Employees make better brand ambassadors than the CEO

Six keys to train employees to “live” the brand

Time to reconsider the view that the CEO is the best voice of a company.  According to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, the credibility of CEOs has dipped to an all-time low of 37 percent—a 12-point decline in a single year. The same study shows that a much higher percentage of the public trusts employees (48%).

When you take into account the number of CEO scandals over the years, the survey results aren’t hard to understand.  Combine it with the fact that social media gives the public more access to employee opinion than ever before, and there’s little room to doubt this data. So, if more people trust employees, it begs the question, what can you do to influence the way they tell your brand story?  What training are you providing to help transform them into effective brand ambassadors?

Most of us are likely doing too little, but not Chick-fil-A.


According to a recent Business Insider article, the chicken chain has doubled down with an intense effort to train employees on how to treat customers.  It’s statistically the most polite chain in the restaurant business, according to the latest QSR Magazine annual drive­thru report. Employees at Chick­fil­A were the most likely of the 15 chains surveyed to say “please” and “thank you,” and to smile at drive ­thru customers. Chick­fil­A workers were also the second most likely to have a “pleasant demeanor.”

Do good manners pay off?  You bet!  In 2015, Chick­fil­A generated more revenue per restaurant than any other fast­food chain in the US — nearly $4 million. Meanwhile, the average KFC sold just $1 million.  Chick­fil­A claims to have the upper hand when it comes to customer service because it invests more than other companies in training its employees, and industry analysts agree.

Ok, so their employees are polite and helpful, but are they really brand ambassadors?  Are they affecting Chick-fil-A’s brand image in a meaningful way?  The answer is a resounding yes.

$250 Million Marketing Investment at Risk

Gartner Research tells us that companies spent on average 10.2 percent of their annual 2014 revenue on overall marketing in 2014. For the average FORTUNE 500 company, that translates to more than $250 million spent each year trying to influence consumers to engage with its brand. These companies hope to convince us that if we purchase their goods and services, we will enjoy a unique type of experience – it’s what Hamish Pringle and William Gordon referred to as the brand promise in their classic branding bible, “Brand Manners.”

The problem is, when a consumer has any sort of meaningful engagement with a living, breathing brand representative, it’s often while talking to customer service on the phone, a cashier in the checkout line, or an associate at a fast food chain’s drive thru. You may need to sit down before contemplating this next point, but companies are trusting their frontline employees – employees who may lack essential skills and often make just above minimum wage – with hundreds of millions of dollars in marketing investments!  At this critical intersection between the customer and the brand, the brand promise is often betrayed and big bets on marketing are lost.

So how do you get from, “Sorry I just work here,” to, “How can I help you?” How do you get employees to act like Chick-fil-A workers who have transcended the title of employee and become brand ambassadors?

Brand Ambassador Training

There are many possible angles of attack, but remember, this is not a one and done, it’s a process of becoming.  However, PR pros can immediately start by learning what internal communications and employee engagement efforts your company may already have in place. Then, as you think about how to support or even overhaul these efforts, take it from one who delivers brand ambassador trainings and be sure to include the following as part of your plan:

Six keys to train employees to “live” the brand

  1. Focus on the Why – training must focus on more than “what” we are doing and include “why” we are doing it. This implies a company has a clear understanding of its purpose, why it’s different and how to communicate it.
  2. Communications Team Must Lead– since the training effort is ideally part of a larger internal communications campaign, then it should be led by an organization’s communications team partnering closely with human resources.
  3. Be Consistent with the Brand – like all good communications campaigns, brand ambassador training must be consistent with the brand. The training will help translate a company’s brand into plain and actionable language that not only informs the employee’s behaviors but provides them with the scripts and talking points they need to engage the customer.
  4. Use Role-Playing – on-site training sessions that use role-playing are indispensable to successfully transforming employees into brand ambassadors. Ideally, management plays a part in these sessions and helps model the right brand manners and behavior.
  5. Make it Ongoing – this is not a one-time event, but a continuous process of training and learning so that the desired brand manners become an integral part of the company culture. Schedule refreshers at least 1-2 times a year.
  6. Build in Performance Review Accountability – businesses must use employees’ annual or semi-annual performance evaluations to hold them accountable for their brand manners — the customer-focused messaging and behaviors they have been trained on.

There are so many things to consider when helping transform employees into brand ambassadors. Even so, one thing is certain:  your employees are an army of potential spokespersons who can help you reach consumers with important brand messages.  Without investing in specific training to improve their mindset and messaging, your odds of success won’t get any better.

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2 thoughts on “Employees make better brand ambassadors than the CEO

Add yours

  1. Joel, this is an excellent description of the value employees can provide to the brand image. The brand ambassador training is a clever yet clear way to enable employees to become brand ambassadors for the company. Thank you for the insightful commentary.

    Liked by 1 person

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