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Jul 2013 04

do your brand ambassadors work?

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The case last week of Melanie Stark, a young lady who is challenging Harrods over their insistence she wear makeup whilst on the shop floor, reminded us at The Marketing Box of just how important company representatives are to your success in re-enforcing your brand values.

In this case the woman in question wasn’t even working in the beauty department (where the staff seem to be permanently caked in weapons grade foundation and lipstick) – she was part of the HMV concession. The store, nevertheless, has a detailed policy on how all customer-facing employees should present themselves.

The key target market for Harrods, one can only presume, is particularly wealthy types who ‘expect’ certain standards in those they buy their DVD’s from.

I don’t wish to get into the rights and wrongs or indeed the legalities when it comes to hiring people who are going to be customer-facing, but as long as you have a ‘reasonable business case’ you can ask staff to comply to certain dress codes and standards that reflect your image.

Furthermore, although I guess plenty of vegetarians work for Burger King and I don’t suppose there are many funeral parlours who can recommend a coffin from first hand experience, in general it would seem to make sense that your employees can to some extent evangelise your brand.  ‘Harrods’ and ‘make up’ are certainly close bedfellows in my own limited perceptions.

What is an important lesson to learn here is that in our experience many companies, especially in business to business markets, often completely overlook the key role that many staff play in carrying your brand.  It isn’t just the retail or leisure industires that have to consider how their staff appear and interact with customers.

In fact, there are very few jobs these days that don’t involve some form of interaction with a client or customer in some way.  With thatin mind, an employee or even sub-contractor is a potential brand ambassador – from the receptionist to the guy that delivers components or anything else on your behalf.

Time and again we come across business to business marketing managers who spend fortunes on preparing a brand launch for the external market (plus the sales teams of course), and yet when it comes to many other internal staff they have presumed they will somehow gather what is going on and join in.  Often they just get a simple email on the day of launch from which they are expected to understand the brand strategy and fall in line.

Internal brand ambassadors (those that are directly or indirectly employed by you as opposed to those who speak positively of your brand from experience) are, in fact, absolutely essential in ensuring a brand’s values and messages are strengthened and proven at all points of contact throughout the sales process.

All those many marketing pounds that you have spent carefully and painstakingly crafting messages and promotional materials to entice, reassure and convince potential customers to even approach your brand can be completely undermined by the troops on the ground that haven’t really bought in because they weren’t ever really included in the process.

Often it is as simple as keeping them and the management fully informed of brand developments and plans, and where possible given chances to feedback or contribute.  After all, anything that is going to make the company more successful is a positive thing for even the most disgruntled of employees. And if they make that connection then they are far more likely to ensure that they do their best, however small, to help the customer along the path to purchase. Ultimately you want them working for you, not against you.

In the case of the Harrods employee, she clearly has never really bought into or understood what the dress policy is in place for, ultimately directly affecting the store’s profits and therefore also her own salary, despite the fact she signed a contract agreeing to the rules in the first place.

I stress again, as part of any brand implementation plan it is vital that internal staff and suppliers are treated with as much importance as the ‘external’ end users or influencers, and in fact a comprehensive internal brand launch should form a major part of the roll out schedule.

So in a way I certainly sympathise with Harrods.  They are trying to create a ‘brand experience’ for their target market which includes ensuring that their staff  ‘fit in’ to their customers perceptions, no matter how old fashioned or draconian it may sound.

Reading between the lines I suspect that it is to do with how she was told rather than why, and she has put her own self interest in front of the company she works for.  I don’t think anyone is implying that she looks better with make-up than without, but rather that she is expected to ‘take one for the team’ as it were.  Do you think that the poor guy on the high street wearing the sandwich board sign and ridiculous chicken outfit really wants to be seen in that?

Sometimes you just have to remember that old marketing adage; “the (paying my wages) customer is always right”.

 

Posted by: Rob Paton, Director, The Marketing Box

 

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