Walmart has an image problem. I know that’s not much of a newsflash but the point remains. Lately, the most vocal group of Walmart haters has not been the anti-China crowd or the anti-shuttering of Mom and Pop stores crowd or any of the myriad other normal detractors. No. Lately, it is Walmart’s own employees who are slamming the mega-chain’s mere existence. So united are they in their negative feelings of the company that thousands of employees are threatening a national strike on Black Friday.
In the marketing world, we talk often and loudly about “brand advocates” – that is, those happy customers who are so smitten with your product or service that they tell everyone they meet about you and your organization. We court them, we cater to them, we bribe them with baubles (admit it, you do) and we pray that they will speak on our behalf to all who will listen.
Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to an old friend about his work. He never really talks much about what he does. His Facebook profile isn’t saturated with each minute detail of his exciting days at work as so many of my other “friends”‘ pages are, and his eyebrows get this particular furrow whenever the subject comes up. On this particular day, however, I pressed him on the issue.
“Man,” he said, “I hate that company. They suck. I wouldn’t wish that place on my worst enemy. Don’t ever buy from them.”
I was shocked. I always thought he loved his job. Was the product bad? Nope. Were the services sub-par? Never. Were shipments to customers routinely delayed? Not at all. Well, what was it that made this company so bad that his strongest advice to me was to not ever buy from them?
He didn’t like the way he was treated.
Word of mouth from customers is vital to growing brand awareness, to be sure. But in your search for advocates, don’t forget the one group of people who can be particularly powerful in both positive and negative ways – your employees.
I’ve had service personnel come out to manufacturing facilities where I’ve worked to repair equipment. These are workers who are sent out into the field to represent their company to their clients and yet, for some reason, as soon as they have an ear to bend, they unload about how awful their employer is, how little their engineering department knows, etc. Always kinda’ leaves me scratching my head wondering why I’m hiring this company and its personnel if they’re really as inept as their own employee says they are….
On the other hand, I’ve had site visits from personnel who can’t talk enough about their employer – in good ways! Now, I consider myself to be pretty in tune with the particularly odiferous presence of a fresh load of you-know-what. So I can usually tell when someone is blowing sunshine just to keep me happy or is genuinely in love with their work. And when you have someone in front of you who is elbows-deep in ink and grease repairing a busted drive union on a 30-year-old printing press while raving about his company and the work he does, well…that’s just bomber (as my 9-year-old would say). And, the next time an employee puts a wrench through a pair of impressed cylinders, I’ll be darn sure to call that same company back to repair the damage.
Not every organization needs to worry about their employees’ personal feelings making the headline news. However, understanding that sometimes employees are just stuck in the whole “grass is greener” mindset, it still cannot be denied that your workers are your first line of ambassadors when it comes to your organization’s image, brand and reputation. Court them. Cater to them. Find a culture that respects their efforts, rewards their successes and fosters personal investment in the organization and you’ll have your own personal team of brand advocates doing your marketing work for you. Win-win for all!
About the Author: Jeremy Jones is the Senior Marketing Strategist for 603 Media Group. Primarily tasked with the challenges of keeping our small business running, Jeremy also occasionally branches out into public speaking, blogging, website design and raising his nine-year-old son to not be another one of “those damn kids”.