Employees are the most influential ambassadors for a brand, and as such, they must buy into the brand promise for it to be successful. That’s according to Jim O’Rourke, professor of management at the University of Notre Dame.
“The strongest opinions (about a brand) are shaped by the words and deeds of employees,” said O’Rourke, who also serves as a trustee for the Arthur W. Page Society. “They have an enormous impact on management’s ability to deliver on the brand promise.”
Many companies share O’Rourke’s opinion. AbbVie Inc. (a FleishmanHillard client) is a true believer in this idea that employees can make – or break – a brand. “We fundamentally believe our brand is expressed in the marketplace by our 26,000 employees and that trust in AbbVie comes from the personal experience,” said Jennifer Smoter, vice president of public affairs and brand for the pharmaceutical research and development company.
In other words, unhappy or disaffected employees can put a brand at risk, no matter what fantastic marketing campaign or PR push is in the works. “Culture eats strategy for lunch,” O’Rourke said. “If an employee has a bad experience interacting with a customer, your brand takes a hit.”
O’Rourke points to the viral video of a FedEx employee throwing a flat-screen television in 2011 is a prime example. “They have 200,000 people knocking themselves out, and this yahoo tosses a TV over the fence. FedEx uses that video now to show employees why the brand promise is so important.”
It’s up to management to make sure employees buy into the brand. This means managers must hire the right people, train and supervise them properly and give them enough room to do their work well. According to Smoter, from AbbVie’s beginnings in 2013, the company worked to ensure employees had a direct understanding of its business strategies and how both business and culture affected patients taking AbbVie’s medicines.
“Employees need to know more than (business) strategies,” she added. “It is very fulfilling and exciting work to develop a medicine that can save or improve someone’s life so significantly.”
Smoter suggests that, as a result, AbbVie ranks at the top of the pharmaceutical industry when it comes to trust (source: Prophet’s Reputation Management Index, prophet.com), and AbbVie earned the 20th spot on “The FutureBrand Index Top 100” for 2014. In February, AbbVie was ranked No. 2 in overall corporate reputation and No. 1 in integrity by PatientViews, representing 1,100 patient groups in 58 countries. “These rankings are important because they indicate our employees are ‘walking the walk,’ and as a result, key stakeholders believe we are living our brand promise,” Smoter said.
Research shows this sort of employee buy-in comes when employees have the opportunity to realize their own hopes and dreams, and feel proud of the work their company is doing. Smoter said that describes her company to a T. “Our employees fundamentally understand our brand promise and what we are able to deliver to patients,” she said. “Our employee engagement and satisfaction scores are consistently 10-15 points higher than company norms.”
O’Rourke said the concept of employee-as-brand-ambassador isn’t new, and companies that have adopted it as gospel consistently do better in employee satisfaction and corporate reputation surveys. “Why hasn’t everyone recognized it?” he asked. “They’re not paying attention.”
Photo credit: AbbVie employees (AbbVie); FedEx employee (Youtube.com)