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How Employee Advocacy Builds personal Brands

(Posted on Jun 24, 2014 at 01:19PM )
By establishing an employee advocacy program, companies can strengthen their own reputation and brand, while enabling their employees to do the same.

It is widely known that engaging your employees is a very effective way to improve brand perception. The obvious question is why would an employee want to take part in helping their company in marketing or brand building? What does an employee really gain by participating in an employee advocacy program?

One compelling benefit for launching an employee advocacy program is the clear dual value provided to all constituents. These programs, when executed correctly, are a true "win-win" for both brands and their employees. The benefits to the marketers are obvious; by tapping into the collective trust and amplification power of their employees, brands can generate broader awareness, amplify their marketing campaigns, and build their reputation via trusted voices in the market. The benefit to employees is their ability to authentically participate in their company's future while also developing and building their personal brands.

What Is a Personal Brand?Just as companies have their own unique brand and stories, so does every employee that works at the company. The employees' personal brands are built on their experiences, passions, and the social connections they are able to develop within their business and social circles. Individual personal brand is what can truly differentiate an employee from other people who work in the same industry and also can highlight what makes them unique or valuable to a market, industry or company.

One of the best ways to construct a personal brand is on social media. Employees can build profiles that showcase their experience and knowledge, connect with relevant people in their industry, share content, and engage in conversations about their industry, career, or passions. The social media channels that should be used will vary, depending on the employee's industry, department, and passions. But as a starting point, LinkedIn and Twitter are ideal channels for most professionals.

Why Do Employees Need to Build Their Personal Brand?A personal brand doesn't just focus on someone's current position, but on one's long-term career and interests. All of the content shared, conversations joined, and connections made are documented on these channels and stay with the employee throughout their career. Over time, these individual components come together to form one cohesive story and personal brand.

Having a strong personal brand shows potential employers, industry influencers, prospects, and customers that an employee understands the industry. By consistently sharing and engaging with relevant content, employees can show that they're not only intelligent and knowledgeable about their industry and current company, but that they have social media smarts as well. Those qualities are all key things employees need for long-term career development and growth.

How Does an Employee Advocacy Program Help Employees Build Their Personal Brand?While employees might be eager to increase their social following and engage with connections, it is time-consuming and may not seem natural for them at the beginning. As they develop themselves and get involved in their employer's advocacy program, they can be empowered to become a trusted voice in the market. The best employee advocacy programs ensure employees are provided interesting and relevant content that helps them stay on top of the topics and verticals they are interested in, while also ensuring they position themselves as true thought leaders and innovators in the market. Employees should be able to tap into the rich marketing and content resources provided by their employer and share those articles, ideas, and multimedia that they find most compelling, and that is most compelling for their audiences.

Even if employees are passionate about their role and company, as advocates should be, they will eventually move onto other opportunities. By establishing an employee advocacy program, companies strengthen their own reputation and brand, while enabling their employees to do the same.

By Russ Fradin

Branding has an interesting dual nature that makes it both
an advantage and a disadvantage for the little guy.

It’s well known that despite what we’d like to believe, brands
people hate can still succeed. Why? They’ve reached an event
horizon, usually with their immense size, that allows them to
offer things that smaller companies just can’t do.

There’s a simple explanation for how brands people dislike
endure: consumers will continue dealing with a brand they
don’t like if other advantages are significant. People will
tolerate bland stores and mediocre service at Walmart if they think their grocery bill will be ten or twenty
bucks cheaper.

Big brands have “known certainty” playing in their favor. Even if the experience is sub-par, you know what
you’re getting, and you also know you’re probably getting it for pretty cheap.

The future “mom and pop” shops of the world need to do better─but in a strange twist of fate, it’s building
a brand that people love, one customer at a time, that’s the answer.

Today, we’ll look at some research and examples that can help you do just that.

You Can’t Be Everything to Everyone

I hate Miracle Whip.

Frankly, I don’t think there is any faster way to ruin a perfectly good sandwich.

