Brand Training Cultivates Smarter Employees


 We've all heard the phrase "singing to the choir." It implies that preaching to the converted is overkill. But looking at brand giants Starbucks Coffee and Disney, and how they "sing it" to their own staff, certainly implies that brand training as part of employee screening, orientation, ongoing education, and recognition – is a tune most organizations could benefit from getting in time with.

Obviously Starbucks and Disney have raised a high bar when it comes to brand experience. Most of us have been on the consumer side of both.  And many of us have even heard a few not-so-magical stories about the machine behind them, as well. But regardless of the ups and downs in eye of public perception, there's no denying that both inspire fierce brand loyalists in their customers as well as employees.

We'd like to get a small picture from an employee's point of view, of what it's like to be indoctrinated into a brand – that is so undeniably big. 

Brand Training 1

Along with a smile that's always come naturally, Keri has worn a trademark-green barista apron in the world's most famous coffee shop, and larger-than-life costumes in the happiest place on earth.  But Keri's first experience with employee brand training was at nineteen, when she was hired at Starbucks Coffee. The company's reputation as a great employer, with health benefits and stock options, meant there was always stiff competition for a spot. Plus, back then there were only two stores in her midwestern metro area.

So when Keri got the job she felt practically "elite." But she quickly learned after three weeks of training (not exactly quick, but certainly thorough) that skills were only half the picture. Beyond pouring the perfect shot of espresso, she should to be able to educate the customers about it, too.  So while the product was high-end, the customer interaction should feel more encouraging than elitist.

Advising Goes Deeper Than A Smile

Through ongoing training and peer recognition programs, Keri was taught to be a "friendly advisor." She could help a suburban mom confidently order an Americano or put a construction worker at ease ordering his first Frappucino – lines often got longer for the frozen treats than the coffee, which Keri didn't mind, because she could chat with waiting patrons from behind her blender station.

Personality was a natural reason Keri got the gig in the first place. But cultivating an expert who could explain their product in a non-intimidating way, was how the organization ensured that Keri and thousands like her could deliver on the two aspects of its brand combined – the human connections as well as the actual coffee.

Brand Training 2

Next, pixie-sized Keri set her sights on a more theatrical role. Apparently no matter how petite, a smile can be conveyed from head-to-toe if just mimed big enough, and Keri found she was a perfect fit for the character department at magic-central – Walt Disney World.

Whether assuming the persona (and the heavy costume) of a beyond-famous mouse or a classic honey-loving bear, she'd interact with hundreds of park guests every day – all with an emotional expectation of her character before they even got the first hug. Talk about living up to a brand!

Teamwork + Autonomy: Turns Brand Into Action

While Keri had to master every nuance of her character, down to their autograph – a guest interaction could be completely colored by the one they had just before it. Every cast member's performance built on another's, whether that was a honey-bear's hug, or a street sweeper's wave. But beyond teamwork, individual choice was how Keri was empowered by Walt Disney World to really put their brand into action.

"Guest Experience" was a mantra cast members repeated with focus and consistency during all aspects of their training. With roles and expectations so clearly defined, freedom was given to employees to interpret and deliver that experience on a case-by-case basis.  So if Keri saw a child drop a ice cream cone on the sidewalk, she could make the choice to get him a new one for free – with ease, as part of the natural brand experience, and without waiting to ask permission from a higher-up.

How an organization recruits, hires, trains and recognizes its employees should reinforce its brand principles – to equip its people with the ability to translate that brand into action.

Braind Training 3

Beyond Just "Whistling While You Work"

Keri has since moved back home to the midwest, where she works in event coordination. But her training has stuck with her. She strives to act as an advisor and trust herself to make decisions that help better deliver on her customer's expectations.  And of course, she still does it all with that easy smile.

She was also smiling when we asked her to humor us with this exercise, one that you might try yourself – or with a few of your employees – to see how prepared the individuals of your organization are to "carry on" its brand.

Recreating Your Brand Experience "Survivor-Style"

If you had to recreate your organization’s brand, by yourself on a desert island, and could only take a few items with you to recreate the brand experience, what would they be? And, what one skill would be the most valuable to you? Here were Keri’s answers for Starbucks and Disney as examples.


French Press
Your Organization's "Desert Island"
1. What objects would you take with you to recreate the brand experience? Object A, B and C.
2. What one extra special ingredient would you add to the mix? Could be music, a smell, or something environmental or even abstract.
3. What one skill would be the most critical to the brand's "survival?"

Next time you're planning for an all-staff meeting or conducting organization-wide training on a new product or process, think about if it might also be an opportunity to reinforce your brand. Try the desert island questions. Or at least serve some strong coffee and get some conversation going. How the individuals on your team translate your brand into action might surprise you.

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