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Employees as brand advocates is an untapped marketing tool

A new phrase in marketing which started in the US a few years back is now catching on in India as well.

By Ajit Narayan

People are what makes a business or brand — whether it’s employees, customers, partners or fans. When it comes to employees, they are your key stakeholders. They are not just doing their jobs, which is remunerated by their paychecks; they are also looking for recognition and trying to understand how to belong to this workplace and to learn how to become better at what they do. They are constantly trying to fit in with the organisation’s culture, build their own personal networks, and market the brands they are working with, along with their own selves.

Enter: employee advocacy. A new phrase in marketing which started in the US a few years back is now catching on in India as well. Marketers and HR folks are realising how easy or difficult it is to leverage the good word about their company and brand from their own workforce.

Employees as actors and models

Brands globally have started capitalising on this trend of releasing campaigns using their own CEO and employees. One of the most successful examples of this is the Will it blend? campaigns by Blendtec that feature its own CEO as the only model in the ad showing off how powerful the blender is. This one gets social media honours for being a great viral campaign as well.

In India, too, Trivago had launched an ad featuring Abhinav Kumar – then the country development head of India for the company. Post this commercial, he became an internet star in India. People started to follow him, wanted to know more about him and, at times, even trolled him on Twitter.

These two are excellent case studies on how brand advocacy can be a great marketing tool to build brand value and become the face for any company.

Making use of some of your peers into the marketing collateral, instead of using models, is a relatively old method and an easier one as well.

While this is a great way to bring the spotlight on employees to make the brand more accessible, brands need to make sure their employees are ready to be in the public view. Today, with social media, people can become famous in 15 minutes and these campaigns could initiate customer dialogues and also encourage the trolls to take potshots at the employees. We have seen this happen in recent times with the Trivago guy.

Employees as brand advocates

Today, with martech and social media integration, this one is a more consistent method of building and ensuring consistent employee engagement and garnering earned media value. This may seem challenging to orchestrate as it requires one to think strategically, and also develop the entire plan to enable consistent garnering of employee share of voice, but it offers a more long-term effect. It helps building not just the brand, but also the employee brand and the employer brand.

Using employees as brand advocates assumes that first, your company does things to build a vibrant workplace, while also encouraging employees to engage on social media with the branded content. Second, that the organisation is socially savvy, one that understands the needs of employees as personal brands themselves. If either of the conditions is not met, the level of success you could generate through employee advocacy would not be significant.

While this discipline has early adopters in the western markets, it is still in the early stages here. Both disciplines are yet to realise the importance of engaged employees and how they count beyond the tasks they do. It’s time businesses started taking the networks of people seriously, so that they can build a great workplace, great workers and a great brand reputation as well.

The author is CMO and program head, Socxo

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