Tag Archives: Donna Peeples

The Era of Free Agent Employees

Where does a company brand begin and end? Does it embrace the employees — people who are the brand — or suffocate them?

More and more, I’m being asked by people — in both the corporate sphere, among those trying to control the brand perception, and by individuals attempting to expand their own platform and network — what are the dimensions of personal branding, and how does it fit with the corporate brand? What is personal branding? How do you do it? What’s the real value of the “[insert your name here] Brand”? And how do companies use it to their advantage?

Unfortunately, official corporate reaction generally is, “Why should I invest in employee loyalty when they’re at work scrolling through LinkedIn contacts and job postings, attempting to leverage the corporate brand as they are looking for their next job?”

We have all become keenly aware there are fewer and fewer retirement parties and gold watch presentations these days. We are fixated on our next gig because — well, because, what other option is there?

The employer-employee relationship has changed dramatically over time. Any perception of reciprocal loyalty has evaporated, along with the time cards and company picnics. We are no longer searching for the job of a lifetime, instead, we’re in search of a lifetime of jobs.

A wisely led company should recognize that personal branding is an important issue for employees and should encourage it. A study by Brightedge says, “Companies that have a greater proportion of their employees on LinkedIn have more followers on their company pages.” This means employees will improve equity-brand trust by attracting other great employees, improving brand reputation.

That’s a good thing.

Sadly, many times companies fail to recognize the benefits. They don’t realize these free agent employees can be strong assets to their company if they are recognized as thought leaders.

How did this employee free agent mentality start?

Roots of an Issue

Capitalism is, intrinsically, a dynamic system of supply and demand. Financial and intellectual capital jets about these days faster than ever. Markets grow and collapse right and left.

Once upon a time, it was good advice to tell college kids to prepare for careers with multiple stops and regale them with stories of that slow but steady climb up the corporate ladder. Now we tell people of all ages: Prepare for multiple careers!

This change has created what I call the free agent employee model, which has caused a rift in company and employee relationships. Why? Because companies assume these “free agents” aren’t looking for long-term commitment (e.g., the Careerbuilder.com report that says 76% of full-time workers would leave their job if the right opportunity came along.) But how should employees think about job security and company loyalty, especially when facing the likelihood of downsizing, right sizing, re-organizing and lay-offs along their career paths?

Check out N.F.L. free agents, a large talent pool of players willing to join the team offering the highest bid. This “jumping ship” approach reminds me of the show “Shark Tank,” except it’s not limited to fledgling entrepreneurs or N.F.L. athletes — it’s now everyone.

Look at Millennials; they’re the ones who have seen their parents adapt to the aftermath of the recession, and they’re the ones who will continue this free agent way of thinking. Actually, 50% of the workforce will be made up of Millennials by 2030, according to PEW. Companies need to take note by putting an emphasis on employee engagement.

Employees Need Lovin’ – Even Free Agents

Companies that fear and want to crush the free agent mentality are missing important opportunities to capitalize on employees’ personal branding.

If employees feel a sense of fulfillment when working for us, which is employee engagement, and have a strong connection with their manager, which again is employee engagement, then they’re more likely to commit to our company and become brand advocates, which can help bring in more customers and new employee talent right to our doorsteps.

Remember, employees will stay for the right manager, not the right job – and will leave for the same reason.

When you think about it, it’s the front-line employees who are dealing with the customers every day. They’re the ones who help build the relationship between the brand and the customer. Who wouldn’t want to encourage that? And they’re the investment that represents the brand as much as the CEO every day.

However, executives tend to think their role plays a bigger part in the public’s eye than employees. According to a recent New Weber study, “50% of executives expect that CEO reputation will matter even more to company reputation in the next few years.” In fact, the Edelman Trust Barometer says, “Employees rank higher in pu blic trust than a firm’s PR department, CEO or founder. 41% of us believe that employees are the most credible source of information regarding their business.”

What if companies engaged and promoted their employees more? Would the numbers reflect it? Would companies focus less on CEO transparency and public and media relations and more on employee engagement?

