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Brand ambassador: are you one?

When introduced to someone socially and asked what you do for a living do you proudly espouse your company’s name? Could you explain what the company stands for and what it does?

It is not just the chief executive or chairman who has to fly the flag for the company. Like it or not, if we work for a branded company we are all ambassadors.

Richard Branson may be Virgin’s number one brand ambassador but every Virgin employee has to give the same message. This helps reinforce the brand experience – you get ‘what it says on the tin’. When a Virgin air hostess, for example, is particularly helpful on a transatlantic flight it reinforces your positive view of the Virgin brand.

After all a brand is more than a name or a symbol; the brand experience or promise is vital. A brand’s identity and the experience are inextricably linked – in many ways a brand represents a bond with a customer. And it is this bond that the employee brand ambassador has to reinforce.

Every touch point with the customer can either add to or deplete the value of a brand. We know this from own experience as consumers.

We can all quote horror stories of a poor experience in a hotel or restaurant – one rude receptionist or surly waiter can ruin a visit. And it is most likely that we will repeat the story to a friend.

Yet a good brand experience speaks for itself. Look at what Howard Schultz has done to build the Starbucks experience.

Schultz started out working for what was then a Seattle coffee bean company. He recognised coffee drinking was a social / lifestyle experience, bought the company, opened his trademark cafes and in less than 15 years he has built a global phenomenon. This could not have happened without employees understanding the importance of living the brand. Go into a Starbucks today and the environment ensures a consistent, positive experience – and you get a good cup of coffee, too.

Disney has also involved employees in building a hugely successful brand. Visit a London Disney store or head into the Orlando theme park –staff are consistently part of the overall experience, even dressing up as Disney characters. Disney exemplifies how to make consumers feel good about a brand.

A brand’s value is not just about the point of purchase – it’s about what happens before and after. A consumer may take three months researching a new car, or three seconds deciding on a brand of cereal, but it is all part of the brand experience.

This begins with the initial awareness, is reinforced through personal networks, develops on-line or in store when browsing, is confirmed at the point of purchase – and continues through the product’s usage and disposal. During this cycle the consumer will interact with different representatives of the brand and each contact helps reaffirm the way they feel.

Consumers want to continue feeling good about their decision long after the actual purchase. Car manufacturers, for example, spend vast amounts on advertising to reinforce the quality and image of the vehicle you have just bought. Aftersales support and service are important, too. That personal phone call two or three days after you bought your new car is all part of making you feel you made the right choice.

Similarly the phone call to check your party went well the day after Waitrose has delivered its prepared Invitation-branded food makes you feel the company cares. The employee making the call understands that this is part of the brand experience.

And should something go wrong with a purchase and the consumer need to return an item or complain, all is not lost for a brand. If the person behind the counter or on the phone responds appropriately and treats you well, it can be turned into a positive experience for the customer – and so adds value to the brand. So often we are prepared to be disappointed with a brand and are ready to stand our ground and fight for our consumer rights. When we complain and find a branded company that’s supportive, we can quickly shift from being an angry consumer to being a very loyal customer.

The point is, recommendation is worth £millions to a brand. When Dyson first launched those strange-coloured vacuum cleaners in 1993, word-of-mouth set the brand on its track to success. And even though there were teething problems with the very first model, the way the company responded made owners and potential consumers feel positive.

Brands that don’t pay heed to every touch point with the consumer ignore this at their peril. In today’s wired world an untarnished character is as vital for a brand as it is for an individual. A chance comment by an employee, bad practice or an action not thought through could do untold damage. Brands, like celebrities, feed the news pipeline. And consumer watchdogs and consumer TV programmes rightly champion the consumer’s cause. Brands have to be squeaky clean.

Coca-Cola may have been able to retrieve its flawed Dasani water brand with a recall were it not for the fierce publicity. The media coverage makes marketing experts doubt whether Dasani could ever be relaunched in the UK – thereby halting the brand’s European ambitions.

When Ratner famously described his jewellery as ‘crap’ he destroyed his brand promise. Few young lovers would want to buy their betrothed a ‘crap’ engagement ring. His statement happened to be very public and was splashed across the tabloids; but a simple off-guard comment by one employee could also do untold damage. Employees, particularly those who are customer-facing, are a powerful communications channel.

As the issue of corporate responsibility gains pace, it becomes increasingly important for every company to ensure that all employees understand and align themselves with the brand promise and company values. A company can make all the promises it likes but unless employees actually measure up to the brand and make it live these are just hollow words. In 3M we work hard to get that message across to all employees and ensure that it is reflected in all brand communication – in fact in our whole approach to our business.

The 3M brand is more than the familiar red 3M logo. The logo certainly represents the brand but the brand is also about beliefs, relationships, culture and promises. The 3M brand stands for many things, including innovation – for our customers it is a promise and commitment to deliver solutions that will make them successful.

Despite eCommerce, buying and selling is still very much about people. There is a human element involved in many purchase decisions. Rather like a dancer who is out of step, an employee who is out of line, off beat or off message distracts from the whole show – not matter how good the lead performer.

About the author

Pip Frankish is General Manager, Corporate Marketing & Communication at 3M UK plc, where she leads a team of in-house consultants, providing specialist communications and strategic marketing expertise to 3M business units. 3M is a $18 billion diversified technology company providing innovative solutions to customers in health care, safety and security, electronics, telecommunications, transportation, industrial, consumer and office supplies, and other markets.

For further information on 3M see www.3M.com/uk or contact innovation@uk.mmm.com or call 08705 360036

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