A brand tragic makes the connection

This article was originally published in The West Business on December 10th 2012.

I spend my days advising companies on how to win their case in the court of public opinion and so have to confess: I’m a bit of a brand tragic.

Why is it that some companies manage to keep their customers coming back even when things go wrong or prices rise? 

Just talk to the guy who owns my local café.  I doubt he’s ever read a marketing text or gone to a business school but somewhere along the way, he’s uncovered the secret to a brand that drives customer loyalty in spades.

There’s nothing particularly special about the place from the outside: the wooden floors are worn, the furniture is chipped and it can get quite noisy.

The difference? The people. Yes, know you’ve heard this all before but wait, let me explain.

One day there was a new member of staff, young and a bit nervous but trying hard to do a good job.  Leaning over the stainless steel bench, she took my order – carefully writing it down and then handing me one of those table numbers on a stork.  From the corner of my eye something happened that was pure brand magic. 

Tu, the guy who owns the store, gently leaned over the bench, and very quietly and respectfully whispered in the ear of his new employee:  No, no. This isn’t Number 23 – this is John…and he always has a weak flat white. He smiled, she smiled, I smiled.  I knew right then that I’d never go anywhere else.

This is the secret to customer loyalty that Tu remembers and many other companies forget:  a commitment to company leadership that helps their employees understand the emotional connection between their jobs and the company’s purpose.

That’s why internal communication is, in my opinion, the one element of brand building that most companies get wrong. 

Recently my consultancy surveyed Perth workers and one in four told us told us their employers are not doing enough to keep them informed. Of course, some are doing it brilliantly.  But I am staggered, however, by the number of senior managers who simply don’t see employee communication as a priority. 

Please understand: this isn’t just about building a better office intranet, or starting a boss’s blog.  It is about helping employees creatively connect their role with their organisation’s ultimate objective and it’s nothing new.

In the late 1960s, John F. Kennedy visited NASA and ran into a worker sweeping the floor.  What do you do around here? the President is reported to have asked.  Leaning against his broom, the worker didn’t hesitate: I’m helping to put a man on the moon, he said.  Not long after, that’s exactly what happened.  The world watched in awe as that dream became a reality. The seemingly impossible becomes possible when leaders help employees connect with the mission.  That what’s truly great internal communications should be all about.