It seems I’m not the only one—Miracle Whip, interested in understanding shoppers’ perceptions towards
the brand, found through their research that people eitherloved or hated Miracle Whip:

Some people praised Miracle Whip’s yumminess, but one character said he’d break up with his girlfriend
if he learned that she liked the dressing. Another said, “I’d rather lick your shoe” than try it.

They quickly found out that Miracle Whip is a very polarizing product.

This is interesting to note because in traditional tests of consumer satisfaction, such as the Net Promoter Score,
brands like Miracle Whip might look somewhat average, despite the fact that there are millions of people who 
really love the product.

Net scores won’t work with a brand that has just as many haters as it does true fans. The best way to address
this divide, as Miracle Whip found in its subsequent marketing strategy, is to play it up.

Rather than trying to be everything to everyone, Miracle Whip embraced the polarizing responses to its product
by creating an ad that interviewed fans, dissenters, and “love-to-hate” celebrities on what they thought about
Miracle Whip in a campaign called Take a Side:

Better yet, Miracle Whip went straight to the fans by encouraging them to make their own responses.

By encouraging users to create a “Love it or Hate it” video explaining how Miracle Whip created a divide
in one of their friendships/relationships, the brand received some pretty funny responses, including this
one from a boyfriend who stated he had a problem “accepting the right of all couples to come together
in holy union.”

As marketing professor Xueming Luo later noted in this Harvard Business Reviewrelease, this strategy
wasn’t just for laughs: the results from this campaign were fantastic, resulting in a 631% surge in social
media postings and a 14% increase in sales.

This shouldn’t be surprising—we’ve covered research in the past that shows nothing brings people together
quite like a common enemy. The secret is simply to create a social identity that causes division.

The data has shown that brands with plenty of animosity can still succeed in a big way. Not every company
can be loved like Amazon; take a look at the love/hate ratio below, and you’ll see that very polarizing brands
like McDonald’s and Starbucks are far and away outperforming their less polarizing counterparts (perhaps
the biggest worry is that people feel nothing when thinking about your brand):

Love Hate Ratios

In the same way Abercrombie & Fitch’s CEO can get away with saying that the company doesn’t want ugly
people wearing their clothes, your company should appeal to an “in” group . . . but without being such a jerk.

Classic examples include places like ThinkGeek, who want “geeks only” for their variety of merchandise,
or Apple, who focused more on what their consumers were not (“mindless lemmings”) in order to create

Keep It Simple, Stupid

If there was ever a universal rule for branding, it would be this: the easier it is to understand, the better.

Simplicity allows for better decision making—or at least that is how consumers perceive it. No surprise,
then, that according to this research:

75% of consumers are more likely to recommend a brand that they feel is simple.

We’ve talked about the importance of projecting this to new customers via your homepage, as 
further research has shown the same fondness for simple websites, but this simplicity is really
about telling customers what you do and why it’s unique.

In many ways, the appeal of simplicity is seen through all aspects of marketing. In one study
 of over 7,000 consumers which analyzed product “stickiness”—or the likelihood of consumers
to follow through with an actual purchase—the single biggest driver was decision simplicity.

We looked at the impact on stickiness of more than 40 variables, including price, customers’
perceptions of a brand, and how often consumers interacted with the brand. The single biggest
driver of stickiness, by far, was “decision simplicity”—the ease with which consumers can gather
trustworthy information about a product and confidently and efficiently weigh their purchase options."

Since simplicity is subjective, how you simplify things for customers depends onwhat they want.
Dollar Shave Club’s entire model—delivering razors to your door—was able to succeed because
the unique pitch was easy and focused on the right thing: what a pain it is to go to the drugstore
just to buy a razor.

Many “delivery clubs” have followed this model and failed, often because they looked to copy the model
without thinking about what they are selling—not everything is made for a delivery subscription model,
because the annoyance of purchasing the item just isn’t there like it is for razors.

This idea of simplicity also should address your brand’s “desired personality,” according Stanford
psychology professor Jennifer Aaker. Her research found 5 common dimensions in a brand’s personality,
and people like it when yours is obvious:

Brand Personality

Make sure “who you are” is apparent in other areas that reflect customer perceptions as well—JCPenny
found this out the hard way when they tried toeliminate sales, a key part of their value-based brand,
from their stores. Remember that elements like pricing, packaging, etc., all play a role in how customers
perceive your business.

