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When Barbarians Are Inside the Gates: How Customers Choose Who Represents Your Company

ImageMcKinsey, the world’s most recognized consulting firm, recently published a report suggesting that there is over $1 Trillion dollars of gains ready to be unlocked by companies that integrate social business software (read McKinsey's report here).

The social media industry, from software companies like Elevate and Hootsuite, to consultants and speakers like Brian Solis and Maggie Fox, has preached the benefits of social media for much of the last decade, but companies still struggle to incorporate the most social part of their business into their marketing strategy: employee relationships with customers, prospects, recruits and influencers. Despite all of the statistical, anecdotal and empirical evidence for the influence of social media on customers, why do marketing teams struggle with engaging their employees as part of their social marketing strategy?

 Joe LePla, founder of Parker LePla, a leading West coast brand strategy consultancy and co-author of “Create a Brand That Inspires,” alongside Wolfgang Giehl, the SVP of Corporate Brand Marketing for DHLshared his insight with me in a recent conversation. Joe pointed out that: 

- Brands traditionally controlled communication with customers via advertising and marketing; 

- As social media emerged, two way relationships with specific social media managers controlling brand accounts became a popular approach to engage customers who wanted deeper conversations with the brand; 

- Today, however, customers can access your brand via personal relationships with contacts inside your company; 

- Customers often choose these contacts because of their personal relationships, not because of their position, expertise or marketing authority. 

Think about it this way: do you know a friend who works for Bank of America? She's likely your point of reference for your opinion of BofA. 

The walls that separated your employees from your brand don'twork; your customers are inside the gates, speaking to your employees, building relationships and creating opinions of your brand based on those relationships. 

So how do you manage your brand when marketing no longer controls who speaks to your customer? Prepare your employees. 

Selecting eager employees to work as brand ambassadors or customer advocates is a great approach to building deeper relationships with customers and influencing the public discussion about your brand. Today, however, companies need to recognize that the customer selects who they want to speak to, rather than who the company is offering. All employees need to be engaged with their brand, understand the core values of their brand and know the value proposition of their products. Each employee is your brand ambassador to their 150, 300 or 1000 contacts on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. 

How have you helped engage your employees to manage your brand with customers?

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