Learning to be the brand

Matt Hampshire argues the case for a more creative approach to training.

Remember when ‘brand’ was something that happened in the marketing department? Business was a lot simpler in those days – before Google, before online reviews, before social media. Before customers found out how much power and choice they really had. Those days have gone. Over the last 15 years, we’ve seen a dramatic re-evaluation of what ‘brand’ means.

Businesses have learned (often the hard way) that it doesn’t matter how much you spend on advertising, or how carefully you cultivate the tone of voice in your website. It’s the experience your customers have, when they pick up the phone to you, walk in your bank or eat in your restaurant, that now defines your brand.

If they’re not happy with that experience, it’s very easy for them to take their business elsewhere. And, if you let them down or upset them, they won’t be shy about sharing their disappointment with tens of thousands of your other customers. So, businesses have learned to put the customer experience first.

Ten years ago, hardly anyone bothered about their Net Promoter Score (NPS) – essentially, a measure that tracks how likely a customer would be to recommend you to their friends. These days, nearly every business uses NPS, or an equivalent measure.

It’s often the first thing a potential investor will look at, when they want to gauge the long-term relevance and sustainability of your business.

It’s the experience your customers have, when they pick up the phone to you, walk in your bank or eat in your restaurant, that now defines your brand.

All of which is (or should be) excellent news for anyone who works in learning and development. Because the only way you can guarantee a great customer experience is if the people who plan, make and deliver that experience know what they should be doing – and, more importantly, care about doing it well.

Most businesses now recognise that brands start on the inside: you can’t have a great customer experience if you don’t also have a great employee experience. And yet, you wouldn’t always know it from the way we approach learning and development.

Sure, there’s a lot more focus on ‘employee brand’ these days. New starters get inducted with a nice, warm brand film and a workshop on values. But what happens when the induction honeymoon is over – when you get to the nitty-gritty of actually doing the job?

Scratch beneath the veneer of most employee brands and you’ll often find an organisation that’s still wedded to process; where daily tasks are broken down into a checklist.

This is often out of deference to the ‘harder’ sides of the business (you know who I mean – those square-jawed types in ops and finance who don’t smile much and use words like ‘leveraging’ and ‘deliverables’). They like things to be spelt out clearly and in detail, so you know who should be doing what and you can tell them off if they’re not doing it.

But the truth is that telling people exactly what to do is often the least effective way to get the outcome you want – partly because it robs them of any agency and partly because it just feels dull.

When Walt Disney was starting out, a po-faced reporter in a midwest town asked him why he didn’t make his films more ‘educational’. Disney said: “I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained.”

In other words: if you want people to do something well, the first thing you to do is make it interesting enough for them to pay attention.


About the author

Matt Hampshire is planning director at internal brand consultancy, MK


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