Sounds like a simple question, right? Would you shop here if you weren’t being paid by this company? Would you prefer a Mini Cooper, but work at Ford? Would you try Six Flags if you didn’t work at Disney World? Easy questions? Not really. It’s the basis of why we go to market. We want to appeal to customers. But, how can we be a customer favorite if our own people don’t believe in the product?
A confidential poll of your own employees will tell you more about your products than any market research. Why? Because employees have a certain obligation to use your product. The obligation comes from the “social contract” formed when you begin to be paid by a company. In essence, a portion of the sales of your product comes back to you in your paycheck. How can it be justified to purchase a competitor’s brand?
What if we made it so our own employees used our products because they wanted to? No social contract, just because they believe it’s the best personal choice for them. Wouldn’t that be powerful? Think of the backyard barbeques and school events where our own employees actually were our most fervent advocates.
I am suggesting that a team of employee advocates is worth ten times any dollars spent in marketing. Below are four steps to employee advocacy.
Listen to your employees. Your team knows more about your business than anyone else. Your team members also know their own personal habits. If your product, your store, whatever you sell, is not their preferred choice for their own family, then you have got some work to do. They have the most invested in your own success. Want to know why their behavior does not match? Ask them. Ask them confidentially, set up an anonymous feedback route….something. Just ask them, and then listen. Listen, listen, listen. Some of the most valuable information will come directly from your own workforce.
Build a performance and reward culture. It’s called work, because it’s a lot of work. Many times, an employee is transferring their frustration at work into their buying habits. It’s almost like they have a way to “get back” at a culture that is not rewarding or engaging. An engaged employee is an advocate in every sense of the word. As a test, see how many of your team will wear a shirt with your company’s name when they are not at work. Are they proud of the company, or do they just leave work at work? An engaged workforce wants to tell everyone where they work.
Give an employee discount. I understand it costs money, but these are your employees! They give you a higher percentage of their lives than they give their own families sometimes. A discount will go a long way to ensuring their advocacy. If you have a store brand, make the discount on the store brand only, or make it deeper on the store brand. You want your labels in front of the public. An employee discount makes the team part of the “club”. They are insiders. They are proud to be part of a winning team.
Visit your competitors often. There are ideas everywhere. Staying inside your own paradigm means you only know what you know. You need to get into the competitors, understand their business, understand how they are evolving with trends, understand what they are doing to build an engaged customer advocate base. What makes them special? Is it something you can add to your arsenal?
Whether you have 100 employees or 1,000,000 employees, they are your brand, your voice, your potential advocates. It is worth the effort to ensure your own team base is on your side, and are avid advocates of your company and its products.
Russell Zwanka is CEO and Partner at Triple Eight Marketing. Russell has led the merchandising, marketing, advertising, procurement, and all customer engagement areas for multiple organizations in the United States and Canada. Russell holds a Doctorate in International Business from the International School of Management in Paris, France. He also holds a Masters of Science in Management from Southern Wesleyan University, and a Bachelors of Science in Psychology from the University of South Carolina.
Russell has spoken at various events, including the Carnegie Mellon Social Media Conference, the University of Manitoba Marketing Conference, and the Argyle Executive Forum in New York City. Additionally, he has served on the IGA Retailer Advisory Board, the Consumer Goods Forum Marketing Committee, the Topco Operations Board, and the Nielsen Retailer Advisory Committee. Russell can be followed on Twitter at Rzwanka.