How do you build your corporate reputation? Typical marketing activities certainly play a role, as does the overall strength and quality of the services that you deliver.

By Burton Goldfield

Branding your small company  isn't a matter of harnessing a million dollar advertising budget.  Rather, it's a matter of corporate reputation, in which every positive  action that the company makes establishes trust, credibility and  support among its customers. Those customers talk to their friends, and  those potential customers talk to their friends--all of a  sudden--word-of-mouth has created your company's brand.

Conversely, if your corporate reputation gains momentum on reviews of  bad product or poor customer service, you also get a brand--it's just  not the one you want.

So how do you build your corporate reputation? Typical marketing  activities certainly play a role, as does the overall strength and  quality of the services that you deliver. But you also have another  indispensable asset: your own employees. Building a corporate  reputation and powerful brand identification in the marketplace begins  right at home.

You  might take it for granted each of your employees understands your value  proposition. The sales person, the engineer and the front desk person  all play an important role in the company's operations therefore they  understand the value of its services. Or do they? If you really ask  each of them to give the company's "elevator pitch," how similar are  their responses?  If their responses are substantially different that  means that their messages to a prospect or a customer will probably  also be different.

Does your team know what differentiates your company from competitors?  Do they understand your vision for the future?

This is a crucial challenge; take for example the case of my own  company. We recently completed an acquisition of a larger competitor  and we're striving to integrate the two populations in terms of both  organizational structure and culture. I know that the job won't be done  until all employees in the combined company can recite the same  mission, vision and value statement, and be able to describe what the  company does in the same way.

Having everyone aligned in terms of your company's message is crucial  for building the framework of a solid brand. Your employees interact  with customers, talk to their family about work and spread the word  among their personal and professional networks. Each and every one of  your employees is a brand ambassador.

Feed and Nurture Your Intranet

One of the ways you can ensure that your employees are in sync is to  maintain a robust, frequently published and widely used intranet.  Important company messages benefit from significant repetition. Having  an intranet can be a relatively cost-effective way to keep the  company's message out there and ensure that all employees are working  towards the same goals.

The intranet shouldn't be rigidly controlled. You will want to create  and promulgate consistent brand standards, and give the site an  inviting, readable feel. But people won't read the thing unless they  have a stake in it.

Consider the ownership employees will feel in the intranet if they have  the ability to publish their own branded newsletters, communicate with  other departments and contribute to the front page "news" of the  company. The intranet will become a destination for them--the first  thing they read in the morning--that also means that the intranet will  be a trusted source of information.

Show the Human Side

While revenue may be a welcome side effect of an internal referral  competition, it also represents an excellent opportunity to humanize  the company for your staff. A lot of companies' value propositions  sound like arcane business concepts that have no actual impact on real  human beings. The reality is completely opposite.  The chances are,  your company is one that helps people and businesses succeed--and by  extension, the people and families who work with them. You should be  constantly communicating that message to your employees.

Otherwise, they your team may view the referral process and brand  reputation as a chore.  The more clarity they have in regards to how  they help the business and consumer community, the more likely they are  to become brighter brand beacons. The best brands and referrals are  real and heartfelt.

Reap the Rewards

Building  an internal brand is important because you have, by default, designated  each and every one of your employees to be bearers of your company's  brand. Their actions and perception of your company will directly  impact your corporate reputation and brand image.

A positive brand identity leads to loyal customers, strong referral  sources and strong internal growth. Bottom line: Take care of your  employees and they in turn will take care of your brand.

Burton M. Goldfield currently serves as president and chief executive officer of an HR outsourcing company. In this role, Goldfield is responsible for  setting TriNet's overall corporate strategy and directing business  operations; he also provides strategic guidance in regards to TriNet's  human capital offerings.

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