The Frontline Brand Confidence Crisis

Does it matter if your frontline employees are confident in your brand?

Colin Mitchell tackled this subject in his Harvard Business Review article, entitled Selling the Brand Inside. In it, Mitchell shares findings that include “when employees live that [brand] vision, customers are more likely to experience the company in a way that’s consistent with what you’ve promised.”

That was back in 2002.

Nearly 20 years later, those conclusions take on even greater importance.  We are coming out of a global pandemic that has forced all brands to examine how they engage with customers and the experience they deliver.  Customer experience has become a top priority for marketers as CX and brand become increasingly intertwined.

If frontline brand confidence and customer experience are this closely linked, then most brands have reason to be concerned.  In 2020, we surveyed 1,200 frontline employees across a range of consumer categories.  The data revealed that only 38% of employees expressed clear confidence that they could explain their brand’s value proposition (see Figure A included).  If an employee does not know the value their company promises, how can they be expected to deliver that value to customers?

This statistic points to an internal “brand confidence crisis” for consumer companies.  In a market that is increasingly made up of commodity products where brands are struggling to stand out, every customer touchpoint becomes an opportunity to earn customer trust and loyalty.  Consistency and conviction are critical.

A complicating factor we found around confidence is the speed at which companies are introducing new consumer marketing initiatives.  Two-thirds (67%) of respondents said their company is introducing new products at least quarterly.  In addition, 71% indicated that new pricing and promotions were pushed out at least every 90 days.  That pace means frontline teams are constantly having to adjust to new customer messaging and programs.

It is hard to say if the frequent changes in marketing messages are driving down confidence, or if companies are launching new initiatives to frontline employees who already lack confidence.  Either way, brands need to acknowledge that they are dealing with a skeptical employee base or results will suffer.  In previous research, we found that 80% of marketers believe frontline employees are critical to the success of such initiatives.  In this study, only 52% of frontline employees viewed themselves as instrumental in driving results around those initiatives. Not only do the frontline teams lack confidence, but they are not even clear on their role.

Companies are investing heavily in marketing and new customer programs that clearly are not coordinated with their frontline channels.  The graphic that accompanies this piece highlights other aspects of this critical issue.  In the coming weeks, we will highlight some additional layers to this story and offer suggestions on ways to close the gap.

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