Successful Brand-Building Requires an Army of Advocates

A New Survey Shows CMOs Need Help Enlisting Support Organization-Wide

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Tracy Stokes
Tracy Stokes

When you ask a CMO what it takes to build a successful brand, you'll likely hear it goes far beyond frontline commitment. When asked in a recent Forrester survey what parts of the organization are critical to brand-building success, marketing leaders agreed unanimously that it's "a companywide effort that requires employees in all departments to be brand ambassadors." Nearly all, 96%, believe that executive team commitment to brand-building is critical to success.

Yet while marketing leaders see the importance of enterprise-wide support in brand building efforts, the reality doesn't reflect this belief. For instance, while 88% of these marketing leaders consider it important to have a clearly defined brand promise to guide the organization, only 55% rate their organizations as consistently doing so. Just a third of respondents said that employees can articulate the brand promise or are empowered to deliver a great brand experience.

The September 2012 Global Marketing Leadership Online Survey included 67 marketing leaders: 61% from the United States, 24% from Europe, 12% from Asia Pacific, 1.5% from Russia, and 1.5% from Africa/Middle East.

So how can CMOs build an army of brand advocates across the organization? Adobe's Karl Isaac, director of brand strategy, has noted that "when done right, brand becomes part of the culture of the organization, and what it stands for." The brand must be embedded into the fabric of the enterprise.

It starts with establishing a clear North Star, defining the core essence of the brand that guides all messages, actions, products and services. This should be concise, straightforward and inspiring, to ensure that all employees are heading in the same direction and understand their role in achieving a shared, singular mission. And the organization needs to nurture a brand culture that excites, educates and enrolls the entire organization to become brand advocates. To do so, marketing leaders must:

Excite employees with an inspiring brand experience. Kick off the brand advocacy initiative with an event that brings the brand to life for employees and makes them feel that they are a key part of the overall brand story. For instance, Starbucks knows that the in-store experience is a key differentiator for the brand and needs to ensure consistency, whether a customer is in Boston or Beijing. To do that, the chain invested $35 million to create an interactive brand lab to bring the brand experience to life for its frontline employees.

Educate advocates on the brand heritage and purpose. Immerse old and new employees alike in the brand to provide a full understanding of where the brand comes from, its promise and how customers get value from it. At IBM, every employee goes through two days of brand training. HP takes it one step further by creating a robust brand training program.

Enroll employees in the cause by connecting the brand to their specific jobs. This step makes the brand tangible to all employees, showing them what their role is in the brand experience. Pitney Bowes has done this by engaging a change-management consultant, The Storytellers, which worked with leaders to identify brand stories that captured the heritage and vision of the brand. This process continued with workshops across the enterprise during which employees worked in teams to identify their own stories that epitomized the brand values.

Appoint an internal advocate. The CMO does not need to go it alone. She should make it someone's job to enlist brand champions across the organization. This leader can help build a groundswell of support for the brand story by rolling out the message to company leaders, departments and those with customer-facing roles.

Above all, CMOs must recognize that creating a culture of brand advocacy won't happen overnight. It will require patience and persistence and deserves the same level of planning and commitment as an external brand-building effort. But CMOs who engage their entire organization in building their brand will see a world where customers benefit from a better, more consistent experience, which in turn, will ultimately help win the battle for mindshare and market share.

Tracy Stokes is a Principal Analyst at Forrester Research.
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