Your brand is what people think it’s like to do business with you. That’s as simple as it gets, and it’s as concise and accurate a definition of “brand” as you’ll find. I wish I’d thought of it, but credit goes to Joe Calloway, author of, “Becoming a Category of One: How Extraordinary Companies Transcend Commodity and Defy Comparison.” I’ve read, written, studied, and thought plenty about brands over the last 30 years and I dare say Calloway nailed it.
So, what do your customers think it’s like to do business with your company? Most marketers turn to research of one form or another to answer that question. They roll out customer surveys, study net promoter scores, do a little social listening, and so forth. The oversight here is starting with effect and not cause. What causes customers to experience your brand the way they do? Every answer can be traced back to a common cause: your people.
Whether it’s a restaurant, a retail store, or even a complicated product like an automobile, it’s employees who dictate the customer’s experience. The employee experience is, in turn, driven by the company culture for better or for worse. Culture is about expectations. It’s about the way we feel about what we do, who we do it for, who we do it with, and why we bother to do it at all. Culture, whether designed intentionally or left to default, informs employee behavior.
When I was a kid growing up in Michigan, there was a running joke about the quality of the cars that rolled off the assembly lines on a Monday and a Friday. Half the production line crews showed up at work on Mondays, and there were other problems on Friday afternoons. I’ll leave those to your imagination. Neither condition was particularly conducive for building quality automobiles. If this was not well understood by the domestic auto executives, Japanese manufacturers began hammering home the point in the 1980s. They gobbled up market share with superior products built by engaged employees who took pride in work that was held to high standards.
The point is that you can’t expect your brand to out-perform your employees – at least not in any sustainable sense. Employees are your most important marketing weapon, and your culture drives employee performance as measured by engagement. Engaged employees produce great products, deliver excellent service, and build strong brands. Simple as that. The results of a five-year Harvard Business School study bear this out. Customers feel the difference when employees are engaged, and that translates into brand loyalty and financial performance.
If you want to improve what customers think it’s like to do business with you, start by improving what your employees think it’s like to work for you.