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Don’t Neglect Your Brand’s Most Trusted Influencers

Employees can be your greatest champions, but engaging them requires investment and a nuanced approach

Victor Evangelista studies the intersection of mathematics and anthropology and is a Long Dash alum. Merrill Wasser is senior vice president of strategic growth at Long Dash. She is a business and brand experience consultant, previously holding roles at Razorfish and Digitas.

To read the full “Attitudes Before Age” study and review the typology tool, download the report.

Cultivating an engaged workforce has become table stakes when one considers the critical role employees play in building trust with customers and bringing a brand’s promise to life. In fact, a Long Dash study conducted last year shows employees are the most trusted source of information on a brand’s values, outpacing other sources including brands’ websites and social media, and articles in the media.

Ultimately, even—and especially—amidst a historic exodus of service and white-collar workers alike, the question of employee engagement is more nuanced and of greater importance than simply decreasing churn. What’s at stake is customer experience, reputation, a healthy internal culture, and, by way of all of this, the potential for enduring growth. According to a 2020 study by Gallup, having a highly engaged workforce leads to 20% higher sales, and 21% higher profitability.

The reasons for leaving work or speaking against or praising one’s employer are myriad and often intersecting, from competitive wages and work-life balance to growth opportunities, management quality, and organizational values.  What is clear is that brands need to start investing in robust employee engagement strategies that address these complexities.

Employers have long used a person’s age to prescribe how they engage their workforce. The stereotypes are readily available to us all. We hurriedly assume Gen Z workers care more about “values” than their older colleagues, and that Boomers lack the potential for ambassadorship when compared to their younger counterparts—whether due to their personal audience size or digital savviness. But new Long Dash research cements what many may have suspected: It’s not that cut and dry. Individual dispositions and values, much more than age, most affect how contemporary workers perceive and interact with their employers. 

The study, “Attitudes Before Age,” seeks to understand what motivates employees to be ambassadors for their company, and explores what leaders can do to activate their teams. Our top three recommendations are: 

1. Ensure your brand’s positioning addresses the needs of external customers and employee motivations.

There is synergy between the employee experience and the customer experience—your brand is made up of both. We call this a two-audience mindset: considering both your external and internal audiences across all you do. These internal and external experiences must be unified under a single compelling core narrative people can rally around. For example, the Walt Disney Company expanded from a cartoon studio to a media empire by staying centered on a core narrative of happiness, dreams, and bringing families together. 

The better your positioning is articulated, the easier it will be to translate it into messages and experiences tailored to different employee motivations.

To make your brand’s positioning effective, you must:

  • Consider cultural and market context, internal and external audience needs, and your brand’s innate strengths. When crafting or updating your positioning, taking these different lenses into account helps ensure it resonates and becomes a useful foundation for informing your messages, values, and experiences. Neglect this and you run the risk of joining the increasingly large list of brand blunders in an era of greater accountability and scrutiny.
  • Understand your brand’s employee experience as deeply as you understand your customer experience. Many brands have ample research on their customers, but very little on the needs of their employees. Employee research can take several forms, from surveys to interviews and more informal group discussions. Having this research is key to crafting positioning that resonates.

2. Address inconsistencies in how your core narrative is expressed across the employee journey.

The employee journey encompasses the entire lifecycle of touchpoints an employee has with your brand, from the moment they apply for a job to their onboarding, day-to-day experience, and exit interview when they leave. Inconsistencies in that journey can lead to miscommunication, frustration, and unhappy employees who may even become detractors to your brand. These gaps can, in turn, impact retention, morale, productivity, customer service, and ultimately business growth. 

As you address gaps in the employee journey, you must:

  • View gaps and blind spots as opportunities for engagement. No organization has a flawless employee experience. Our previous research shows that consumers want brands to be open about where they need to make progress and to focus on those areas. Brands who do this will engender greater trust and credibility with their employees over time.
  • View your employees as an audience to be developed. Brands routinely invest in content, campaigns, and experiences to reduce friction in the customer journey. Apply these same tools to your employee journey. For example, try recruiting with employee-generated content, boost employee satisfaction with campaigns that promote employee benefits, and increase employee engagement by designing employee platforms—like your intranet—to be more intuitive and user friendly.
  • Prioritize improvements to the employee journey based on their cost and ROI. Your work to improve the employee experience doesn’t necessarily need to focus on grand gestures or big milestones. In fact, it’s the small, everyday interactions employees have with your brand that matter most. We call improvements to these everyday touchpoints “micro-disruptions”—small, low-lift changes that can radically increase engagement. 

3. Establish infrastructure to support ongoing evolution and measure progress. 

The employee journey is inherently dynamic, constantly evolving in response to economic forces, cultural shifts, and technological developments. To keep up with these changes, teams need to commit to an ongoing cycle of evaluation and evolution. This isn’t just about mindset—it’s also about how well your organization’s processes and workflows are set up to accommodate change and encourage collaboration.

As you seek to establish a culture of sustainable evolution, you must:

  • View the employee experience as the domain of every department, not just human resources. An employee’s experience is influenced by an organization’s leadership, culture, technology, and narratives, which makes it the responsibility of every leader in every department to engage their teams. 
  • Empower employees to speak up about aspects of their job that don’t align with your core narrative. Their feedback can help you identify points of friction in the employee journey. Be prepared to take action in response to their input. In the words of one DEI expert, “The biggest problem isn’t understanding employee needs, but trying to figure out to what extent businesses are willing to pay the cost for addressing those needs.”
  • Follow through on your plan to measure impact. Plan ahead for how you will measure success, whether it’s through collecting employee feedback, assessing customer satisfaction, or measuring employee retention. Go into every employee engagement project knowing how you will measure success, and incorporate those costs into the project budget from the start. 

Seeing internal audiences as pillars of their brand experience can motivate managers to seek a more authentic and robust relationship with their staff. The benefits of this shift to a more employee-centric approach cannot be overstated. Not only will it be necessary in addressing issues that may be driving the recent rising trend in turnover, but it can place a spotlight on the tremendous asset employees can be in cultivating customer loyalty. It’s an approach that addresses the lopsided investment most brands make in their external customers over internal staff and seeks to treat them on more equal footing. And that’s a good thing—after all, the distinction between customers and employees is becoming increasingly arbitrary. It’s time to start treating employees like customers, too.

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