What’s Your Brand Up To After Hours?

A couple of weeks ago, I overheard a conversation between two people in a store. One speaker was wearing an outfit that identified him as “Disney Staff.” What struck me was the nature of the dialogue.

I’m not exaggerating when I say the ostensible Disney staffer’s every fifth word was the “f” word. The conversation was not pleasant, and both participants were rudely engaged in the vitriol of their verbal combat.

Yesterday I witnessed a similar incident on an online bulletin board. The exchange was between an anonymous person and someone claiming to represent the Coca-Cola Company. His knowledge about the Coke brand clearly indicated he most likely was what he purported to be. But the heated discussion and its content couldn’t have been further removed from the Coca-Cola personality we know.

These incidents were more than ordinary disagreements. They were events in which brand representatives took part. In the Disney case, the episode sat incongruously with my perceptions of the brand. Did the cursing cause Disney to lose some of its value in my mind? Yes, it did — regardless of the possibility the employee was off duty.

How many people work in your organization? 10? 100? Thousands? Could you confidently claim each and every one of your colleagues represents your brand in an optimal way? Most likely not. You may come across an incident in which a brand representative engages in behavior that hardly matches your brand image. Such an event may cause those involved no anxiety about the damage they might be doing the brand.

Consider the other side of the coin. Positive brand exposure is just as likely to occur. If your brand employs hundreds of people, think of the enormous potential offered by courteous and civil behavior of your workforce. You have hundreds of brand advocates, all, hopefully, building your brand outside working hours.

Godtfred Kirk Kristiansen, son of the LEGO Company’s founder, reportedly called his staff randomly, at any hour, to ask them what the LEGO philosophy was. The fear of receiving such an interrogation from the CEO ensured every staff member was acutely aware of LEGO’s philosophy (“Play well”).

Would your staff members be able to quote the company’s philosophy if asked? Worse, would they care?

Solid understanding of the brand’s core values by the people representing it ensures no demonstrations of values alien to the brand are loosed upon the general community. Apparent representation amounts to effective representation. Whether the person in the Disney staff gear was a Disney employee or not, he appeared to be so. This lent him brand authority. Employees are ambassadors for their companies. Outsiders tend to believe in their authority, no matter what positions they hold or functions they perform.

You might be responsible for formal marketing plans and brand-building strategies, but every other employee is an informal marketer and brand-builder. Everything your colleagues say and do in and out of work can have an effect on branding. As soon as they mention the brand name they become its representatives. Anything they do in the street, say in online chat rooms, or discuss at parties is branding. Your role is to encourage an alignment between your colleagues’ understanding of the brand and what the brand stands for.

Rules and regulations won’t necessarily be the answer. Understanding each staff member’s value to your brand-building is fundamental to the success of establishing this alignment. Staff incentives might be one way to enhance the role of brand representative.

The responsibility for arming your team with the tools to build the brand after work hours is yours.

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