A Retail Brand That Rallies Customers – and Employees

The world is supposedly flat, but marketing is rounder than ever before. Consumers make purchases based on beliefs and values, which means retail brands are judged from 365 degrees and held to ethical standards that often have little to do with product and everything to do with perception.

Belief-based consumption holds equally true when it comes to recruiting Candidates are buying into your organization based on their values and priorities.  A recent study found that 9 out 10 Americans think it is most important to find a job that matches their personality and strengths.  And 2/3 prioritize more fulfilling career over more money when it comes time to accept a job.

To successfully operate in a competitive environment, retailers need to cultivate a brand that speaks to customers and employees.  This is why marketers have to play a role in their company’s treatment of employees.

Corporate social responsibility initiatives – ranging from green practices and local sourcing to sponsorships and fundraisers – receive the lion’s share of attention from marketers. However, I would argue that consumers can relate to the way that a company treats its employees far more than any other social initiative. This is why Walmart picks up scathing, negative news coverage for its (lack of) health benefits and mandated uniforms, but no one seems to care about the $1.3 billion donated around the world by Walmart and the Walmart Foundation.

Is it unfair? No, it’s just human nature. Emotionally and intellectually, empathizing with mistreated employees – or admiring a company’s respect for its workers – is much easier than caring about its environmental or charitable record.

Sadly, most employees seem quite distressed at work. In 2013, ComPsych’s annual StressPulse Report, based on a survey of over 5,000 North American workers, found that “Some 62% of employees report having high levels of stress, with extreme fatigue/feeling out of control.” No wonder when Gallup surveyed 230,000 employees from over 140 countries, they found that a full 69% of employees appear to be “struggling” or “suffering” at work based on responses to questions about “interactions and emotions from the previous day.”

Unsurprisingly, stressed, fatigued employees don’t have wonderful things to say about their companies. Peruse the employee reviews of major retailers on Glassdoor.com, and you’ll see that most of the big hitters receive mediocre feedback from employees, at best.

But what about the outliers, Glassdoor’s four and five-star retailers? What are they doing differently?

Notice the trend in Glassdoor reviews written by employees from 1-800 Contacts, a retailer with 76 reviews and 4.6 out of 5 stars:

  • “They are very genuinely concerned about the employee and work hard to instill a sense of team, and health and wellness with regards to work life balance.”
  • “I’ve never had a better work environment. Great benefits like the grill, fitness center, tuition reimbursement, eye clinic, massages. Company sponsored activities are also amazing.”
  • “The company cares for its employees. They provide yearly opportunities to attend training classes or conferences, have subsidized meals. Management is also very understanding of challenges outside of work.”
  • “They go above and beyond to keep their employees happy. They spend just as much on their employees’ happiness, as they do in just basic operations of the company. THAT is saying something!”

It certainly is saying something – to employees and customers. What’s striking is the lack of discussion about the work itself. What employees remember and share is that 1-800 Contacts cares about them. You can’t concoct that message through marketing.

From an operational perspective, companies like 1-800 Contacts have their choice of talent. They can bring on the kindest, most engaging and well-spoken people to represent their brand to consumers. From a marketing perspective, such companies have the ability to hire employees that align with their values and will substantiate the stories that marketers tell about the brand.

Your ‘brand values’ will be questioned by consumers until your work environment reflects them. With Glassdoor and dozens of social sites where employees can safely speak the truth, there is no way to ‘spin’ an unhappy workforce. Consumers will discover and judge you.

As a marketing leader, you can act on this insight by:

 Advocating for progressive HR practices

Within your leadership team, sell the idea that the strongest indicator of brand values is the way you treat your own people. You have to advocate for HR practices that will make your employees think, “Wow, this is awesome!” Whatever “this” is will shape the memory of your employees who in turn shape public perceptions of your company.

If you operate a call center, could you offer employees the choice to work from home once per week? Could you build a gym or offer free passes to a gym? Could you bring in fascinating speaker or experts who can teach your workers cool, new skills? Showing you care is not rocket science.

Marketing Your HR Practices

It’s not by chance that consumers know all about the culture of Google. The company does an extraordinary job of creating press coverage and conversation around employee perks: stunning offices, free gourmet food, free childcare, free massages, the 80/20 rule that lets them spend 20% of their time on projects of their choosing, and so much more.

Once you have outstanding HR practices, make them central in your marketing. There is something likeable and trustworthy about companies that go far to take care of their people.

Good HR has always been a competitive edge for retailers and now it’s a marketing necessity. You can’t hide bad HR practices, but you can fix them and make them a beacon for consumers. Brand values are meaningless unless your work environment reflects them.

Jonathan Levitt is the CMO of Sonic Boom