09 January 2010

Quick! Spot the Brand Saboteur.

Can you tell from the photo here? Not easy, huh?

Employees of every stripe walk down the hallways of your company every day. Each with their own perspective of your company's brand, and differing degrees of willingness to do something to champion it.

How do you identify the supporters and put them to work on behalf of your brand and your business? (They are intertwined -- but more of that in a future post.)

And how do you isolate the detractors so that they do no harm?

In a previous life as a brand marketer, I used to conduct brand overview sessions as part of my company's employee orientation program. With each batch of newbies, it was easy to pick out potential allies. They were the ones who asked the most questions, who weren't thumbing their crackberries or multi-tasking on their laptops (this must be one of the most insiduous diseases of corporate life). I would recruit the most promising brand champions from each business function, and appoint them as group leaders during annual brand rallies when we'd break out by function to draft brand marketing action plans. One of our most heartening rallies was in Korea when the whole office shut down for the day to rally around brand planning. (Thank you Gina & Jae-Yong!)

As for the detractors, well, they're harder to spot. To be fair, I believe no one deliberately sets out to destroy their company brand. They're just not that passionate about it. They view any investment in brand-building as taking away from what could have been used to expand the sales force, incentivise the channel, or put into the discretionary bonus pool. They're inclined to focus relentlessly on the current quarter, protesting (with some justification) that "there's no use investing in long-term brand-building if we don't hit enough targets to still be around for the long-term!" They're the ones who insist that demand-generation ads be focused 100% on precisely that -- with no leeway for brand-building.

And what of the ones in the middle -- who are neither brand-led nor brand-dead, but simply brand-neutral? While that may be the dominant mindset in most companies, there is no corresponding middle ground in terms of effect on the brand. Everything we say or do either adds to or subtracts from the brand -- everything. Every day, whether they realize it or not, employees are making deposits to or withdrawals from their brand-equity piggybank. The employees behind the world's most valuable brands simply put in much more than they take out.

Why is all of this important? Because all employees are potential brand ambassadors. And a company's workforce is its primary vehicle to deliver its brand promise. People truly are an organization's best assets.

Classic brand management theory categorizes employees into four groups:
Brand Champions -- storytellers who proactively spread the brand idea
Brand Agnostics -- those who are interested in but not yet committed to the brand story
Brand Cynics -- employees who are not involved with, and not open to be engaged by the brand idea
Brand Saboteurs -- detractors who actively or indirectly stand in the path of advancing the brand strategy, within and outside the organization

The exact proportion of these groups within a company varies across companies and industries; but the spread typically follows a Bell curve.

Brand marketers, take note: Your job is to keep the Saboteurs away from the Agnostics.

Because in work, as in the rest of life: Some people quit and leave. (They're not whom we should worry about.) But there are heaps of others who quit, and stay.

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