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Convert Your Most Vital (and Most Ignored) Audience Into Brand Ambassadors

employees-brand-ambassadorsHey, marketers! Do you ignore your organization’s most important audience? Probably, says consultant and author Carla Johnson.

Chances are, you and your team put all your brand-building energy into external messages. But who are any company’s biggest brand builders? Who, in fact, turn (or don’t turn) your marketing promises into truth? The people on the inside.

If your co-workers aren’t part of your content marketing strategy, you’re missing an opportunity.

It’s a missed opp if employees aren’t an audience for your #contentmarketing. @CarlaJohnson #employeeadvocacy Click To Tweet

At Content Marketing World, Carla’s talk – My Employee Said What?!?! Creating a Content Strategy for Employees, the Most Vital and Ignored Audience – walked us through a how-to on using inward-focused content to support employees in becoming smarter, stronger brand ambassadors. This post reviews her advice:

  • Make “who we are” clear and simple.
  • Create employee content that inspires.
  • Decide how you want employees to feel about your brand.

All quotations and images in this post come from Carla’s presentation.

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Make ‘who we are’ clear and simple

Many employees have no sense of their company’s brand identity. Carla cites a 2012 Gallup survey which found that 41% of employees don’t know what their company stands for and don’t know what differentiates their own company from its competitors. How can people represent – or fully support – something they don’t understand?

Many employees have no sense of their company’s brand identity, says @CarlaJohnson. #employeeadvocacy Click To Tweet

“We’re creating a vortex of ignorance” with employees, Carla says.

Businesses need to constantly convey “who we are” – clearly and simply. Vision and mission statements alone don’t cut it. It’s ridiculous to think slogans and posters suffice, Carla says. What employees need is an in-their-bones sense of shared identity.

Kathy Button Bell, chief marketing officer at Emerson, came up against a challenge with her company’s brand identity. When she came on board, Emerson was “a brand without a brand.” The sub-brands were well established, but employees – over 110,000 people around the world – had no sense of the global Emerson brand.

Kathy’s team asked customers how they felt about Emerson. Over and over, people said the same thing: We can bring our toughest problems to Emerson, and your engineers will help us figure it out.

Emerson encapsulated its brand in this statement: Consider it Solved™.

The marketing team took this sense of identity into every nook and cranny of the organization around the world. Two years ago, when the company celebrated its 125th anniversary, the video it created leaves no doubt that Emerson’s employees know what this company stands for and what makes it special. You couldn’t ask for more enthusiastic ambassadors for a brand.

Marketers need to lead the way with messaging. Employees want to be proud of what they do and what their companies stand for. They want to know what to say. As Kathy explained to Carla, “They don’t want to have to make it up.”

Marketers need to lead the way w/ messaging so employees know what to say. @Emerson_KathyBB #employeeadvocacy Click To Tweet

How many employees know what your organization stands for and what sets it apart from its competitors? How could you adjust your content marketing strategy to increase that awareness?

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Create employee content that inspires

Companies teach employees to tune out internal communication. “We’re terrible at connecting with employees as an audience,” Carla says. “They don’t want to listen to us. We have to reallocate the communication that we send to employees.”

Carla estimates that 80% of information given to employees is administrative: “information they have to know and we have to give them” (usually mundane and full of corporate-speak). The rest is something like 10% crisis-related and 10% – if that – creative, fun, unexpected, or inspiring.


Re-slice that communication pie, Carla says.

Re-slice the employee communication pie for more fun, unexpected, inspiring content, says @CarlaJohnson. Click To Tweet

Under the leadership of CMO Antonio Lucio, Hewlett-Packard focuses “a conscious 60%” of employee communication on the inspiring story of HP.

“HP has to do most of those employee communications anyway,” Carla says. “Why not make them engaging?”

Another company that emphasizes engaging content for and by employees is Molson Coors Brewing Co. When the company’s CEO noticed its beers were not on tap at all the pubs in Denver – the company’s back yard – the marketing team kicked off an internal program: Reclaim Colorado. Each employee was given a $35 monthly allocation for buying beer for others when they were out having drinks.

Employees came back and shared stories of what it was like to be an ambassador for the brand. Below is one of over 200 stories shared by employees internally (on Yammer), relaying enthusiastic experiences with the Reclaim Colorado program. In this case, a mom-to-be fills in her co-workers on the unconventional party favors she created for her baby-shower guests.


How much of your organization’s content for and by employees do people find inspiring? How could you adjust your content marketing strategy to inspire them more?

Decide how you want employees to feel about your brand

Employees serve as ambassadors for the brand only if they emotionally connect with it. Thus, to create an effective internal content marketing strategy, determine first what the company wants employees to feel about its brand.

In other words, Carla says, work backward from the goal. Design your strategy for employee communications the way an architect designs a building: Consider the experience you want to create then design the building – or the strategy – that delivers that experience.

Molson Coors wanted its employees to feel pride in the company, so it first shared the company story, and then inspired and empowered them to share that story – over beers – with family, friends, and co-workers.

#Content pros think like architects: Work backward from the feelings you want people to have. @CarlaJohnson Click To Tweet

Ford Motor Co. realized the importance of employees’ emotional connection to the company. In the early 1980s, Ford created an internal TV network and broadcast company news around the clock to all 250 of its employee locations.

At another point, some Ford employees shared with managers a perception that product quality was slipping, revealing this type of comment: “My neighbor looks at me when his Ford breaks down and swears we’re not making cars the way we used to.” The company realized that it had to address both the quality concerns and the employee concerns. For the latter, Sara Tatchio, manager of the Integrated Global Communications group, rented a Detroit sports arena and bused in Ford employees by the thousands. The employees spent the day talking with designers and engineers. “Ford wanted employees to know that the company was taking quality as seriously as they were,” Carla says. “It wanted employees to be excited about what was coming down the pike.”

How does your company want employees to feel about its brand? How could you adjust your content strategy to build this emotional connection?


However much attention your content team may be investing in communicating with your organization’s most vital audience – its employees – Carla suggests putting more energy into supporting them in becoming smarter, stronger brand ambassadors.

How do your company’s content teams help inspire employees? Let us know in a comment.

Here’s an excerpt from Carla’s talk:

Learn more about how to improve your content marketing program from Carla Johnson and hundreds of experts at Content Marketing World Sept. 5-8 in Cleveland, Ohio. Register today and use code BLOG100 to save $100.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute