Our Brands, Ourselves

Brands Under Pressure – The Brand Lives in the Employees’ Voice | Networking Exchange Blog.

Cheryl Burgess’ (@ckburgess) timely discussion of humanizing brands in the voices and persons of employees looks to the Apple “genius bar” as a prime example. I’d assumed it was a reverse riff on Best Buy’s longstanding Geek Squad (not sure if they still use the somewhat off-color accoutrements it used to have – “we can’t get dates” et al.). They both seem to be working, even if Apple’s lacks quite the humor. But Apple has always taken itself rather desperately seriously (that’s another topic).

Never before have frontline representatives been so significant and, often as not, problematic. I’m thinking of airlines, and United in particular, and the very mixed experiences we have at the hands of the motley crews who combine their theoretical safety role with serving us meaner portions, less often, and often as not without much grace. (I had 2 out of 2 rude attendants on a flight yesterday, and I was in first . . . .)

Getting some sort of alignment between the image the people in corporate HQ are trying to present (ahem, the smiling Smisek greeting us on every flight) and the IRL people who follow has never been simple – and has become the hallmark of success for brands who succeed (GEICO’s famous telephone manner – I have in 20 years never had a bad experience with them).

The option here is to go further – to seek to co-opt the voice of those on the team, not simply have them parrot successfully a voiceover from marketing. As brands get weaker for many reasons (only one of which is the click that can send us to the competition) this offers the strongest incentive to build human organizations in which every representative of the company truly, organically, shares its values and transmits them from the heart.

It’s a tall order, and will stay tall for companies that slowly subside in the social-driven marketplace that is emerging. But for those who can align the corporate voice with the personal, competitiveness and job-satisfaction will go hand in hand.



5 thoughts on “Our Brands, Ourselves

  1. Dear Nigel,

    I was pleasantly surprised this morning to read your compelling response to my AT&T “Brands Under Pressure” article.

    I think you did a fantastic job of expanding my initial example of Apple’s Genius team to include both another positive example in Geek Squad and a less flattering example in United Airlines. It was your concluding thought, “…for those who can align the corporate voice with the personal, competitiveness and job-satisfaction will go hand in hand” that especially stood out to me.

    Successful businesses adopting this strategy understand that authenticity cannot be forced, giving them a tremendous stake in communicating their mission not only to their customers, but to their employees. It will be interesting to watch the steps different companies take in order to create a shared culture of individuals, a culture where each employee is an autonomous ambassador of their brand but always on target with their message.

    Warmest personal regards,

    • Cheryl,

      Thank you so much. Seems to me that the trend will be all toward integrative, aligned notions of brand in which competitiveness will lie in the consistency of values throughout the company. I think this is part of the provocative of Michael Porter in his notion of “shared value” (which I have discussed here in my US Chamber blog: http://bclc.uschamber.com/blog/2011-06-30/one-our-greatest-business-gurus-redefines-capitalism-perhaps ). With increasing transparency and ever-lower barriers to exit for consumers the premium on values consistency will keep rising. And for companies with a human interface (Amazon, for example, barely has one at all) the quality, convictions, credibility of the humans at the end of the channel will lie at the core of value.

      All about alignment.


  2. Nigel, good post. It’s interesting that you use the airlines as examples … we all know they need all the help they can get. I believe brands, and the companies behind them, need to get personal. And by personal, I don’t mean with the CEO.

    Imagine if an airline used social media to communicate with prospective travelers by using actual people (stewardesses, counter CSRs, etc.) that they may encounter on their travels. How great would that be if the person tweeting actually worked the route you’d be taking, or the person you’d deal with at the counter?

    This idea would probably involve a lot of coordination and maybe union issues, but any good idea takes ‘bucking’ the system and thinking outside the box. Just something to think about.

    • Clay,

      Thank you. I think that’s a terrific idea, and there are surely ways it could be worked which would prevent abuse. So far all we have is the tepid efforts to get frequent fliers to hand over vouchers commending flight attendants, which I have been assured by more than one mean nothing at all. Some of these people are truly excellent, even if they may not be in the majority.

      “Social” is surely going to transform these relationships in ways that benefit all parties.


      • Thanks for the endorsement, but especially for the extremely prompt follow-up. As a blogger myself, I can truly appreciate the effort it takes to respond like this. Again, thank you.

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