In our debut episode, Jon sits down with the President and Co-Founder of InnerView, Chris Wallace. We learn the motivation behind the name Brand InnerActions and the reason he feels so strongly that “Everyone is in Marketing” inside a company. We discuss the how the internal perception of the brand can impact the how customers view the brand. We learn what happens if these two perceptions are not aligned and why it is a challenge that companies can’t solve through traditional “training”.
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 more than 15 years of sales, marketing, and corporate leadership experience
Jon Gaul: Welcome to the Brand InnerActions podcast. I’m Jon Gaul and I’m excited to be your guide as we go behind the scenes with some of the brands you know and love. This podcast will explore the moment of truth for these brands, the customer conversation. We journey inside the minds of the brand architects to learn how companies are rethinking human to human interactions and mobilizing their employees to be brand ambassadors. In our debut episode, I sit down with the President and Co-Founder of InnerView, Chris Wallace. We learn the motivation behind the name Brand InnerActions and the reason he feels so strongly that everyone is in marketing inside a company. We discuss how the internal perception of the brand can impact how customers view the brand. We learn what happens if these two perceptions are not aligned and why it is a challenge that companies can’t solve through traditional training. We’re glad to have you join us for this inaugural episode and now here’s my conversation with Chris Wallace.
Chris, thanks so much for joining me and welcome to the Brand InnerActions podcast. First question that I have for you is what do you mean by Brand InnerActions?
Chris Wallace: Well, obviously we were going for a little bit of a play on words, a little double entendre, with interactions and inner actions. But really what we’re talking about here is we think those two things are very connected. We look at how important a brand is to organizations today, especially consumer companies, consumer focus companies. Their brand is really what they have to trade on. That’s what they have to build their reputation and the brand is their reputation. We look at where that brand is coming into contact with customers. What are those actual interactions that we think about? It could be a physical interaction where somebody is walking into a retail store. It could be over the phone, wherever a human is meeting a human and there is an interaction. Organizations need to get the most out of that. On the flip side, the inner part of this is looking at the inner workings of an organization. The things they are doing to mobilize the people at the front lines, the people who talk to their customers to represent that brand effectively and passionately each time they have an opportunity.
Jon Gaul: You brought up brand interactions and brand inner actions. How do you think the internal understanding of the brand will impact the customer journey?
Chris Wallace: Well, like I said, I think they’re completely linked. I think the inner actions, the inside actions that an organization takes, is really what’s going to produce the successful interaction when the customer is there. Occasionally, we’ll use the phrase inside out marketing. We really do believe that if the folks that represent a company, if the employees that have the badge on and wear the shirt when they’re talking to customers everyday, understand what that brand stands for and are able to internalize what that brand means for them in their role, that is going to produce a much better experience for the customer. It is going to be much more aligned with the intended experience when the brand was built. The strategy behind the brand is going to be much more aligned with what was intended.
Jon Gaul: Where do you see as the potential gap for employees to be able to understand and translate the brand perception or the actual brand experience to customers?
Chris Wallace: I think the gap is what you just described. They don’t fully understand what it means for their role. Marketing is something that’s done by somebody else at corporate. They’re the ones that bring in the big ad agencies and the big branding shops to design and do all the creative. They think of marketing and they think a brand is just creative. They don’t see themselves in that process. We say inside our organization that the old adage used to be everyone is in sales, but we think the new adage is everyone is in marketing. Every time you have an opportunity to stand in front of a customer, answer a phone from a customer, that is an opportunity to represent that brand and leave a brand impression on that customer. We’ve become conditioned to think of impression as something that’s digital, but we don’t necessarily think about the human to human impressions that we can leave. But I think the biggest gap is really people inside the organization understanding how big their impact can be on the perception of the brand overall.
Jon Gaul: What do you think marketing and also organizations can do in terms of providing a stronger north star around what you said, which is a phrase that I absolutely love, that everyone’s in marketing.
Chris Wallace: Well, I think the simplest thing that organizations can do is treat their internal audiences the same way they treat an external audience. Really look at them as an individualized set of people with different needs, different attitudes, different perceptions, different biases and gather information. Find out what they like, find out what they care about, find out what they think about the products and services that they represent every day. And then do what marketers do, market to them, influence that perception, run campaigns, drive messaging in a way that is not necessarily telling them what to do, but helping them see the answer and arrive at conclusions on their own. That way, the passion and the authenticity with which they can represent the brand is so much more powerful.
Jon Gaul: What prevents an organization from treating their internal customers the same as the external customers when it comes to brand?
Chris Wallace: To be completely honest, I think it’s just habit. I think that in a lot of organizations the default is we’ll train our people, let’s train them. I spoke with a marketing professional the other day and their exact phrase was, we can’t train our way out of this. And that phrase really resonated with me because traditionally what training has meant inside large organizations is a bunch of information is pulled together and it’s crammed into people’s heads. There have been a ton of advancements in the way training is delivered. The digital tools and the technology that equips people to train more effectively has grown exponentially in the last decade, but that alone still doesn’t close that gap. So when we look at the difference between training and the types of things that we’re talking about, it really comes down to rather than telling them what they need to do, help them see what they need to do and make it their idea. Make it something that they can take ownership of themselves.
Jon Gaul: So providing a north star and promoting self discovery you feel is a good way to address that and have any employee, front line or not, be able to own the message and deliver the message. Is that a fair summary?
