In order to improve both brand awareness and reputation, an employee advocacy program is the golden ticket.
The stories of brands that take a beating, like US Airways during its recent fiasco, frequently make headlines. There are also the many brands that go largely unheard of. As more companies come into play, the space gets more crowded. But the marketing and advertising that major brands use to break through the noise is too costly for others. Not to mention, consumers don't trust the ads they actually do notice. A Forrester report found that just 10 percent of U.S. consumers trust ads on websites.
A large marketing budget can help with visibility problems, and break through the crowded ad space. However, a large budget won't help solve the problem of gaining consumer trust. And unfortunately for brands with a negative brand perception, that's not a "soft factor"; it's losing them business. According to a Weber Shandwick report, 70 percent of consumers say that they avoid buying a product if they don't like the company behind the product. So what can brands do to gain consumer trust?
Employees are the greatest asset a company has to cut through the noise in a way that consumers will respond to. It's already been well established that employees are considered to be more trustworthy than other company representatives. And this trust that consumers have in regular employees and "people like them" shows. The same Weber Shandwick report referenced above shows that "what people say" and "online reviews" are the top two influences on consumer opinion. People trust recommendations and opinions from peers over the same messages coming from a brand. It's one thing to have your brand talking about how great its products are, but it's another to have regular employees sharing their own views on the products to their close social circles.
Since the hard data shows that consumers trust people over brands, employees can provide that human face to a company. Yes, it's a bit corny to talk about "humanizing" or "adding a human face" to an organization, but we all want to connect with actual people, not logos or unknown companies. If employees are genuinely connected to a company, they'll talk about it in a way that a company can't with its marketing campaigns through branded channels.
By having an employee advocacy program, companies have more people sharing their content. However, if employees just constantly push out brand content and don't make it their own or share their point of view, it won't be any different than a branded Facebook ad. But if employees want to share company content and add their own flavor to it, brands get the winning combination of amplification and authenticity. That winning combination leads to stronger brand awareness and reputation. The added reach content gets from being shared by employees creates additional awareness, while employees adding their own viewpoints to the content strengthens the company's reputation.
Sure, you can throw money at existing marketing channels and gain brand awareness, but consumers won't trust the content. And if a few employees are already talking about the company without a formalized program, the brand will slowly improve its brand perception, but it's not scalable. In order to improve both brand awareness and reputation, an employee advocacy program is the golden ticket.
Russ Fradin is the co-founder of Dynamic Signal and a digital media industry veteran with more than 15 years' experience in the online marketing world. Russ co-founded and was CEO of Adify (acquired by Cox for $300 million in May 2008) and co-founded SocialShield. He was also SVP of BD at Wine.com, EVP of Corporate Development at comScore (NASDAQ:SCOR) and was among the first employees at Flycast (acquired by CMGi for $2.3 billion in January 2000). Russ is also an active angel investor in the digital world and is on a number of boards. Russ holds a BS in Economics from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
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