We can never overemphasize the importance of the right talent to business success. As Claes Peyron discussed in his “9 Steps to a Successful Employer Branding Strategy” blog, attracting, retaining and coaching employees has become a pivotal organizational capability. Organizations need to appoint their “Chief Talent Officer[s]” for the development of such capability. By turning employees into trusted internal advocates or brand representatives in direct contact with customers and other external audiences, organizations can acquire sustainable competitive advantage that brings about customer loyalty, high market share, price premium, and many more. Having passionate employees who adore their brand, organizations not only benefit from their external ambassadors’ word-of-mouth marketing but also generate increased revenues—a tendency to be better off than organizations with less engaged employees.
Employee branding, as part of an organization’s brand positioning strategy, has also attracted increasing attention from academicians. Branded encounters between employees and customers lead to positive brand impressions and enable customers to process brand information and understand a brand’s overall meaning well. Brand management thus should focus on the strategic alignment of employees’ experiences with brand promises, in addition to the external use of marketing-driven and mass-targeted messages. Previous literature from services marketing, relationship marketing, employee branding, brand communities, and organizational citizenship behavior has examined how to cultivate brand ambassadors internally. In employee branding, the management’s leadership styles really make a difference. Helpful brand-specific leadership behaviors entail characteristic ones such as role modeling (i.e., leadership authentically live the brand values themselves), articulating an inspiring brand vision and inducing passion in the corporate brand, empowering an internal brand community and encouraging employee feedback on brand ramifications for different jobs, and coaching employees to grow into their role as brand ambassadors. Apart from leadership, the job demands that employees have, the relatedness they perceive between their daily work and branding, the joint effort of functional organizations (i.e., corporate communication, HR, marketing, etc.), and employee engagement in social media all significantly contribute to successful internal branding.
Prior empirical studies tell us similar stories. A 2009 survey of 269 frontline employees indicated that participants were more likely to embrace an organization’s external brand positioning when leadership was transformational (e.g., role modeling, articulating an inspiring brand vision, empowering internal brand representatives, and coaching them) and when employees perceived a high level of autonomy, competence, and relatedness in performing their work role as brand representatives. Similarly, drawing upon a 2007 survey of 167 senior managers and several top management focus groups, researchers found employees tended to exhibit brand consistent behaviors when managers spent time explaining branding objectives (i.e., informal management) and helping employees articulate a brand to customers in their own ways (i.e., employee empowerment). Based on data collected from 453 employees, 172 supervisors, and 933 customers from 26 organizations in 2012, scholars concluded that brand-centered human resources and corporate communications management may positively affect brand psychological ownership of employees which can ultimately lead to their constructive brand citizenship behavior.
Employee advocacy in the digital age has also become a challenge that many industries face. As Chris Boudreaux and Susan Emerick state in their book The Most Powerful Brand on Earth, “In social media, people—not brands—are the channel.” Rebecca Feldman in her LinkedIn talent blog discussed how organizations can leverage their employees’ social media presence to turn them into brand ambassadors through clear, actionable communications and training programs. Organizational culture supportive of employees’ social media engagement helps an organization with such endeavor. According to Feldman, the CEO of ANZ, Mike Smith’s company-wide email sets an excellent example. Mike emailed his employees touting the value of getting out on social media and becoming brand representatives. Key to an organization’s successful employee branding on the digital front are frequent communication about branding objectives, easy-to-follow instructions for social media practices, coaching, and employee segmentation and customized social media tactics.
Creating a great match between external brand positioning and employee experiences is not something that happens overnight. Here are some research-based suggestions for organizations and internal communicators to start with:
1. Treat employees as your internal “customers.” Employees are a critical stakeholder group. Treat them well. Make sure that they are getting high-quality internal services from you. Establish employee learning and development programs to breed brand mindedness and customer orientation.
2. Engage employees in customer relationship cultivation. Encourage employees to adhere to the highest product and service standards. Meeting customers’ expectations is always the key.
3. All leaders, regardless of their hierarchical and functional roles within organizations, play a pivotal role. Foster open, transparent and frequent conversations with your employees. Make easy-to-use resources available to enhance employees’ positive brand experiences.
4. Focus on branding-oriented social media engagement. Facilitate your employees’ practices on social media sites (both the company’s and their personal networks) and motivate them to socially engage the brand’s target audiences.
5. Construct a consistent and integrated brand through collective efforts of different organizational functions (e.g., corporate communications, HR, and marketing).
6. Develop measurement metrics for all branding-oriented employee communication tactics. Establish formal systems (e.g., commissions, bonuses, awards, and recognitions) to reward employees’ brand building accomplishments.
Hua Jiang, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of public relations at Syracuse University.