Chris Wallace: Yeah, I think it is. I think it really comes down to, understand where they are, understand what their attitudes and perceptions are, and then help them see how their role fits in to the overall message. Frankly, employee feedback and input from the people at the front lines to build that north star. Get them aligned to the brand by helping them see it as opposed to telling them what they have to do. Customers don’t respond to you telling them what they have to do. This goes back to your last question, why don’t organizations treat people internally the same way they treat customers? You can’t tell customers what to do. That’s not what they respond to. We believe the same attitudes and behaviors go for employees as well. Help them see what the right opportunity is, what the right story is, as opposed to giving them scripts of what they have to say. I would start by saying, senior leadership inside an organization needs to try to strip out a lot of the other stuff. Now, I realize there is compliance and other training and types of information they need to have, but in terms of prioritizing, people who talk to the customers cannot have a higher priority than the customer themselves. And that means trying to figure out how the organization they represent adds value for that customer. How do they make their life better? What needs do they meet? If their priority is not completely concentrated on the customer, then I think the organization needs to look at their priorities overall.
Jon Gaul: What happens if a brand is not properly understood by the internal audience?
Chris Wallace: Well, I think that you have organizations that spend a tremendous amount of money to market directly to the customer. Whether it’s advertising, digital marketing, whatever form that it takes, organizations are spending a lot to deliver messages directly to their customers. We think of those messages as promises that the company is making to the customer. They are telling the customer, if you believe in us, this is what we’re going to deliver for you. If you give us a chance, this is what you’re going to get in return. If that promise is misaligned from what they hear through the marketing messages to what they experience when they show up to buy, that’s a big problem for an organization. If a new product launch happens and a customer’s intrigued and they call in, or they walk into the retail store, and the person that they encounter has no idea what they’re talking about, how is the customer to have confidence that the promise is going to be kept. So, I really look at it is if the internal and external understanding and viewpoint on a brand are not connected, you really have a breakdown that’s going to lead to a lack of customer confidence in what the company can deliver.
Jon Gaul: So where it comes down and where I heard you say multiple times is alignment. Aligning both the internal perception to what the delivery from internal to external is?
Chris Wallace: Yeah. Let’s break that down and talk about what we really mean by alignment. Organizations are a lot like a complicated game of telephone. You have one person who’s responsible for coming up with the idea and building out that idea. Then they have to hand that idea off from themselves to the next person and so on and so forth on down the line until you get to the end of the line, which in most cases is the person who talks to the customer. The last mile, as some people call it. So, the way that that message, that idea has gotten transformed, from the idea that the original creator had all the way down to the person who has to talk to the customer. There’s a breakdown. We’ve asked marketers, do you believe that message is getting through effectively? And the folks that we did research with indicated to us that they don’t have a high degree of confidence that their message is getting through. So, alignment shouldn’t be thought of as this corporate term. Alignment is a game of telephone. How effectively can you get what is whispered from one person to the next, as consistent from person to person and close the gap between the marketing suite that designed the story and the people that have to tell it.
Jon Gaul: I want to revisit something you said earlier where you spoke to a marketing professional who said, “we can’t train our way out of it.” That to me feels like exactly what you were saying. There needs to be a clear understanding of what exactly is going to be communicated and it can’t be a scripted experience. Is that a fair summary?
Chris Wallace: Well, I think it goes back to your question about priorities. I think the biggest struggle that organizations have in gaining alignment between their marketing strategy and their front lines is there’s just a lot of priorities and a lot of information. It becomes noise at some point. So, when I think about what organizations can do to close that gap, to the idea we can’t train our way out of it. It’s actually almost the opposite. It’s not that organizations aren’t giving their people enough information. In most cases, they’re giving them too much. It’s about simplifying what they need to be saying to the customer. Focusing on the customer, like I said earlier. When we think about alignment, it really is something that’s critical to try to make it as simple as possible for people inside the company. Not, try to provide more information, which is quote unquote trying to train your way out of it.
Jon Gaul: You brought up and touched on a really good point, which was really the subject of the podcast, the importance of the inneraction as opposed to the interaction. Where do you think marketers should make that first step to focus on improving the understanding of their internal employees brand interaction?
Chris Wallace: Honestly, I think the first step is just like any other improvement process. The first step is admitting you have a problem. So what I would say here is, the first step is for marketers to recognize that they have stakeholders that aren’t necessarily just outside the company. The first step in my mind is recognizing the role that the people who represent their brand play in the success or failure, both from a brand perception standpoint and a performance standpoint. The dollars and cents, the conversion rates, the revenue, the growth, all the metrics that really matter to the bottom line of an organization. Recognizing how important those frontline folks are to driving those metrics. Treating them as if they are a key stakeholder in the marketing process. The way you treat them might be a little bit different and the messages might be a little bit different than an external customer. But that’s fine. We look at the way that marketers segment their external audiences, they should segment their internal audiences as well. Different job families play a different role in communicating the brand. Customizing the message for them, so when they have that interaction, they are on brand for the type of job family that they’re in for the type of role that they have. That’s where we see incremental improvement.
Jon Gaul: At InnerView, how have you disseminated that viewpoint of everyone is in marketing?
Chris Wallace: Well, we’ve launched a podcast. That’s one way. Well really we’ve built that message with our team. That’s something that we try to practice what we preach, which is if you want to formulate an aligned viewpoint, you have to do it through, and I don’t want to use the word consensus because that’s not really what I’m talking about. It really is gathering input and shaping it in a way that people can line up behind it. So a lot of it internally has been built through input from people throughout the organization.
Jon Gaul: Well thanks, Chris. Thanks so much for your time. Thanks for being the first guest on the first episode of Brand InnerActions.
Chris Wallace: Thank you, Jon.
Jon Gaul: I hope you enjoyed the first episode of Brand InnerActions. My hope is that this conversation will leave you thinking about how every role inside a company truly is in marketing. We’ll cover this and other exciting topics with our guests in future episodes. To learn more about Chris and InnerView Group, or to obtain a transcript of this episode, go to innerviewgroup.com. The Brand InnerActions podcast is brought to you by InnerView Group and hosted by Jon Gaul.