Spanish influencer Maria Pombo in Madrid, Spain. Picture: Pablo Cuadra/Getty Images
Spanish influencer Maria Pombo in Madrid, Spain. Picture: Pablo Cuadra/Getty Images

On September 5 2019, while crowds of people – mainly women – demonstrated outside parliament and the Cape Town International Convention Centre against the scourge of violence against women, I attended a meeting nearby.

The company’s receptionists were dressed in black, in solidarity with the cause. I was impressed and complimented them on taking a stand on important social issues. I asked them if it was their idea or a company initiative – it was their idea, not the company’s initiative.

And though my respect for their solidarity increased, I was intrigued that this apparently hadn’t been driven from the top down.

Corporate SA has to get with it, and demonstrating alignment with a cause like stopping the abuse of women is a no-brainer. Showing support would undoubtedly build a brand. Not showing support would be a missed opportunity, at best; at worst, it could damage the brand.

Johnny Johnson. Picture: Supplied
Johnny Johnson. Picture: Supplied

But that gesture of support by two receptionists emphasises something else: the powerful ability of employees as influencers.

I suppose that it’s human nature to generally be critical of employees and their lack of service and the effect this has on a brand’s reputation – it seems easier to complain than it is to be complimentary. When one comes across employees truly being brand ambassadors, though, it is a powerful endorsement of the brand.

So why is a more conscious effort not made to motivate employees to be brand ambassadors?

Often the impression is created that great thought goes into brand projection: clever, impactful social media and advertising campaigns, rewarding promotions, good-looking stores – everything expensively setting up an experience that is carefully planned to ensure brand advocacy.

And then: you can’t find anyone to serve you, enthusiasm is at the level of a yawn, your food’s cold, your car’s dirty…

It’s easy to just blame it on the employees, something along the lines of: “Look what we have to work with, know what I mean?”

No, I don’t know what you mean.

What I do know is that it is absurd to spend big money on brand building only to see it wasted by poorly motivated employees underservicing promises made.

The big take-out

It makes no sense to spend money on brand building if your employees are not positive influencers.

The investment into employees has to be at least as purposeful as the investment into marketing, because then the employee will be a positive rather than a negative influencer.

I find myself thinking this: what if those two receptionists were as conscious of supporting their brand (yes, it is their brand) as they were of supporting a just cause?

And, of course, what if their company had been sufficiently aware to support that same just cause?

After all, building a brand is about creating affinity, what Seth Godin refers to as “people like us do things like this” and what Marty Neumeier (and others) refer to as a “tribe”. How ridiculous then, if the employees representing a brand aren’t even part of the tribe, and don’t know how to “do things” in support of “people like us”?

Here’s the kicker: your employees are influencers – you better make sure that they’re positive influencers.

Johnny Johnson is a brand and communications strategist at TowerStone Leadership Centre