Moving Forward

The post-recession way of thinking is here to stay – at least in the foreseeable future. If we want our employees to start being loyal, then we’ve got to meet them halfway. We have to embrace their free agent way of thinking. And we have to engage them. Then, maybe we can stop looking over employees’ shoulders, fearing free agency, and give employees a company they believe in promoting.

‘Age of the Customer’ Demands Change

The music industry is in chaos. It’s a dinosaur stuck in the tar of old vinyl. Musicians are no longer knocking on record labels’ doors, asking to get their album out there. Consumers are no longer buying their music from record stores. And, with Taylor Swift withdrawing her entire catalog from Spotify, things get even crazier.

The Age of the Customer continues. And if you don’t acknowledge this — whether in music or in just about every other industry, including insurance — you could end up loved as much as a set of tangled headphones.

You Really Got a Hold on Me
In a time not so long ago, musicians had no choice but to go through record labels to even think about reaching their audience. The industry had a three-step process:

  1. Song creation
  2. Marketing
  3. Distribution

This meant artists created their album with the record label’s supervision; the record label then marketed it via in-house or through a third party; the radio stations then played it; and then, finally, customers could buy it at their local record stores. Thus was created a multi-layered model that greatly benefited the record labels.

So what happened to this model?

They Say You Want a Revolution
The Internet happened. By the late ‘90s, when the Internet started to catch fire, people began realizing its potential power, such as the ability to digitalize entire music catalogs. This ultimately led to the birth of music piracy, which drastically cut into record labels’ pockets, creating a rippling effect felt throughout music – within the industry and among music lovers.

But when the iPod was introduced in 2001 it shattered the traditional model of the music industry. Musicians could now bypass all the old steps and start putting out their own music through digital sites like iTunes, opposing music piracy and giving royalties back to artists. Then, fans starting getting into the act.

As record labels worked to stay relevant, they had to offer artists new partnerships, such as 360° deals. A 360° deal assured artists a share from their music, concerts, merchandising, publishing and licensing income – ultimately creating a five-step model:

  1. Recorded music
  2. Merchandising
  3. Fan sites and ticketing
  4. Broadcast and digital rights management
  5. Sponsorship and management

Any Way You Want It
Enter the Age of the Customer. To combat piracy, stream-based cloud services began to emerge (see news on Spotify and Beats Music). Consumers now have the option to listen to any of their favorite songs, on multiple platforms, any time they want – for free even, if you’re willing to put up with commercials.

So now consumers can choose to pay to download a song, buy CDs or records, stream their favorite radio stations or stream their favorite music without breaking the law. This, once again, is shattering the music industry’s business model.

And, boy, the times they are a-changin’. Consumers now connect globally to their favorite bands through the Internet and bypass exclusive record label channels. The majority of consumers don’t buy albums, they download songs.

There’s been a greater attendance at concerts (Live Nation’s ticket sales are up 17%) . Fans seem to be more loyal. Consumers have it made right now, and things seem to be getting even better.

Spotify, the online streaming service, started contacting record labels for a possible negotiation. The labels offered a share in their company for a band’s catalog. The big boys started jumping on board, giving listeners gold record bands, such as Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd – for free.

And the record labels are happy, because it’s the first time someone has offered them equity for their band’s music. Which means that, if Spotify goes public, well, it’s more money for them. Everybody wins.

However, not everyone is happy with the online streaming service, especially Taylor Swift. After “trying” her music out on Spotify, she decided it wasn’t the best medium for her music, so she pulled her catalog from the streaming service. She also believed her music wasn’t valued as much, because Spotify has no regulations on who gets what – and lack of earned royalties.

It’s an interesting situation right now. With artists pulling music from Spotify (even Jason Aldean recently joined the Swift bandwagon), the music industry must ask itself – is online music streaming the future of music mediums?

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes
In today’s market, technology has placed the ball back in the consumer’s court. The music industry is reeling and desperately trying to get back in the game, but the game keeps changing. Technology is transforming everything, we all know, but how is your company preparing for the inevitable? Are you creating a customer-centric culture that embraces the new? Or are you waiting to see how your competitors fare?

Convenience, Meet Technology — 4 Steps

With technology rapidly changing, customers now expect simple, fast transactions from companies. These expectations have helped create a one-click-to-buy world, further changing not just how, but why and where, we spend our hard-earned money.

