by Emily McNally

“At the Virgin Group, our employees come first, then our customers, then our shareholders. It’s simply common sense: If your workforce is happy and motivated, your customers are more likely to be happy as well—which means there’s greater chance that your business will see strong sales and good profits, generating the results your shareholders demand.”
Richard Branson 

When people think of brand awareness, they often think of a company’s sales and marketing departments communicating directly with its customer basebut what about all of the other employees? When it comes to building and promoting a strong brand, the people of your companyall of themare your most powerful assets. Employees are the best brand ambassadors for your product or service, even more so if they’re outside of the sales and marketing departments. While this may seem counterintuitive, employees outside of these departments who speak favorably of your company provide a more authentic point of view than praise coming directly from sales or marketing, whose job it is to deliver such messaging. When your employees endorse your company because they truly believe in it, it majorly validates your brand, improves your company’s reputation, and attracts more customers. Here are three ways to create a company culture that yields brand ambassadors:

Establish a Positive Work Environment
Company culture is the foundation of every business and the culture you create internally will directly impact your company’s reputation externally. Contrary to popular belief, your brand’s reputation is not comprised of the messaging blasted out by your marketing departmentit’s comprised of what your employees say about you when you’re not in the room. If your company culture is lacking, start by identifying the core values of your brand and cultivating them in your employees. It’s not enough to just put an inspirational poster on the wallyou need to embed these values in all aspects of your business, live them each and every day, and empower your employees to reinforce them on their own. No amount of marketing will overshadow a negative culture or create the passion that a positive culture can ignite. 

Invest in Your Employees
Zappos, Google, and Southwest are three examples of innovative companies that make employee engagement the top priority and consequently attract (and retain) the best talent while remaining at the top of the market for their industries. “We believe there is so much value in recognizing the things we do well that there are dozens of ways, big and small, that we make sure to constantly reinforce those behaviors, achievements, and actions we want repeated,” says Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos. Celebrate your employees with happy hours, team-building events, company swag, or props emails, keeping in mind that the point isn’t to spend a lot of money, but to foster a community where they feel welcome to innovate, create, and are motivated to improve the process. If you engage your employees differently from how you expect them to engage your customers, your company is operating with two sets of values.

Encourage Sharing and Make It Easy
As employees are the most trusted sources of information for customers, it’s crucial that they’re encouraged to participate in your brand on a regular basisand if they work in a positive environment where they feel appreciated, they’ll be willing and excited to share company messaging. Supply them with the necessary links and graphics to allow them to be active in the social media efforts of the companythe easier it is for them to share content on their external channels, the more likely it is that they will follow through. Additionally, create internal channels of communication within your company that encourage employees to offer suggestions and feedback. When employees feel heard and valued by their company, they’ll be much more inclined to authentically promote the brand to the outside world.

Dr. Rodger Duncan, author of Change-Friendly Leadership, said, “You can rent a man’s back and hands, but you must earn his head and heart.” When you engage in the heads and hearts of your employees, they become powerful brand ambassadors. Company culture is not just a one-time marketing exerciseit’s a mentality, and while it’s not an easy task, it’s definitely one worth making a top priority.

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