Employees Damage Brand

I went to the mall the other day to run a few errands and overheard a very colorful conversation in the parking lot. As I walked from my car to the mall entrance, I passed a dumpster enclosure where two employees were sorting recyclables and trash. They were having a rather loud conversation about a recent wild party, and the chat included numerous expletives and choice phrases.

Being a person whose profession focuses on internal-external brand alignment, I had to find out what brand these employees represented. I rounded the corner and could see the logo boldly displayed on their shirts – a well-known, national restaurant chain that has always struck me as being more forward-thinking and brand-aligned than many of its competitors.

There they were, having this fairly inappropriate and loud conversation within earshot of me, a potential customer, and wearing shirts that clearly represented them as employees. On the one hand, I realize they were sorting trash, and maybe I should have lightened up a little. On the other hand, they were representing their brand because they were in uniform and on-the-clock.

Employees are the Face of a Brand

This scenario points to the importance of training employees on what it means to represent a brand. Successful employees should know far more than the tactical details of a job. They need to understand how all of their actions (even the mundane like taking out the trash) can have tremendous influence on customer perception and brand image. Every time employees put on a name badge or uniform, they become the brand. Every time employees step within the walls of their workspace, they become the brand. Every time employees answer the phone on behalf of the company, they become the brand.

While a colorful conversation about a wild party isn’t enough to change my perception of this particular brand, employees should realize that ustomers are always watching and listening – even when you might not expect it. In an age where it’s easy to capture photos and videos at a moment’s notice, employee behavior becomes critical to brand image. A customer can quickly light a fire by posting a photo or video of an employee doing something that’s out of character with the brand.

Training on brand representation is most critical for companies with many employees who directly interact with customers. This includes industries like retail, food service, hospitality, and healthcare, among others. These types of businesses have many customer touch-points, which means there’s greater opportunity for things to go very well or very poorly. Brand training is especially important when a company’s workforce is made up of younger employees with fewer job and life experiences to guide their actions and decisions.

Invite Employees to Participate in the Brand Story

How does a company police its employees to make sure they’re appropriately representing the brand – or at the very least, not undermining it? First of all, it’s less about taking a police approach, which can be perceived negatively by employees and counter-productive to a positive culture. It’s more about inviting employees to participate in the brand story by compelling them to take accountability for the customer promise. Engaged employees who are enrolled in the brand’s story will often self-police their actions and those of their teammates. They will enthusiastically contribute their own passion and emotion to effectively deliver the brand, which will positively impact the organization’s culture.

No matter what, employees won’t always make the right choices. Life happens, and sometimes there are things that influence behaviors that are beyond control of the brand. But if a strong culture is in place that aligns behind the customer promise, they’re more likely to realize what’s at stake before they yell at a customer or talk too loudly about last night’s wild party. They’re more likely to positively represent the brand, even when they’re out by the dumpsters.


About Alice Wright

As Director of Content Strategy, Alice directs projects while also designing program strategy and instructional content. She has more than 22 years of experience managing integrated strategic marketing, communication and training programs for globally recognized brands. Some of her current and past clients include Nike, Sunglass Hut, Safeway, Banfield Pet Hospital, Office Depot, Unilever, LensCrafters, EMC, Intel, Microsoft, Dell, adidas, Joann Stores and others. Alice earned her bachelor’s degree from the School of Journalism and Communication at University of Oregon. She lives with her husband and teenage son in Portland, Oregon where she loves exploring the outdoors and being a soccer/band mom.