4 Internal Branding Strategies You Should Borrow From Williams-Sonoma and Wayfair
According to a 2018 report from Alliance Data, 43 percent of millennials and baby boomers now expect retailers to offer these conveniences. As a result, more companies are using new technological advances to help customers with home design while layering in more human connections across channels to provide a seamless experience.
Both Wayfair and Williams-Sonoma are transforming front-line roles, turning them into an extension of their marketing departments. This trend reflects a shift in the role of the front-line employee from customer service functionary to a true brand representative.
The Strategy Behind Investing in Internal Branding
Statista forecast that online furniture and homewares sales would reach $190 billion last year. And as of October 2018, sales were up 3.2 percent compared to the year prior. To ride this wave of momentum while differentiating themselves from the competition, brands like Williams-Sonoma and Wayfair are trying to appeal to a different segment of the market by leveraging existing strengths.
These companies recognize that the experience they want to deliver doesn't align with the traditional approach to selling furniture. Customer expectations are changing — or have changed — and front-line employees must do more than focus on transactions.
Home furnishing brands don’t need interior designers in every single role, but they can prepare their team members to have a certain level of fluency regarding their core brand differentiators. Other industries would benefit from having similarly knowledgeable employees on the front lines, with their roles adding new value to the brand mission. Here are four strategies you can use to achieve this:
- Gather input from front-line employees. Marketers should regularly solicit input on shifts in customer preferences from employees throughout the organization — especially from any customer-facing teams. Method cleaning products took this approach by asking employees to identify its values and verbalize the company’s brand. Its approachable brand exists today because of input from its front-line employees.
- Move quickly. There are countless cautionary tales of companies that failed because they waited too long to adapt (Blockbuster, anyone?). Once your company has a solid idea of where customer expectations are headed, you need to race to get there first. If you’re wrong? Just adjust and get back on track. Anything is better than becoming obsolete.
- Be bold. Williams-Sonoma and Wayfair provide excellent examples of bold moves. Adding staff members with interior design knowledge required a significant investment from both companies. The alternative could have been a technology solution such as an app, but it wouldn’t have created a personal exchange. Insights from a trained professional go much further in terms of providing an experience. Automobile dealers might consider using “technology onboarding” specialists to help buyers make the most of the advanced features in their cars, for instance. Every industry can find ways to match the service they provide with customer needs.
- Tell the full story (inside and out). It's critical that internal audiences be clear on why your company has made a change. All employees should know the specific roles they will play in delivering on your brand promise. Front-line employees need to amplify the story your company is telling in every customer interaction.
Every customer-facing employee or partner is a living, breathing billboard. What customers take away from their interactions with your front-line team members will shape how they view your brand. Whether you realize it or not, they are members of your marketing team — and it’s time to start treating them like it.
Related story: Wayfair Using Augmented Reality to Help Sell Furniture
Chris Wallace is the president and co-founder of InnerView, a marketing consulting firm that helps companies transfer their brand messages to their customer-facing employees and partners.
InnerView ensures the people who represent your brand have the tools and strategies to tell your company story confidently and consistently. Chris has nearly 20 years of sales, marketing, and corporate leadership experience.