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My business, my staff, their brand

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Internal communications is a hot topic right now and getting it right means more than taking care over timing, channels and content. Making sure it speaks from the heart of your brand is vital.

During these times of restrictions on our everyday lives, keeping staff informed, motivated and safe is a priority. For many small to medium organisations, this has been the first time they’ve had to communicate widely to staff with such frequency or complexity.

For many, a chat in the smoko room has been enough to keep staff up-to-date with changes that might impact how they work, or share news from the boss’s office. In the old days, a friendly note in a pay-packet was pandering, but now, we care more about our people’s loyalty and welfare.

The challenge a lot of business owners face is being clear and consistent around their brand, especially for a small company that has grown over years. For some, defining their brand hasn’t even really been a ‘thing’, relying on reputation, visibility, word-of-mouth and social media to keep the calendar full.  So having to think about what their brand should mean to their staff can be unfamiliar territory.

Let’s invent Colin’s Plumbing Co. Colin went out on his own 10 years ago when his boss retired. He knows his trade and values his clients. He knew he needed to look professional so invested in a good logo that looks smart on his shirts and vehicles. He’s OK with Facebook, does a tiny bit of local advertising and sponsors a few causes that mean something to him.

Business boomed recently and he’s now got a dozen staff.  He’s not consciously had to think about how his brand is experienced by his customers because he’s always been the face they see, the personality they engage with. But now, there are customers he may rarely meet, and he’s having to trust his team to epitomise Colin’s Plumbing Co. He needs to think about what that really means and then make sure they understand it, live it and respect it.

One of his guys can be a bit brash. Colin loves his energy but is nervous he’ll offend a customer one day. Another is an amazing technician but shy, so can struggle to communicate well.

And as for the one with a big laugh and outrageous sense of humour? Well, he charms customers all the time but one day his potty mouth is going to get them into trouble.

Colin doesn’t want to be dictatorial – do it my way or you’re out. He doesn’t want to overload his team with lists of rules about how to behave, other than what H&S says he has to.

Taking time to think about what your brand is all about is worth doing properly, but sometimes it can be as simple as articulating what matters to your business the most. The experts talk loftily about setting a vision and values and yes, of course, that’s incredibly important in terms of a clear direction. But for some it’s as simple as thinking about what you want customers to say about their experience.

Some teams might glaze over when you talk to them about ‘brand values’, but really you’re only defining what matters for your business. Talking about a ‘vision’ might inspire most teams, but others are content simply knowing your end-game, reassurance that they’re turning up to work for a reason other than the cash.

Colin could shower his staff with gifts, shout muffins every week and throw the mother of all Christmas parties but, if they don’t care about his brand and his business, that may not be enough.

Colin’s ongoing challenge is to keep his team reminded of what’s at the heart of his business and reflect it in the way they behave and interact with their clients. 

He could put it all in a booklet for his staff. But if he hasn’t talked to at least some of them about what should be in that booklet, and it’s never discussed again, they’re not going to care. Equally, if he drags them into long workshops of painful introspection and uncomfortable personal sharing, they’re not going to appreciate that either.

Finding a middle ground is the sensible place for a lot of small businesses. Sometimes it can be as straightforward as making brand values part of an ongoing narrative, by casually referring to them when you’ve done something that reinforces them. Do that too much, it becomes glib. Do it just enough and it’s reaffirming.

The businesses that have brand conversations with their staff, literally or by example, are those who will have found galvanizing staff easier during these times of disruption, and will come through stronger when it’s all over.

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About Author

Vicki Jones

Vicki is the marketing manager at Waikato software specialist Company-X.

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