No brand is immune to crisis.
Take Wal-Mart for example. A few years ago, its customers were fed up. Many complained that visiting the store was unpleasant: Bathrooms were dirty, checkout lines took forever, and sales associates were scarce.
In 2015, executives decided to start paying workers more. In short order, the store experience improved. Though only about 16 percent of stores had reached the company’s customer service goals before the raises, that number rose to 75 percent and sales were up.
That program— detailed recently in The New York Times —illustrates a truth about the importance of a brand’s image in 2016: Workers are the best brand ambassadors.
The employee undercurrent
Even if they’re not out there tweeting and posting on Facebook, their feelings about your brand are transmitted in subtle ways that customers can sense. Find ways to include your staff in your brand’s overall communication strategy. Doing so can help you survive any crises that come your way.
In 1980, brand managers addressed crises by blasting out ad campaigns to win back customers. Now, consumers don’t trust advertising, and it’s much harder to reach the masses with a positive message. Employees can be a key component to rebuilding consumer trust.
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Consumers trust the opinions of real people much more than they do advertising or celebrity endorsements. Nielsen’s 2015 Trust in Advertising report shows that only 8 percent of customers in North America said celebrity endorsements resonate with them. Around 80 percent listed “recommendations from people I know” as their most trusted form of promotion.
In today’s PR climate, unvarnished opinions from employees can be a very effective form of communication.
Paying well pays off
Consider Costco. Although it doesn’t advertise much, consumers know that executives are paying employees fair wages. As a result, the brand has become very popular on Reddit and other online platforms.
By treating its employees well, Costco penetrated the most cynical corner of the web. If employees are included in your mission, vision and values, that sentiment will permeate the public consciousness—no matter what you’ve been through.
As Wal-Mart has shown, even a brand that’s known for being cheap with employees can turn that perception around in a few months.
The same is true for your business. Even if you’re not dealing with a crisis right now, establishing strong communication practices can fortify your brand before one occurs.
Russ Fradin is the chief executive officer and co-founder of Dynamic Signal.