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My family and I have come to love Pizza CS (Come Sempre), http://pizzacs.com/  a new Neapolitan-style pizza joint in our neighborhood started by a couple of guys who love great ingredients and honor the art of creating a truly Italian crust.  But what I take away from Pizza CS, besides a great food experience, is that a great brand is always about two things: delivering what you promise, and how your people communicate.  This place has both, and that’s why we keep coming back.

When a “brand promise” is broken, it is often because an employee doesn’t realize that everything they do communicates your brand.  Or doesn’t. When my husband was on a job search last year, I can’t count the number of institutions that created a bad name for themselves because of how the point person on the search conducted him or herself. Everything they said was a poor reflection on the brand. By contrast, several institutions shined through that process, and presented a unified “face” to their brand for prospective employees and customers alike.

So, what’s the best way to pre-empt the potential brand threat that is your own work force?

  1. Listening. The first tool is teaching good listening skills. Any employee who speaks to clients, staff or prospects in either category—from your receptionist to your HR department—should have training in good listening skills. Learning how to repeat back what the concern is (“I hear you saying you did not receive the package your ordered on time”) is the first step to solving the problem and defending your brand. This is more important than ever in a world where any disgruntled person can start a blog about how they have been wronged (the famous Jeff Jarvis “Dell sucks” blog post as case in point).
  2. Crisis Planning. Another key component to workforce training in a 24/7 media world is crisis response.  That doesn’t mean that every employee is part of your crisis response team. However, every employee should know How to Recognize a problem that has reached crisis level, and What to Do Next when that happens. I often see organizations in melt-down when a crisis occurs because the problem was still being dealt with at a low level, with the back and forth spilling onto Facebook and websites, when it should have been pushed way up the management chain immediately for a more unified and brand-focused response.

You need to be engaged with critics (and lovers) of your brand, at all levels of your organization.  Because, in this world of 24 hour news cycles, social networks and the blogosphere, one unhappy person can be a very powerful voice. And so can one very happy customer who dealt with a well-trained employee.

Amy DeLouise offers staff development workshops in branding and social media.

Balt. Bldg.1 - IMG_0407 sIn the “jobless recovery,” it’s important to be strategic about spending on your brand. Here are five ways you can support your product, service or nonprofit mission without spending a dime.  (Alright, in total fairness, time is involved and we all know that’s valuable.)

1. Deploy Your Leaders. Boards of directors, partners, the executive team–they should know all the in’s and out’s of your brand and be the spokes on the wheel of your brand promotion. But sometimes they are not deployed in an intentional way with marketing your brand in mind. Make a conscious effort to (re)educate your board and leadership team on your “elevator pitch” and “brand promise”–what unique value you provide–at their next meeting. Ask folks to give their elevator pitch to the group, to help them hone their own description of your brand essence.

2. Engage Every Employee. Your leadership team, marketing or development staff may all be cognizant of your key brand messages. But what about your interns, the people at the loading dock and your new receptionist? Everyone communicates your brand–to customers, to donors, to other employees. Make sure you take the time to engage everyone. One great experience can make all the difference. So can a bad one.

3. Let Others Speak for You. Referrals are the best sales. Ask your best customers, donors, community volunteers, etc. to help you promote your brand. Ask them to Tweet about your latest accomplishments, mention it on their company blog, or be willing to wear a nametag that says “So and So, [Your Charity Name] Volunteer” at their next business event. In the advertising world, everything is measured in the volume of “impressions” your ads get. But also every human impression counts.

4. Cross-Promote. Whether you are a for-profit or a charity, find organizations that don’t compete directly with you but who offer complimentary products/services.  Then create a monthly program for cross-promotions. For example, if you’re a florist, have your link featured on the page of an event organizer and vice versa.  If you’re a charity with a national walk or run coming up, cross-promote with an athletic shoe or apparel company.  And don’t forget to cross-promote yourself: be sure that every communications tool you use–email, e-newsletters, blogs, websites, business cards–promotes every other venue through which you communicate, so customers can reach you in whatever way they like best.

5. Increase Brand Clarity. Brand audits can be very expensive and time-consuming projects, but here’s a mini-audit you can assign to a couple of folks for a considerable impact. Have them review your letterhead, website, print pieces, blogs, Facebook pages, etc. and tell you whether your logo, name, tag line and mission statement appear consistently. Look at color, size, fonts and wording. You’d be surprised how many times these communications tools are inconsistently branded, thus diluting your impact.  You don’t have to reprint everything all at once, but be aware so that the next time cards go to the printers, for example, they can be in sync with your website.

Of course, there’s no free lunch.

If your brand is struggling because your mission is fuzzy, your leadership isn’t strategic, or your staffing is weak, then no amount of free branding solutions will help.  But in tough times, these simple tools can also go a long way while we all wait for recovery.