Can Your Employees Deliver Your New Brand Promise?

In response to “Why Brand Reinventions Require a Total Overhaul: They’re Risky, Sure, but Mere Tweaks Won’t Get the Job Done” by Marcus Hewitt.

I just finished reading Marcus’ article from February 8 in Ad Age and I loved it. We see a lot of brand repositioning from the internal side and this piece reminded me of the importance and danger of brand re-invention. Changing the brand means making a promise about a new customer experience, and that means the company has to do things differently.

The article did a great job looking at the right ways to rebrand and the things to watch out for, but from my perspective missed one of the biggies. Undertaking a bold brand change is risky not only because you risk alienating customers by the change in promise. You may do that perfectly. Customers may be lining up around the block because that is exactly the brand promise they want.

You still run the risk of broken promises when frontline employees don’t understand the new value proposition, or just treat customers the old way, in a way that is now contradictory to the brand promise. The whole chain of value gets rattled because nobody took the time to get employees on-board before going to market.

For the life of me I will never understand why someone would take the unnecessary risk of articulating a new brand position and making a huge ad-spend before talking with employees about what this means for them. Internal comms is nowhere near a tenth the cost of advertising; just make it a standard part of the budget.  Everyone talks about alignment – this is one of the key ways of making it happen: tell people what’s going on and get their buy-in before you launch externally.

Marketing only makes the promises; it’s Sales and Manufacturing and Customer Service that deliver it. If the delivery contradicts the marketing, the customer gets broken promises and now you’re in client-recovery-mode. If you want unnecessary risk, eat pufferfish – leave your customers out of it.

Last year one of our new clients told us they were launching a new brand right before the National Sales Meeting. Based on a conversation a lot like the one above (we probably didn’t mention pufferfish) they agreed to push back the marketing launch until the morning of the NSM

With the new date, we had a chance to introduce it to the 700 members of the sales team and major vendor partners with some ‘hell yeah’. We wanted their hearts pounding and pupils dilated so we turned the house lights down and the sound up and used an event to do that thing you can’t do in any other channel: build collective energy and excitement.

It wasn’t just the ol’ razzle dazzle –members of the leadership got up on stage and made the case for change. They explained the market threat and described the narrow window of opportunity for a player like themselves to really stand out. Then they showed how the new brand promise addressed the market-researched customer needs and so would drive growth for the business and help close sales for the sales team. An open Q&A with the leaders created an opportunity for leadership to address misunderstandings or misgivings that people were having. Then we took the participants through workshops, activities, and other media to help them understand which of their behaviours were the ones that were critical to delivering on the new brand promise to customers.  And that night, we brand-partied.

The response was amazing. On the post-event survey we heard an outpouring of enthusiasm and expressions of commitment. Remember, these were sales people and nobody gets pumped up like they do. To get there, they need to know you’re as committed as they are. With this presentation, response to leadership was hugely positive. And to continue building trust and confidence, we expressly asked this question: “Some of you are thinking ‘I can’t do this’: why not and what do you need from us”. Again, we received a deluge of insight. Respondents told us about dozens of on-the-ground problems. These were the kind of things that don’t necessarily make it to Marketing but which live between Sales and Customer Service and which ultimately determine the customer experience. Now Leadership was alerted to the obstacles those issues presented to Sales team confidence.

Kudos to our client (Livewire works internally so, if we’re talking about what we did, we’re usually vague about who we did it for) – we know it’s not easy to redirect the momentum of an ad launch that close to kickoff. Still, I maintain it’s worth it. What kind of a kick in the head would it have been to the sales rep who is out there Monday morning, hustling, meeting with that client and the client knows more about the new brand than he does? I don’t know about you but ‘embarrassed in front of a client’ is one of my least favourite feelings

That didn’t happen. Instead, with this internal brand launch, the Sales Team felt respected, informed, and excited. Our client was better prepared for the challenges of launching the new brand to prospective customers. As Marcus pointed out, you’ve got to be bold in launching a new brand, but the risks you take should be calculated, focused on the value proposition itself and not on employees’ ability or willingness to deliver.

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  1. Lois Tupper

    A fresh, candid and entertaining take on the need to involve employees – especially the customer-facing folks – from the get go in a brand re-launch.

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