On-the-Go Shopping Goes State-of-the-Art 

A case in point is multinational grocer Tesco, based in the UK, Known in Korean markets as Homeplus, Tesco sought to better understand the dilemma that grocery shopping posed for many time-compressed people there.

Why not bring the store to the people? Why not turn wait-time during daily commutes into time for shopping? Why not use readily available technology to give consumers grocery stores in the palms of their hands?

“Virtual” grocery stores, complete with mock aisles and fridge displays, were placed in mass transit stations. Commuters scanned the QR codes of the products they wished to buy with their smart phones and scheduled a home delivery at a time convenient for them. Tesco’s online sales skyrocketed.

Why did this work? First, Tesco recognized the thing most desired by consumers: convenience. Second, Tesco used the best tools, such as smart phone apps and mobile technology, to give consumers what they wanted.

Hearing Customers, Responding With Useful Technology

It’s not just about having a slick interface (though that never hurts). Companies that are on top of the online shopping game are providing seamless and smart integration of both in-store and online customer experiences.

The use of “virtual” stores by Tesco was a smart move, allowing customers to explore the technology in a setting that was familiar to them, making the acclimation to full online shopping seamless.

The “aisles” and “fridges” brought with them the comfort of a brick and mortar store, allowing for the browsing and impulse buying that we often associate with picking up our groceries. However, the use of the smart phone app upped the ante and scratched other consumer itches: the desire for speed and convenience.

Four Steps to Take: 

  1. Seek to have a deep understanding of your customers’ needs.
  2. Combine that understanding with technology, to build a truly singular and timely customer experience that is both appealing and significant
  3. Integrate mobile and online technologies into the company’s identity and marketing
  4. Bring the best uses of technology to the company and deliver that tech-savvy company to the consumer

Tesco offers us a portrait of what it looks like to utilize technology to stay competitive in an increasingly diverse market. And remember, at this heart of success is a deeper understanding of what the customer wants.

Stop Drowning in Big Data; Use It Right

What’s the big deal about big data?

Big data is an enormously appealing subject these days. However, many companies miss the big picture when collecting it — or drowning in it. There is an idea that the more data, the better. In fact, the focus should be on determining the right data to help improve the overall customer experience.

Raining Big Data
Big data is like the weather — we’re talking about it, but we haven’t quite figured out how to do anything about it. Even fewer know how to leverage it. There are lots of questions but few answers. For example, who’s familiar with the 3Vs?

But don’t be afraid to get wet. Data can be used to improve many things for many people – including your employees and customers. I say “can” because, before you do anything, you need to make sure you are using the right data — and not just the random troves collected throughout the years. Mining the right data can lead you to the right customer problems, which can then be solved, creating a better customer experience.

Background Checks
Always define before measuring. What does great customer experience look like in your industry? Figure out what you need to do to wow customers and then compare that with the reality of your business as it stands now.

I’ve utilized customer journey mapping, net promoter scores and voice of the customer metrics with great results. You can even provide customers incentives to help you out with input.

Here’s a smart way to do that. Start by checking the leading survey on customer experience, the Forrester Customer Experience Index, to see where your organization lands. It might surprise you.

Reliable Friends Are Powerful Friends
Right data helps organizations do many things, including:

• Anticipate what customers want before they ask for it
• Identify customer pain points and resolve them
• Create new business value
• Improve customer service interactions
• Develop more effective marketing and better products
• Improve operational efficiencies

Take Southwest Airlines. It’s using speech analytics to extract data-rich info from live-recorded interactions between customers and personnel to get a better understanding of customers.

Or read about Avis Budget’s data-driven growth model. It uses big data to identify the most valuable customers today and tomorrow.

How, you ask?

By examining a broad range of data sources, including structured information like purchase histories, CRM data and intelligence from industry partners, as well as unstructured information like social media, blogs and videos. Sorting through the data has helped all customers be treated like VIPs.

These are only two examples of forward-thinking leaders using the right data to create actionable insights that monetize their data. There are many more. What about your competitors? How far along are they down the big data road? And are they using the right data?