As a believer in the power of employee ambassadorship in building brands, I’ve always assumed that an employer would – and should – expect their employees to be fans and users of their brands. It just seems to make sense and is part of being proud about the company you work for, isn’t it? I remember back in my Compaq days, even after I left the company, I was loyal to the brand and purchased a Compaq computer. There was no brand infidelity, even after our split up!
The article points out that brand infidelity is a serious problem that employers need to nip in the bud. There is an inherent expectation for loyalty, but it’s not always present, even in companies you’d consider to be powerful brands. The incident recounted in the article about Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer snatching an Apple iPhone out of an employee’s hands at a company meeting, and proceeding to pretend to stomp on it in front of thousands isn’t the only one I’ve heard of. What this signals is an expectation of loyalty demonstrated by brand fidelity – or is it vice versa? We’ve all heard the old expression about “eating your own dog food”. That’s exactly what’s at play here, and why not? Organizations want advocates – ambassadors – whatever you want to call them.
As prominent brand coach and founding partner of Toronto’s Instinct Brand Equity, Ted Matthews points out in the article, making sure employees use their own company’s products is crucial in today’s marketplace. The point about brands being built by referrals is bang on. Are you going to believe or be influenced by someone who has used a product, or just knows about it? I’d go for the one who’s got first-hand experience as a “user”. This is about building brand reputation, a valuable endorsement. While the doubters would say “why believe an employee because he/she is paid to speak positively – and probably gets a discount”, the rest of us would say “wow, the product must be really good, and I’m getting a bona fide endorsement”.
I have two questions though. The first is whether this expectation for brand fidelity amongst employees is realistic given the “unloyal” nature of employees coming up the ranks. Or, are they loyal for a period of time and then they move on? And, what about the changing dynamic with employers, who arguably aren’t demonstrating their own long-term commitment and loyalty to employees as was the case in years gone by? What impact does this have on the brand fidelity/infidelity equation? Both are interesting considerations for organizations that, by design, should be looking to hire employees who are going to be ambassadors or advocates of their brands. You have to give to get.
The second is how this applies in the not-for-profit sector, and specifically with individuals employed by charities. How does this argument hold up in this case? It’s pretty common knowledge that employees in not-for-profit organizations are generally working there because of their passion and commitment for the cause. This is particularly relevant when you consider that the compensation in this sector has a tendency to be lower than in the private sector. These employees are by nature ambassadors and advocates because they are working for “the cause”. So then what’s the expectation for donating to the cause, which is very much akin to using your company’s product? Are employees already doing “enough” as brand ambassadors because of the work they do for the organization, or should they be expected to donate and support their own cause, whether publicly or privately? It’s an interesting question. Are these employees demonstrating brand infidelity if they don’t also support their cause with a donation? I will say that to hear an employee of a not-for-profit say they not only work for the organization but also participate in its events as a fundraiser or make donations to the cause, sure makes for a good endorsement and makes you want to follow in their footsteps. I wonder what the general public expects? I also wonder how not-for-profit employees think about this, and whether they consider this “brand infidelity” angle at all when they contemplate their actions and donation behaviours?
P.S. the same thinking/question could also apply to volunteers and event participants/fundraisers for charities – also ambassadors for the cause and the “frontline” touch points with the cause for most donors. Are they already doing enough with their contribution, or should they be expected to donate and support the cause they are promoting with their work? Would donors expect this of them?