The Intersection of Ideas

The best ideas are often found at a crossroads, and this applies to branding as well.

An excellent example comes from our friends at Zapier. As a platform that lets you connect and automate
different apps, branding for Zapier wasn’t “hit you over the head” obvious.

The team found a great crossover by positioning themselves as a way to access “superpowers” to get your
work done. As can be seen through their well-done case studies, Zapier really can come to the rescue when
used correctly.

To highlight this, the recent redesign makes work of a really interesting comic book style:

Zapier Superhero Home Page

You might not immediately think of superhero branding when it comes to a tech startup, but given the
widespread recognition of the superhero motif and Zapier’s positioning, it makes absolute sense.

Another benefit of branding “at the crossroads” is the inherent simplicity of connecting two ideas—as
long as it’s done right. When people get what ideas you are connecting, your brand is very easy to

A bar with a western theme makes sense and allows us to clearly define what it is. It’s the amorphous
branding that you need to worry about: the combining of too many elements or themes that aren’t
compatible. If it leaves people scratching their heads, you’ve done something wrong.

When Should You Brand on Perception?

Do you think Land Rover honestly believes that most people who buy their vehicles will be using them
for off road trips? Given the amount of SUVs they sell, it’s doubtful.

Despite this, they still brand themselves as the car of off the grid adventures. Why?

Recently, an exceptional article by Marc Barros addressed this issue of why companies should brand
 on perceptions instead of reality. The stupidly simple reason is because people buy on perceptions,
not reality.

Some of the examples Barros chose were hilarious but entirely true:

Drink this beer and you will be like this guy.

Dos Equis Perception vs. Reality

This girl to guy ratio is about right.

Your surfing videos will look like this.

Surfing Perception vs. Reality

When you aren’t the best surfer in the world and don’t have a professional video crew.

This brings us to the aforementioned Land Rover example. Again, according to Barros:

This car is for driving to amazing, desolate locations.

Land Rover Perception vs. Reality

Most owners just take the car to Safeway.

Barros cites a study done on “puffery” in product branding, which found that only the most
discerning, experienced consumers were immune to puffery—the act of branding on perception.
The watch geek wearing a Vacheron Constantin won’t fall for that James Bond advertisement; they
already know what they want in a watch.

Traditional consumers, however, do care about the potential lifestyle that a product may bring—
that’s why suburban folks might buy a Land Rover in the first place. AsMarc would put it:

It’s not about the performance of the product, it’s about the lifestyle of the person using the product.

It makes sense for a boot company like Viberg to create videos about how they hand craft each boot
using the best materials—they are appealing to a very savvy and highly discerning audience.

But for sneaker companies like Nike, who sell to consumers with less of an interest in how the product
is made, there’s a real need to brand on perception; if their sneakers are worn by this or that athlete,
if you buy them you might play like them, too.

Written by Gregory Ciotti

I’m a child of Descartes. I grew up in a rational world where logical thinking was the best weapon against ignorance, the right way out of dogma, and I still think today that it’s a decent objective.

I had believed in rational behavior when it came to my credit card, too. I had never considered lining up for two hours (let alone two days) for the privilege of buying an expensive phone bearing a fruit logo. At least, not because of the fruit logo. I had believed that specifications, performance, price and ROI should be essential contributors to my buying decisions just as math, physics and other sciences are essential contributors to my understanding of the world.

But as I moved forward in life and in business, I’ve become increasingly sensitive to the power of the intangible, to the realm of the unexplained and to the legitimacy of feelings, myths and impulses to comprehend the world. Although it’s biologically questioned, the conceptual “left vs. right” dichotomy of the brain remains a good proxy to understand our decision processes. And when it comes to business, the shining power of our right, intuitive, emotional brain confirms Tim Sanders’ claim: “Love is the killer app.” Just like everyone else, I’m also irrational (much to my initial dismay), and victim of the power of brands.

