Walk into a successful store or a growing company, and you’re likely to hear something like this: “We’re really glad to see you today, our latest products should more than meet your needs. Let me tell what we did to make them even better than before.” No doubt these employees believe in the brand they are selling.
Now walk into a not-so-successful store, or a company that is struggling a bit, and you might hear this: “They’ve got a sale running today on some of the new stuff. I’m not sure why they changed some of the features, but here you go.” These employees are non-believers in the brand.
Catch the difference in their language? It’s as simple as “we” versus “they.”
Almost all brands depend on personal interaction at some point to drive the brand. At the sales or customer service level, it’s downright critical to have your brand well represented. Employees who believe in the brand will use inclusive language like “we” because they feel like they are part of the team. They will actively promote the brand; they’re excited to share the brand experience with their customers.
But employees who don’t believe in the brand will distance themselves from it. They don’t want to take any ownership. They may be afraid they are going to be blamed for its shortcomings by the customer. And they don’t care if the customer embraces the brand or not. Management and leadership are perceived to be “not me.” “They” are on the other side.
If employees don’t believe in their company’s brand, there is likely one of two problems. Either it’s a weak brand, or the company is doing a weak job of explaining it. Successful brands like Coca-Cola invest substantial time in orienting new employees to their brand. They teach them from day one that the brand isn’t really about selling a popular flavor of soda, it’s about creating moments of refreshment that people share together. They expect their employees to embrace this concept, and, for the most part, they do. Conversely, brands that spend only a perfunctory amount of time on what their brand is about and send their new hires off with a job description in hand are far more likely to create a we versus they situation, no matter how good their brand concept is.
If a company gets wind of their employees seeing two sides to the company, they should be sure to ask themselves if there is any truth to it. Maybe the brand concept has lost its way a bit and could use some retuning. When the CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, felt that the Starbucks brand experience had deteriorated at their stores, he made a very public show of closing them down for retraining in the elements that make the Starbucks experience special, which is personal attention and the crafting of each customer’s order.
If you detect an issue with “we/they” at your company among a few employees, and you’re sure your brand is strong, encourage them to believe or be gone. But, be careful to hear what they have to say first. Their discontent could be justified and help your brand improve.