provide enlightenment to companies, I have led numerous brand engagement programs. This is not the same as “classic” engagement because instead of working with Human Resources, I work with Marketing or Corporate Communications, and the focus is on brand strategy and execution. Historically,  my clients have rarely wanted anything to do with Human Resources or their programs. The opposite is also true. Many large companies have established “employer brands” programs that focus on recruitment and retention–and ignore the external brand.

But I haven’t seen the kind of holistic perspective on engagement as expressed by MacLeod and Clarke here in the U.S. Lisa Wojtkowiak, who specializes in employee research for ORC, says that the most exciting statistical research is being done out of their London office. There is finally concrete support for the Sears service-profit chain model, with other companies showing similar correlations between engaged employees and greater profitability.

Why does the UK get it and U.S. companies do not? Here are some theories:

1. The intangible value of engaged employees is not well-understood or quantified by financial executives.

2. Human Resources and Marketing have rarely, if ever, partnered together. Each have their own models, budgets, programs, KPIs, and preferred vendors, and sharing may mean loss of the power inherent in owning data. (As I understand it, HR executives wield much more financial power in the UK).

3. In many UK corporations, there is an officer who is in charge of employee engagement, and this person has access to the CEO. In the US, similar roles tend to be put under Human Resources, with little power or budget.

4. Maybe the UK workforce is just less mobile than the U.S. It’s much harder to lay people off, and with a greater investment in long-term employees, it may heighten the need to develop active, meaningful engagement programs.

I think we may be at the tipping point here in the U.S., and look forward to more meaningful conversations with my clients in the future.







Filed under Employee Brand Engagement

The Five Keys to Employee Brand Engagement

I have a bit of an obsession on the subject of how employees, the corporate brand, and “engagement” all fit together–or not.

First, a definition is in order: Employee brand engagement is the positive emotional connection between employees and their company through the brand, and the extension of the brand experience to customers.

This can be confusing, because in any given company there are so many different initiatives–employee engagement, employer branding, corporate values, marketing taglines, brand attributes and positioning, and so on. It’s a welter of unconnected concepts. In the US, in particular, these different initiatives are “owned” by different silos. HR, Marketing, Corporate Communications, Internal Communications. What I am talking about is the emerging need to connect the dots between employee engagement programs (which tend to be inward-looking) with the delivery of an on-brand experience to customers (the outside view).

In my experience, there are five keys to success in Employee Brand Engagement:

1. Make sure your CEO is on board, and ensure cross-functional commitment  If senior management considers employee engagement something that belongs to HR or Internal Communications, the program will have limited success at best. Employees look to leadership to reinforce messages and behaviors that are introduced in the engagement initiative. And engagement doesn’t happen overnight, so leadership must show commitment strategically and financially. These programs require a close working relationship among HR, Organizational Design, Training, Marketing, Internal Communications. Unless your company has a designated Employee Engagement unit, no one group can “own” the program.

2. Use employee AND customer data to create program metrics Traditional engagement focuses on recruiting and retention. Traditional marketing focuses on sales and customer satisfaction. But there are some exciting new ways to link improvements in employee attitudes and behavior with improved business results. The Sears service-profit model has been around for a long time, but it’s only now that statistical models can bring it to life. And while you’re doing that, uncover other useful metrics. Like an internal communications audit that measures the value  and impact of different types of communications. And a deeper dive into employee attitudes by region, line of business, job band, etc. It’s a noisy world out there in employee-land.

3. Fewer rules, more brand ownership I’m talking to you, marketers! Brand strategy and brand management is often closely held. Just as today’s customers feel a sense of ownership of your brand, so do employees. Employee’s front line experiences are valid and revealing.  Rigid rules, impenetrable “dashboards”, complex messaging matrices are often built in an ivory tower. Let employees challenge your assumptions. Let them tell you about the real world. That is, however, only after you have let them see and hear what real customers and prospects actually say about your company and products. It’s eye-opening on all sides.

4. Market to employees like customers Just as strong advertising programs are cross-platform, a successful brand engagement program must consider each employee touchpoint. Don’t rely on posters and employee publications to do the work. Think viral. Think interactive content. Think hands-on experience. But I have to offer one major caution: often, employees react poorly to “expensive” looking material, particularly in an environment when resources are tight. Be sensitive to your corporate culture.

5. Give your program time We live in a world of instant gratification, but behavioral change doesn’t happen overnight. All too often, my clients dive into a program without realizing that they are committing to a multi-year effort. You don’t just set up a network of brand advocates, and dust off your hands. If you have a network, they will require regular care and feeding. Brand training is the beginning, not the end. If you set up your metrics appropriately, you will have specific check-points along the way.

There is much more to say on this subject, but not today.

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On Cheerleading and Employee Engagement

My 17 year old daughter is a varsity cheerleader on her high school’s competitive team. Cheerleading has changed dramatically since I was in high school. It is now increasingly popular and fiercely competitive, on track to become an Olympics sport sometime in the future.

The sport has become so high profile that job recruiters, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry, seek out former cheerleaders as high potential salespeople. (See more in this article from The New York Times).

The UCA National high school cheerleading finals took place in 2010 on February 12–14 in Orlando at Disney World. This was my third visit as a “cheer Mom”. The first time I went, I was struck by what a perfect metaphor modern cheerleading is for brand advocacy (sometimes known as  employee brand engagement). In fact, I gave a speech shortly thereafter, that drew heavily on that experience.  I even included snapshots that I had taken during the competition to illustrate what I meant. My point of view has not changed.

Corporations today know that engaged employees lead to better efficiency, higher profits and an all-round better brand. But from my observation, the attempts at creating “engagement” are hampered by the lack of a holistic perspective. Not so among today’s cheerleaders. These teams are cross-trained to create a fabulous routine. Throughout the season, practice is supplemented by work with professional choreographers, formal gymnastics instruction, drills and, of course, cheering. A successful routine includes all of these elements, executed flawlessly, and completed in exactly two and one-half minutes. The higher degree of difficulty, the better the score.

How many corporations have employees that meet this kind of standard? Exactly the ones that are known for their strong brands: Starbucks, Apple, Nordstrom, Southwest Airlines, etc. In the rest of the business world, these attempts to “engage” their employees all too often become:

  • Superficial–poster campaigns, unnecessary town halls, inauthentic newsletters
  • Opportunities for sibling rivalry–Human Resources wants to create an “employer brand”, Marketing wants to develop brand advocacy based on the external brand, Corporate Training wants to take charge of educating employees and Internal Communications want to control all the communication channels
  • Bottoms up programs–doomed to fail because there is no senior executive sponsorship or behavioral models

A major missing element of many traditional engagement programs is the company brand. Let me suggest that the key to true brand advocacy is a clear focus on the outside world. And that focus results from understanding the brand. Competitive cheerleaders know exactly what the judges are looking for. Certain stunts win extra points for difficulty, and errors like stepping off the mat result in a lower score. In the same way, employees must understand how customers and prospects judge, purchase and ultimately prefer a company’s product.

Over the past three years, cheerleading has become even more competitive. The stunts and tumbling have reached an amazing level. It’s not unlike the constantly escalating level of competition in the business world. What makes it different is that I have seen true innovation in routines, and I have seen enthusiastic support for building to higher difficulty.

Employees may not have to do a standing back handspring like a varsity cheerleader, but a well-coordinated and unified understanding of the brand can make the difference in a transparent and competitive world.

P.S. My daughter’s team won 5th place at the Nationals.

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