Your employees are your best brand advocates, hands down. Startups need to create a unified approach to win over clients and prospects, and spark an enthusiasm in employees that becomes infectious from within. By achieving this, a vibrant brand identity will be naturally communicated by those that are bought into the project. This is easier said than done, and there are some key steps you will need to take before this ambition becomes a reality.
This article explores some tried-and-tested methods of building advocacy within your team, to help others become equally as passionate about a startup’s values and purpose. We look at ways in which to foster the living and breathing of brand values, with a view to showcasing your startup from its very heart.
Spread enthusiasm daily
As entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter once said: “You set the tone of your business. We need positivity. Are you a drain or a radiator?” It sounds simple, but physically being seen, and coming across as being enthusiastic, motivated and passionate every day will encourage the people around you to do the same.
Of course, this isn’t always easy – so simply make it your mission to set a good work ethic every day, as best you can.
Whether that’s praising another team member for work well done, saying a cheery good morning as you walk into the office, or leading by example when it comes to dealing with clients, even the smallest things you can do to encourage a positive atmosphere will see others leading by your example.
Equip your employees
There are so many ways, physical and informational, that you can equip your employees to become brand advocates.
First of all, the physical. When employees are equipped with the right tools and skills to carry out their job efficiently – and in a way that encourages positivity – they’re more likely to be happier in their jobs. Happier people means an easier pathway to true brand advocacy.
Make sure they have all the tools they need to do their job. It sounds basic, but if your business is structured around a product or service, make sure they have free or discounted access to this and ensure they know how to use it.
There isn’t much point in an salesperson boasting the merits of a service they have no idea how to use, or don’t use themselves; and it’s sure-fire way to win your team over to being lifetime customers too, should they move on. Just listen to any podcast, and you’ll experience this first-hand . The pervading ad strategy is to find podcasters that use and love their sponsor’s products. This resonates as true advocacy, which the listener recognizes in the host’s voice!
You must also equip your team with knowledge about brand values. You can’t fully get behind something you don’t believe in, so this is an extremely important element of what you will do, and startups should instill this belief from the outset. Having a ‘higher purpose’ doesn’t have to be complicated. Whether you are a disruptive startup, a small business in a local environment or a high-tech company providing a bespoke service, there will always be a story and a mission.
Convey this to employees through training sessions, messaging and direct experiences, and once they’re on-board with goals, ambitions, and mantra – they’ll become better brand advocates.
Be honest and open
Make your team feel like they’re part of an inner circle. Share critical company information with them, even if their job does not directly correlate with it. For example, sharing financial updates and KPIs with everyone instead of the sales team in isolation. Buffer takes this to the extreme, but openly publishing its team’s salaries, and actively promoting the methods by which the management looks after staff.
Trust your team with information, too. Empower them to feel like they can be brand advocates, (e.g. via social media) but ensure it stays strictly as their choice, rather than a forced endeavour. Provide the option to write for the blog, take on a week managing the Twitter account, or involve different team members’ insights in content.
In fact, ensuring that even just the sales team have the power to be brand advocates on social media is a pretty powerful tool. According to the Aberdeen Group, over 70% of salespeople using social selling exceeded quotas 23% more often. Just make sure they’re aware of any social media policies and brand guidelines, first!
In today’s day and age, building a personal brand is important to most people, so if employees feel like they can do this within your company, then it will empower brand advocacy.
Begin an employee advocacy programme
This is a good option for those who are all about process. Take heed from larger companies when you’re implementing a programme – whilst they have a vast number of people compared to a startup, some of their methods are transferrable in an affordable and efficient way.
For example, back in 2014 Adobe launched a programme to train employees on talking about the brand online, including the company’s social media guidelines. It also started Adobe Life, an employee-written blog which gets a significant number of hits.
Before you set a programme into motion, ensure that it aligns with wider business goals and has the support of employees to champion the cause. Beware of it seeming ‘forced’ and consult the whole team before embarking on this endeavour.
I’ll look at rewards in more detail in the next section, but advocacy programmes can also be incentivised. By adding an element of gamification, you enhance the motivation to take part in content creation, social media promotion, and other activities. It’s best to avoid stark financial rewards in this context – softer incentivisation will still boost your team’s involvement.
From a broader long-term perspective, by enabling employees to build their own personal brand through these communications, they’ll feel trusted and valued.
Work hard, play hard
Lastly, don’t forget to reward your team for their good work. We all work that bit harder when there’s an incentive other than the standard wage packet at the end of month – and this incentive doesn’t always need to be financial.
Money is important, but it’s not everything. As discussed by Ray Williams on Psychology Today, author and lecturer Alfie Kohn says “no controlled scientific study has ever found a long-term enhancement of the quality of work as a result of any financial reward system.” Furthermore, job site Monster discovered that number one wish by 85% of employees was to work for a company that “ truly cares about the wellbeing of its employees.” In second place was to have a fulfilling job, in third was to have job security, and good benefits package was in fourth place. In fifth place, comes financial compensation.
An afternoon off, an away-day, a celebratory team meal, or gift cards for the cinema; you can be creative with reward ideas, based on your team’s likes and personalities. That’s one of the joys of being an agile startup with new ideas.
An inspired and well-supported team is more likely to become a group of genuine brand advocates. If they’re feeling equipped, clear-cut and on-board as to what the company’s overall mission is, they’ll shout about their employers and go the extra mile. This creates a natural feel-good vibe from within, and a strong foundation from which to build further external marketing success – online and offline.
But it’s not just the development of company culture that helps to support brand advocacy. Your team has to believe that you’re doing good work, and this means focusing on the product market fit and solving customer problems. Consistently strong performance – combined with solid feedback from customers and clients – will keep your executives motivated. The business has to fulfil a recognised void, and all examples of excelling at this should be celebrated.
Breeding confidence will ensure that your business makes a splash, with its team at the centre. By creating advocates, you’re not only expanding the shop window for potential clients, but also for skilled candidates. You’ll attract the best in the jobs market, and those who thrive off making an impact for a company that believes in them.