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Why Employee Brand Training Fails

Four questions every employee should be able to answer.

Brand Ambassador Training

Employee brand training can be a game changer in building brands. When done well, the training equips employees to act on behalf of the brand to truly connect with people. The results should be a company full of its own Brand Ambassadors, living out the brand’s ideals. But, brand training rarely results in this great feat.

To understand why employee ambassador training goes wrong, we first need to understand why it’s such a powerful tool and what it’s working to fix. Consider service-based industries, especially those that have been commoditized or over-regulated. These industries find it challenging to secure a point of differentiation.

A good example is the financial industry. It is highly regulated. Products and services are generally seen to be the same.  Even the most advanced digital conveniences have become the norm. Visiting a branch has become less frequent. Advertising has given way to content and influencer marketing. Consequently, it is an industry that is losing their one-on-one personal relationships. In the end, even the most sophisticated technology can’t replace the kind of personal engagement that creates trust — the cornerstone of any brand.

Bridging the Trust Gap

According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer1  survey, there is a 21-point gap between Financial Services and Technology, the most trusted industry. Although trust in financial services has improved from an all-time low in 2008, it still has work to do. It takes time and effort for brands to earn trust.

Trust in Financial Services has been ranked the lowest among nine industry segments.

Trust Barometer of Industry Sectors showing Financial Services ranked lowest reinforcing importance of trust for brand ambassador training

It’s the employees who are on the front lines of building trust. Customers have higher trust in the people than with marketing or other forms of interaction with a company. It is the people that have the “capital” to champion the brand in ways that no other medium can.

“Businesses that fail to establish trust, the foundation of any relationship, will lose to businesses who can.”2

Are employees equipped to build trust for their brand?

Brand Ambassador training is part of a national trend embracing all types of employee performance development. In 2018, U.S. firms spent nearly $90 billion on employee training3. This training has come in all different shapes and sizes. E-learning, classroom instruction, workshops, conferences, seminars, are just a few of the employee training formats. Subject matter often includes technical skills development, team building, leadership, and product feature awareness. Employee orientation and on-boarding programs have typically been where brand indoctrination has resided. The company’s mission, vision, and values often get thrown in with administrative procedures and corporate policies. These are all well-intended efforts to boost performance and harmony in the workplace.

Is all this training worth the investment? Some research suggests that a staggering 90% of any new skills are lost within a year4. Not only is there very little training dedicated to brand knowledge, but there is also very little to show for it.

Where does ambassador training go wrong?

Whether it is three steps, seven steps, ten steps or more, employee ambassador training often fails on the most important topic – the brand. In a recent article on how to turn your employees into Brand Ambassadors, there was only one mention of vision or mission.  In another article on eight steps to a game-changing Brand Ambassador program, there was no mention of the brand. Would it not make sense for employees to understand why they are a Brand Ambassador? Should they not know how they talk about the brand? Shouldn’t all employees be on the same page to reinforce the same attributes? This is especially true for highly commoditized service industries. There is so little to compete on other than building brand trust. Unfortunately, historical mistrust has outweighed many unfulfilled promises.

What does a “true” Brand Ambassador need to know?

Every employee, who is on the front lines of customer engagement, should be able to answer four questions. They don’t need to be brand experts. They also don’t have to recite brand doctrine word-for-word. But they do need to have a degree of brand intelligence. Understanding the brand will empower them to represent the brand in a way that is relevant, meaningful, and distinctive.

Four questions every employee Brand Ambassador should be able to answer

1. What is a brand? 

Defining what a brand is has become diluted and confused. Even the experts are not in agreement. A web search on “branding” will yield nearly 1 billion results. It is no wonder that an employee on the front lines of customer relationship doesn’t understand branding as it relates to their job. It is just not meaningful to them. Learning what constitutes a brand will lay the groundwork for understanding the company’s brand and why it matters.

2. What’s my brand?

We know that a brand is a lot more than the name or logo or product. But it is also a lot more than the vision and mission, or even value proposition. One must understand what the brand fundamentally stands for and what makes it special. A good Brand Ambassador may be able to articulate what makes the brand different. A great Brand Ambassador will be able to live out the brand. They’ll deliver on the promise, personality, voice, and experience through their behavior and customer engagement. That’s what builds trust and loyalty.

3. Why should I care?

Brand Ambassadors need to appreciate the value of branding and why it matters. It is not an esoteric marketing concept that is a distraction. It is what makes the difference in building a trusted relationship. Unless someone is accountable for something, they are probably not going to care very much.

4. How do I live the brand?

All of this information on branding is valuable. However, it is only valuable if that knowledge is put into practice. The ultimate pay-off with employee Brand Ambassador training is how you live the brand. It is not only the way you engage customers but also how you engage with your colleagues. Brand guided behavior creates an internal brand culture, and in turn, reflects an authentic and genuine outward expression of the brand. It is this authenticity that will build and maintain the trust that is so important in creating loyal customers.

The Training Challenge

The challenge with any Brand Ambassador training program is how to adequately equip the employee with the right knowledge. Applying brand knowledge in practice makes the real difference. Keep in mind that an effective Brand Ambassador has both an internal and external role. Building and maintaining a brand culture is equally as important as creating customer trust and loyalty.

The Brand University Model

Brand University is not a place. It doesn’t have a campus nor does it have a football team. It is a learning concept dedicated to developing employees into Brand Ambassadors. With the right training, employees can genuinely represent their brand to build long-lasting customer engagement.

The Brand University model is structured around a college-like curriculum. This model is foundational to the design of the program. A typical Brand U program includes classroom instruction, homework and project assignments, participatory exercises, role-playing, and exams. The intent is to create a learning experience that will connect knowledge to what the employee does every day. This is the key. A Brand Ambassador’s advocacy for the brand must be intuitive, not just something an employee feels like they have to do. The Brand University also creates a long term Brand Ambassador training engagement that ensures sustainability. It’s a commitment to knowledge building and practical application.

“Knowledge is Power”  —Francis Bacon

At Diverge Branding, we believe that the most effective Brand Ambassadors are those that understand what their brand stands for and what their role is in bringing the brand to life. A Brand University program tailored specifically to your organization may be an answer.

Ready to start a conversation about your brand? Get in touch.

12019 Edelman Trust Barometer 22018 SurveyMonkey Survey 3Statistica, Training in the US 4Wall Street Journal. "So Much Training, So Little to Show for It”.