6 ways to cultivate brand stewardship

May 26, 2016  

The environment we work in today is constantly and rapidly evolving. The way we communicate now is markedly different than it was even three years ago, with technology that continually forces us to think in new ways. Amid this ongoing change and interruption, and against the backdrop of an endless stream of content, brand matters more than ever.

So what does this mean for marketers? Not only do you have to live your brand, but you have to help others live it too — every day. We call this brand stewardship. By definition, a brand steward is responsible for managing brand alignment within an organization. But it’s so much more than that. It’s about clearly and consistently advocating for the brand: fighting for it, defending it, upholding its core values, and living its essence.

So how do you cultivate and encourage your employees to be brand stewards? We looked at various industries to see what other strong brands are doing, and we found that they provide their associates with six crucial things.

Line of sight: Give employees direct visibility to customers and their needs.

We find so often that associates don’t know the bigger picture. Not so at Patagonia, which nails this idea in this spot that illustrates the connection between its repair technicians and the customers who are so smitten with their repaired apparel. The company consistently conveys the human impact of its work.

A voice in the brand: Give employees a role in telling your brand story.

It’s critical to think about what’s coming from you versus what’s coming from your employees. Zappos excels here with videos that depict real employees—not a CEO or a figurehead, and there’s no hair or makeup—talking about each shoe like they’re describing it to a friend. There’s no technical lingo, and the personable approach garners invaluable trust.

Empowerment: Give employees permission to live your brand values.

No one does this better than Southwest. Whether it’s rapping flight attendants or engaging with passengers during the safety speech, employees are empowered to live the brand authentically every day. And Southwest doesn’t dictate specific behaviors: employees use their own judgment, and represent the brand with no gimmicks or tricks. As a result, Southwest is more than just an affordable way to reach a destination; the company wants to make sure you have a good time getting there.

Information: Give employees the knowledge needed to tell your brand’s story

Knowledge is power, and that’s especially true when educating your employees about your brand. Tell them everything: why the company began, how the product or service is made, what makes it special. Warby Parker does a beautiful job explaining its origin and its journey (including growing pains), as well as the details that make its eyewear unique. The better informed your employees are, the more compelled and confident they’ll be in sharing the right message about your brand.

Inspiration: Give employees motivation and a clear sense of your brand’s purpose

When employees are inspired to tell your brand story, they’ll be motivated to live that story themselves. This spot from GoPro departs from the brand’s usual extreme sports action, and instead pulls at your heartstrings. By strapping a GoPro camera to the helmet of a firefighter who saves a kitten’s life, the tagline “Be a hero” comes to life charmingly. Talk about genuine inspiration.

Recognition: Give employees positive reinforcement for on-brand behavior.

Brands must consider how to reward their employees for brand-right behavior? We could all learn from REI, who closed its 143 stores on Black Friday last year and paid employees to get outside, simply because “a life lived outside is a life well lived.” The company rewarded and encouraged employees to live REI’s brand values, and made sure the world knew about it.

Each of these practices includes nuggets that can lead to some really great ideas for your own brand. Remember: the balance between internal and external is critical, most companies don’t emphasize the internal nearly enough. But if you let the people who love your brand speak for it, the rewards can be immense.