In your business world where lawyers and bottom lines have so much power, how much of your decision process is based on love rather than on objective evidence and computable demonstration?

Bansky, the famous street artist, gave us a convincing hint. He offered some of his original artworks for 60 dollars on an anonymous street stall in New York. Buying them would have been quite a smart investment. Bansky is a hot property; his pieces regularly attract anything from $40,000 to north of a million! But the stall was not branded. It exhibited naked, intrinsic value. And…barely sold anything ($420 in a day). Let’s do the math: a $60 investment for a $40,000 market value, that’s less than 0.15% of the price allocated to its intrinsic value (its performance, so to speak); the rest, a hefty 99.85%, lies in the power of the brand. And if I had bought one of this canvas and sold it the same day, I would have made a mighty 67,000% return!

Watch the video here – and enjoy the bonus hug from Bansky:

This example with the street artist Bansky reminded me of a similar experience with Joshua Bell, who played for tips in a metro station in Washington, DC. Joshua is one of today’s most acclaimed violinists. He played Johan Sebastian Bach, arguably one of the strongest long-term brands in music: JSB is the Coca Cola of cantatas, Steve Jobs turned contrapuntist! Joshua played on a Stradivarius, the ultimate violin brand and undisputed worldwide leader for the last 300 years. Joshua, Johan Sebastian and Stradivarius collaborated to create the ultimate musical experience and value. But they delivered it raw, unbranded, naked, and free.  It went totally unnoticed. Joshua made $32 for a 45-minute performance, an hourly rate on par with Bansky’s stall, ridiculously below the market value of their relative brand.

Take a break, sooth your soul, enjoy Bach by Joshua:

Joshua and Bansky have, intentionally or not, developed and earned their brand equity through a long and complex process. But we, the unsavvy audience, the serendipitous passers-by, the market, we value these resulting brands more than their talents, more than their intrinsic performances. To such an extent that it’s even reasonable to say that now, we value only their brands.

One could argue that these examples have a limited demonstrative power since they concern art, which is irrational by essence. But we all know this applies to every person, product and brand.

Take motorcycles: there is nothing more mechanical, performance-oriented, physically measurable than a bike: horsepower, torque, power-to-weight ratio, electronic assistance, fuel consumption, braking distance or 0 to 100 mph times – so many objective data points! Yet bikers are the most irrational and dishonest consumers. No seriously, I’m a biker. And I can go to a disturbing extent of pseudo-rational arguments to “demonstrate” how L-shaped twins on red bikes are the best possible engines in the world; and their price-to-performance ratio doesn’t count (yes I’m a Ducati fan).

And no need to talk about the old Apple-Microsoft and the new Apple-Samsung religion wars to make this point any clearer or more universal.

Brands are the irrational power of our supposedly free and rational world.

Our right brain holds the purse strings. We buy stories and emotions, not specifications or functions. Love always wins over performance.

Two interesting evolutions in marketing are trying to leverage the power of love. One is neuromarketing. Sure, this is a science, while love is not. But its purpose is to map, and navigate the decision process of a buyer outside the rational “if then else” analysis. The second one is social media marketing. In social media marketing, sellers try to bypass the rational analysis of buyers and replace it with social value: “If my friend loves this product, then I should love it too”. These sales channels are recent, but they yield results.

How does this impact us as individuals, as professionals, and as people?

I have three takeaways:

  1. Fighting our ways out of dogma is a necessary mission where the enlightening power of rational thinking should never be discounted.

  1. But know it: you, too, are irrational! It’s OK if you ride a Ducati and use an iPhone.

  1. Your community, your users, your customers are just as irrational as you are. Develop your brand: demonstrate your thought leadership, tell your story, give love freely and give good reasons to be loved. The good news is: Social Media has opened this possibility. You too can be part of it! You do not have to accept that Johan Sebastian or Apple will forever be the only brands: define your niche and carve your way. Leverage both brains of your audience: be your brand.

