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Customers Buy Brands That Employees Buy Into

This article is part of our collection about the future of work. Click here for more.

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson famously disputes the old adage, “the customer comes first.” Rather, employees come first, he says, his logic being that if companies hire and take care of great people, then these employees will take care of the customers.

This mindset is not a catchy sales pitch to lure recruits. It is a promise to employees that, in turn, shapes your promise to customers. And it starts with this: What employees want more than ever is to feel a sense of purpose. They want a clear answer to the question, why work for this company?

According to Mercer’s “2018 Global Talent Trends Report,” 75% of happy staff say they work for a company with a strong sense of purpose, twice that of less happy folks. Yet only 13% of organizations have a purpose-driven mission today.

Saying the purpose of a company is to make a profit is like saying the purpose of living is to survive. A more substantial mission centers messages and actions that ultimately attract people, whether those people are employees or customers.

These aren’t the buzzword-laden mission statements of old. These are simpler, more powerful people-centered reasons for being, such as Virgin’s “Change Business For Good,” Kimpton’s “Make People’s Lives Better Through Heartfelt Human Connections,” and Chobani’s “Make Universal Wellness Happen Sooner.”

Inside-Out Thinking
Ultimately, the “why” you use on the inside (why work for the company) and the why you use on the outside (why purchase from the company) must connect. If you can figure out what truly gives employees meaning beyond just comp and perks, they will pass on that meaning in the way they deliver products and services. Put another way, the inside message is essential to tackling the complex challenges outside.

Employees also want to understand their part in the big picture. From how products are developed to how service is delivered, they are making decisions every day, in ways big and small, in interactions with users, guests, and customers of all kinds. For these decisions to be in sync with the mission that convinced employees to join the company in the first place, companies must provide the tools and training to help their people be successful. Between the internal battle cry and the external experience are methods, systems, and processes that connect the two.

Virgin treats customer experience and employee experience as two sides of the same coin, with benefits and policies systematized around change for good. Kimpton has its own university and brand playbooks, where it trains people on how to ensure the guest journey achieves its heartfelt aim. Both brands use purpose to connect their employer brand to customer brand in very direct ways that acknowledge the humanity of both audiences.

Attract True Devotees
Attracting the best people you can find—diverse, talented people committed to help make your company successful eight-plus hours a day, five-plus days a week for years to come—is the highest bar your brand can hurdle. Using that target as your brand benchmark ensures you’re aiming high in all you do.

What you’re looking for today is loyal people who drive contribution margin—employees who love your company enough to do more and better. If these strongly dedicated workers are among your ranks, you will have a better chance of attracting customers who also love your brand so much they’re willing to pay more. 

Think of how Patagonia manifests, “We’re in business to save our home planet.” To live up to that, you have to make a product that doesn’t wear out, that may have to cost more, where employees get better pay and benefits. That statement either has pervasive effects across the employee and consumer audiences, or it’s an empty slogan.

Either way, remember: In the age of social media and seemingly limitless content, businesses have nowhere to hide from any audience. Accenture research shows nearly two-thirds of consumers are drawn to brands that treat employees well. In addition, three-fourths say they want more transparency in how companies handle issues like sourcing and working conditions.

These facts are readily available today through the most overt form of transparency: the proliferation of ratings. Whether it be employer ratings on Glassdoor, or the scores between rider/driver and buyer/seller, the publicity surrounding treatment of employees and contractors can have a significant impact on both consumer choice of brands and on their experience, real and perceived, interacting with the brand.

Brand Promise
Figuring out who’s going to help you build and run your company precedes figuring out how to get customers. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t have a product or service to sell them in the first place. Beyond that, a battle cry led by your employees is bound to become the brand promise you make to the marketplace, down to every detail of what and how you deliver.

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