Don’t Overlook Employee Engagement-Your Most Important Market

Perfectly timed for Canada Day, Starbucks barista, Jessica Roberts serves a cup of new Starbucks True North Blend™ Blonde Roast coffee in St. John's, Nfld. - the first Starbucks coffee in the world named by customers. (CNW Group/Starbucks Coffee Company)Starbucks (SBUX) got a lot of press for shutting down each and every one of its 7,100 company-owned U.S. stores for two hours to conduct a “partner” (employee) training event. The event was, according to a news release, part of the company’s ongoing efforts to “renew its focus on the customer.”

Starbucks’ iconic founder, Howard Schultz, said of the idea, “Our unprecedented level of commitment to and investment in our people will provide them with the tools and resources they need to exceed the expectations of our customers.” Some cynics called it a publicity stunt, but I think it was a sincere initiative from a company that has long demonstrated a commitment to helping its employees live the brand.

Starbucks’ bold, store-closing move was about more than training and free press; it was a potent form of internal branding. Closing the stores sent an unmistakable message that Schultz was serious about his expectations that all 135,000 Starbucks employees deliver on the brand promise.

“Internal branding” may not be a term with which you’re familiar. It’s partly internal communications, but it goes beyond the typical staff memos and HR updates. It’s related to training, but it’s about much more than the “how” of what needs to be done. My definition of internal branding is simply having a continuous process in place by which you engage your employees to understand the “who” and “why” behind your business proposition.

Impact of Social Media

The more you can ensure that the decisions your people make through the course of each day are true to the essence of your brand, the better. Never has it been truer than in today’s interconnected world, where running customer commentary on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter can have an immediate impact (for good or for ill) on a widespread scale.

Which brings up another important point: make sure you don’t leave anybody out. True, frontline employees may have the most customer contact, but even those who don’t can help you benefit from an internal branding program. Each employee, by definition, is expected to add some sort of value at their stage of the process, whether they’re on the production line, in the warehouse, in the shipping department, or simply pushing paper. Helping them understand the bigger picture will enable them to make the right decision when the unexpected happens. And it will.

It may be crazy for an ad guy like me to say, but if you don’t have an effective internal branding program in place, you should think hard about reallocating some of your marketing budget to set one up. Of course, you ultimately have to find a way to fund both internal and external efforts. But if the former is neglected, the latter could end up doing more harm than good.

Employee Engagement Services:
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Brand Promise Training
Customer Experience Training
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