Advertising Age columnist and author of "Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000," Pete Blackshaw, cited my comment

August 25, 2008

Advertising Age columnist and author of “Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000” (listening matters, credibility is king, and service is the best form of marketing), Pete Blackshaw, cited my comment along with people at Ogilvy advertising, Edelman PR and Tim Heath, Professor of Marketing, Miami of Ohio.

I’m super honored:) My comment is cited at the end:

————————- Full article from Pete Blackshaw ————————-

ARTICLE FEEDBACK REQUEST: I’m still mulling over this “employee as advertising channel” question for my next Ad Age column. Also, I may have turned some of you off with the term “advertising” in the question – and that’ a fair push. Of course, I’m not trying to probe whether employees should run around with “Buy my product” signs around their neck. I’m raising a tougher question for, say, the the CEO, CMO, or media planner around whether an incremental dollar should go into paid media versus employee training or incentives – the logic being that great experiences cultivated by employees can net as much or more favorable media (evident in word-of-mouth, CGM-social media digital trail, etc). Just as product quality and customer service are unmistakable talk drivers, I’m eager to better understand the degree to which employee behavior nets a similar impact. A few examples:

— Zappos.com: If you carefully analyze the buzz/conversation for Zappos.com, the employees consistently figure into the playback. This reflects, I think, a very deliberate strategy by Zappos.com.

— Southwest Airlines: The latitude they give employees to solve problems, sing a song on the airline, etc…consistently dials up favorable online conversation. Put another way, HR policies net media.

— Wireless Companies: Poorly trained employees consistently trigger a digital trail of nasty-grams across the web, especially in search results.

— Sun Microsystem: The legions of employee bloggers, one could argue, act as a de facto marketing force for the company. Not overt or intrusive but effective.

… Also see below some excerpts of some of the excellent comments I’ve received so far, especially by Miami of Ohio’s Tim Heath.

A FEW SELECT COMMENTS

Amy Messenger (Ogilvy)
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Pete, one thing you might consider further is how do you get employees to be incentivized, truly motivated, to take part in being brand ambassadors? Yes, they want to work for a company they are proud of and hopefully financial success from satisfied customers flows to everyone, but recognition is a powerful thing. Remember 10 years ago when United gave their frequent fliers coupons to give staff who had gone above and beyond in the customer’s view? Rumor had it that employees who turned those in actually got good corporate playback for that. This all by the way falls under the banner of viewing employees as one more channel to tell your brand story. They’re on the front line of customer conversations and brand stories. That’s public relations. So to tweak your premise, Are employees a PR channel? You betcha. Corporations need to get their PR, HR and Customer Care leads around the table.

Tim Heath, Professor of Marketing, Miami of Ohio
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Seems to me that front line employees are critical for positioning brands, as are the consumers who use our brands. Harvard Business Review had a great article years ago, “Building Brands without Mass Media,” (citation at note’s end), in which the authors outlined how brand image and information can be managed without spending lots money on advertising. Haagen Dazs, for example, built its shops in high profile, prestigous areas to associate the brand not only with those physical spaces, but with the high-end consumers who shop there. If our consumers help define our brands with their own images and communications about our brands, then employees surely do so in spades. And that no doubt extends to back-operation employees as well to the extent that they are visible in their communities and/or our target markets.Employees probably also play a role beyond brand management and consumer communication. Years ago when “relationship marketing” was a hot topic, various people noted the critical link between employee turnover and customer loyalty. If you want loyal customers, make sure you have loyal front-line employees because these people build relationships with your customers and thus stimulate customer loyalty. Sure, most of us like brands or companies and feel loyal to some, but those relationships can be created and/or enriched considerably when we engage in personal contact with employees, social engagements rich with eye contact, physical postures and gestures, and immediate “give and takes” that are hard to emulate in e-space

One downside of the employee-as-relationship-builder model in some contexts is the threat of employees leaving the company and taking “their” customers with them, a threat that can be mitigated to some degree with “non-compete clauses” in contracts. (Joachimsthaler, Erich and David A. Aaker (1997), “Building Brands Without Mass Media,” Harvard Business Review, 75 (January-February), 39-50.

Rick Murray (Edelman)
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Hmmm, advertising implies scipted and paid, so no I don’t think so. HOWEVER, I do think that a well trained, highly motivated workforce that understands the brand, their role in making it (and their compnany) successful, and who feels empowered to do just that, is any company’s most powerful and most under-utilized asset.

Reid Walley
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I completely agree that there needs to be a shift from paid media to employee customer training! I recently gave a mini “Helping an Angry Customer” presentation to employees because the retail owner was getting some pretty heavy complaints from customers. Reputation is always built during the employee/customer interaction and if the employee is untrained both sides view the interaction as a “stand-off.”

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