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Brandtenders: The Most Powerful Connection to Customers

If a brand is indeed a relationship, then fostering one with as many prospects and customers as possible is essential to the growth of an organization.

Businesses continue to rely heavily on broad advertising to put their message in front of consumers who may or may not want to buy from them. Direct marketing takes the message a step closer to the appropriate audience(s) and helps improve the chance of connecting with someone who is ready to buy. However, that practice fails to build a lasting relationship with those consumers you most want to engage. In other words, direct marketing could become a lot more direct.

Utilize the Investment

Employees are the link between brands and customers. They are the ones responsible for developing and nurturing the relationships that make up the brand. Even if you tried to avoid this dynamic in your organization, you couldn’t.

Those employees who impact customers – which potentially could be every single one of them – are what we call “Brandtenders.”

An organization is a thing. It never actually gets any time with its customers, because it can’t. The associates who work in a company, on the other hand, have the distinct advantage of being people, and they interact with the people who are doing the buying. These people within an organization have the chance, many times in a day, to make an impression on someone to whom you’re trying to sell something.

We work to make those impressions as positive as we can, but they sometimes wind up being negative. Either way, the encounters between Brandtenders and customers will leave an impact.

Most companies have already made significant investments to recruit, hire and cultivate strong people who represent a brand in the marketplace. But before throwing one more dollar toward another marketing program, they need to investigate and take full advantage of the marketing power now lying dormant amongst their ranks.

Start to realize the impact Brandtenders have on the bottom line when they begin conveying a company’s value proposition to the marketplace in an organized, proactive fashion. The results come not just in the form of increased customer engagement, but in employee retention as well.

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Engagement from the Inside Out

The keys to successful marketing through Brandtenders are fairly straightforward. To begin the process of driving true customer engagement from the inside out, companies must analyze:

  • Employees’ current alignment with the brand. Do they know and understand the branding message and positioning? Do they have the tools to learn and promote that message? Do they believe and embody the message during the workday?
  • How customers gain exposure to products and services. How are customers made aware of the brand and its position in the market space? Through which channels do customers enter the organization in order to make a purchase?
  • Who customers encounter when they approach the brand. Which Brandtenders are encountered at each of the different points of entry? How well are they equipped to handle those encounters in the most positive manner possible?

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1. Current Alignment

Making sure that employees are aligned with the brand is the first critical step in creating a dynamic marketing practice that can engage customers to a higher degree than virtually any other marketing concept.

In the book Be Your Own Brand, David McNally and Karl Speak say that the purpose of employees’ work in an organization is to create value – for themselves and for others – in both tangible and intangible ways. When employee and employer understand that purpose, an opportunity for dynamic synergy between the employee’s personal brand and the employer’s business brand is created.

When the values an employee stands for and the values of the organization for which he or she works align, “magic happens,” say McNally and Speak. Companies will get a more highly committed worker, and customers will receive a more meaningful impression of the brand.

Interaction Builds Strength

All brands are experiential – their strengths grow based on constant and consistent interactions. Just as the experiences people have with you build an impression of your personal brand, the experiences an employee has on the job create a sense of the employer’s brand. This can translate to customers, shaping their perceptions of that organization’s brand.

In the best of circumstances, the values of the employee and employer will not only be compatible, but will combine in the best interests of the organization’s customers. The more alignment among the three, the greater the synergy and impact a brand can have on the marketplace.

For many employees, such perfect alignment is more a matter of wishful thinking than day-to-day reality. They approach work as, well, work – just a job to be endured, rather than an experience to be enjoyed. Small wonder so many customers pronounce themselves dissatisfied with what they experience from the businesses with which they interact.

Speak sees a trend happening in the marketplace: Successful businesses recognize that just as the products and services develop – and ultimately profit from – brand relationships with their customers, the business itself can consciously develop a brand-relationship with its employees.

Inside the Organization

If employees are fortunate enough to work for an organization that has a brand strategy and gives them access to it, they begin the process of looking for alignment between their personal brand and the employer’s brand. However, if employees are not able to access their employer’s core values and brand promise, they’ll need to guess at the brand values of the organization.