This entry was posted in Opinion and tagged apple, bach, brand, branding, ducati, Marc Rougier, personal brand, steve jobs by Marc. Bookmark the permalink.
According to Urban Dictionary, a "Belieber" is one who is an obsessive fan of Justin Bieber; a person who loves Justin Bieber and believes in everything he can do. This mashup of believer and Bieber may be an extreme example of fandom, but it is a powerful one. It's easy to dismiss Beliebers as just teenage lunatics, but these "lunatics" are exactly what's missing from many of today's brands -- Passionate Advocates.

Justin Bieber has a fan base that is widely known as passionate and captivated, and more than willing to advocate on his behalf. Brands have traditionally used top-down marketing strategies such as advertising, PR, events/sponsorships or direct marketing, but advocacy is a relatively new venture for many organizations. An advocacy-focused marketing strategy helps brands to build the equivalent of Justin Bieber's avid "Belieber" fan base. With over 46 million Twitter followers who retweet, comment and repost his content, we have from a marketing perspective a perfect example of brand advocacy at work. He engages with his fans regularly to develop a relationship with them, fostering advocates who readily market on his behalf. They attend his events, market his products to their network and start their own communities to engage with likeminded fans. Most marketers would agree that brand advocacy programs are a good idea but the ultimate challenge is finding customers that are willing to display their passion for your brand. Social media has definitely made it easier for brand advocates to share their opinions. But what truly drives people to express their passion and trust for a brand and how can marketers encourage them to remain advocates?

Here are some simple steps to create a customer advocacy program that will generate the genuine passion your brand needs while helping your brand to achieve company growth and awareness:

Seek Out The Right Brand Advocates
Identify your brand advocates and learn more about who they are, what they like about your brand and where they are talking about it. Users who are interacting with brand content and "liking" your social media pages are a first step. Social analytics can help you identify what topics or features are driving positive conversations about your brand and who is involved in those discussions. Identifying your advocates isn't a one-time deal either. You should be identifying your advocates continuously. The more recruits you have, the more impact it can have on your sales and marketing.

Build Direct Relationships
Understand what motivates your advocates to interact with the brand and create a steady cadence of communication that is targeted uniquely to them. This most certainly does not involve a paid relationship. Instead, focus on providing access to unique information about your brand such as advanced announcements of events or products, a reward or recognition program or special offers. When your advocates engage with you, respond and do so in a timely manner. When a direct relationship is cultivated, your advocates will be more willing to help market the brand.

Consistently Engage
Devise a content strategy and editorial calendar to ensure that your brand keeps advocates consistently engaged for easy social sharing. Content can range from infographics to GIFs to behind-the-scenes footage of the company to drive excitement and build interest. The goal is to encourage and enable advocacy everywhere so it’s easy for advocates to spread the word with everyone. Think about increasing advocacy levels in three ways:

Volume: Map out customer touch points and ensure that they are given adequate attention. Your social media manager should do more than check the company Facebook page once a day. Leverage your audience to advocate on your behalf by interacting frequently and with variety. Share reviews, distribute news and ask questions.
Customize messages and generate authentic conversations to create deep fan engagement and advocacy.

Reach: Use various channels, including employee communications, social content, mobile apps and websites to influence your key advocates with trustworthy content at the right time.
  1. Measure Positive Effects of Advocacy
    Measure ROI with real-time dashboards and analytics. A simple positive/neutral/negative tracking system does little to help understand the degree of recommendation around a brand. Instead, brands should pursue a more advanced tracking system that looks at the ability to increase advocacy over time and identifies key drivers. Know when customers promote your product, how many people they reach, who they convert into new customers and how much resulting revenue they generate for your brand. 
Attracting and driving passion for brands takes time and genuine commitment. The challenge for marketers is to find and build relationships with key influencers, sustaining those relationships through engagement, and then measuring the results to show effectiveness. When engaging their audience, brands need to focus on staying visible across multiple channels, being relevant by providing content that matters and responding to advocates with authenticity. These are the key ingredients for a successful customer advocacy program and, once mastered, passion will be ignited and your regular brand believers will be transformed into "Beliebers."

By Russ Fradin is the co-founder of Dynamic Signal and a digital media industry veteran with more than 15 years' experience in the online marketing world.

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