Speak says the key is determining how, through repeated encounters, distinctive product and service features connect with the relevant emotional needs and values of customers. The purpose is to ensure that depth and breadth is being built in the relationship.

Brandtenders are the link to the brand and can drive interactions with customers, gradually getting closer to the emotional core that makes for enduring relationships. That will start a company on its journey toward true customer engagement.

It’s impossible for employees to become Brandtenders if they are not aligned with the values that go into the DNA of the organization’s brand.

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2. Customer Exposure

It’s easy to identify the most obvious paths customers can take to gain exposure to what a company has to offer them. These include sales channels and the responses to direct marketing and advertising messages introduced to the marketplace. The paths might also be through “push” efforts like outbound telemarketing campaigns or e-mail solicitations.

However, customer contact points vary throughout an organization and are not always as simple to identify as those just mentioned.

Every time a customer takes delivery of a product, receives a bill, calls with a question, visits a website, or walks into a brick-and-mortar location, that person is interacting with an organization. As part of that interaction, he or she registers an emotion, if even for an instant. Research has proved that any buying decision a human makes is dictated by emotions and is not rational. Even the decisions you may think are based more on facts and rationale – choosing an accountant, for example – are actually chosen by the right, creative side of our brain.

Those interactions and decision points are opportunities companies can seize, using them to bring value to that customer. Exceeding his or her expectations at that most relevant point in time allows an organization to begin or continue forging the relationship that is the brand.

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3. The Employee-Customer Encounter

Let’s assume the critical functions of new business development and sales are already in place in an organization. It has a strategy and processes to make deals and bring in business. Now we need to concentrate on growing the business by making a difference among the layers of employees behind traditional front-line sales efforts.

Before approaching the marketplace with this new marketing machine, companies need to understand who exactly the Brandtenders are in their organizational ranks. Then make sure that each is prepared to contribute at his or her highest potential. This helps move an organization toward achieving a model of true customer engagement.

There are three categories of Brandtenders into which companies can segment employees, from those who have the ability to make a powerful and lasting impression on customers to those who impact customers to a lesser degree. In reverse order, they are the Memorables, the Personals and the Unforgettables.

We suggest developing a scoring system for the three segments. This scoring system can help determine where to focus effort, time and money to support those Brandtenders with the greatest potential for influencing customers.

For example, the person in your organization responsible for day-to-day management of a long-standing, profitable account (an Unforgettable) is more likely to have an impact on a customer, and therefore your Brandtender initiatives, than the person who mows the lawn (a Memorable). Both roles are important, but one person has the ability to make a customer encounter more memorable than another.

Developing a comprehensive, alphabetical list of every job title in an organization is where we begin. Add to these a one- or two-sentence job description to understand where these employees fit into a Brandtender Marketing strategy.

Brandtender Marketing prompts organizations to consider each position in the company and determine how an employee can impact customers.

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Create a Perpetual Assessment

People and job descriptions evolve, as should the assessment of the organization’s employees. Certain positions may be closer to customers in a month or year than they are today, and all employees are subject to personal and professional change and growth themselves.

The strongest Brandtenders, those an organization hopes to attract and retain, are employees who stretch or jump over the lines of those little boxes in a company’s organizational chart. Those people tend to thrive in their role as Brandtender.

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A Brand is Like an Orange

An organization’s brand is like an orange. Those people beyond an organization can view it only from the outside to start. The exterior, or offer, will be appealing to some but perhaps not to others.

Prospects and customers are exposed to the true nature of a brand when they peel back the “skin” and interact with people inside an organization. No matter how colorful the orange appears from the outside, only the inside reveals what’s really going on. That’s when a brand can truly be experienced and understood by customers.

Each section of the actual fruit beneath the peel represents the people in the organization. Give customers the opportunity to try a “slice” to see if it brings them value, and if they want more. Start to view those slices, the organization’s workforce, not as employees but as Brandtenders.

In short, Brandtenders are the people who can transform the brand and its values into true customer engagement, producing more revenue and profit for an organization.

Excerpted from Brandtender Marketing: True Customer Engagement from the Inside Out, by Dan Day, © 2008. Used with permission. For more information, go to http://www.brandtender.com

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Winter 2009

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