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Branding From The Inside Out

Branding From The Inside Out

Bestselling author and business visionary Dr. John Izzo helps companies maximize their potential from the ground up. For over 20 years, Dr. Izzo has worked with thousands of leaders around the world, on employee-engagement strategies and brand transformations. He has been a pioneer in employee engagement, leading change, shifting employee and consumer values and corporate social responsibility, and is known for his hard hitting practical content, his inspirational storytelling and the lasting impact he has on organizations. Dr. Izzo’s newest book, The Five Thieves of Happiness, was released earlier this year. Below, Dr. Izzo writes about the importance of everyone at an organization “living the brand”:

For almost two decades, United Airlines had a brand slogan that was simple and easy to understand: The Friendly Skies. Not surprisingly, that drew large laughter at a recent keynote when I put it up on the screen given that in the weeks before, the airline had gone viral worldwide for dragging a passenger against his will off one of their flights. I joked that perhaps the slogan needed to be changed to “At United, the skies are friendly until they’re not, then we get really unfriendly!”

What is a brand anyway? Research shows that customers only believe about 16% of what we tell them our brand is. Our advertising and marketing mostly create an expectation in the minds of our customers. The truth is our brand is mostly how our people act every day and how they talk about the brand to customers (and potential ones). Most leaders don’t spend nearly enough time thinking about how to get every team member to live the brand and to be an absolutely positive ambassador for it. I call it “Branding from the Inside Out”, a frequent topic for my keynotes.

Today I want to share with you three ways to get every person to be your best ambassador.


If you want people to be your best ambassadors, you need to get clear on what the brand really is. Don’t think slogans, start asking what does it really mean to live your brand?  The Friendly Skies is meaningless if we aren’t clear on what that means in every moment. At the Ritz Carlton, they have a clear set of behaviors that show what it means to exceed expectations every day. They rotate through them at daily meetings (example: we remember names)- you can’t forget what it means to live the brand at the Ritz. I am working right now with Air Canada as they try to up their service game. For them it is “care and class.” To live the brand means they show they care and do it with class (meaning not homespun perky friendliness but refined). They aren’t there yet, but getting 100% clear on what it means to live the brand is job # 1. How clear is that on your team or in your organization?


In my forthcoming book Purpose Revolution, I feature research that shows that when people see their job as a calling, they are more engaged, more committed, and simply perform better. Manulife is a company I’ve been working with this past year and their purpose is “to help people achieve their dreams and aspirations”. Your people won’t truly be ambassadors for your brand unless they truly connect to its purpose. Profits are not a purpose, they are a reward for having a purpose! How often do you talk about your true purpose to serve and make things better? As a leader, how often do you highlight the real difference you make for customers through stories? And in moments of truth do we demonstrate that we really are focused on purpose not profits?

One of my favorite leaders at Air Canada constantly reminds his people that tears are common at airports. By truly serving with class and care his people can make someone’s life better every single day. One of the most successful franchisees at Molly Maid constantly reminds his cleaning professionals that many of the older people, whose homes they clean, have little social interaction. So, in addition to cleaning homes they are alleviating loneliness. People live the brand when they think it stands for something truly noble.


Although customers only believe about 16% of what we tell them in our marketing efforts, research shows they do believe what our team members say. I personally heard lots of bad press about RyanAir but a ten-minute conversation with two of their pilots at an airport in Spain changed my view of the operation. They were 100% positive ambassadors for the brand! A few years ago, Cisco’s CEO John Chambers asked team members to tell the story about what they loved about Cisco via youtube videos and even offered to buy a video camera for anyone who agreed to tell their story. The videos got hundreds of thousands of hits. And they were believable. I love that he asked them to be Ambassadors.

So why not ask your people to be your ambassadors? I am amazed how many leaders NEVER directly ask their people to be ambassadors for the brand everywhere- at parties, on the commute to work, talking with a passenger at a gate even when you aren’t on duty. Help your people to see how to do it, highlight when to do it, and for heaven’s sake ask them to be honest if they aren’t enthusiastic about doing it.  Measure whether they are proud of their services and products (and what would make them even more proud). Take action on the things they say would make them proud to do so.


Your brand is your people. Your well-crafted slogan means nothing if in moments of truth every day, your people don’t know what your brand is, if they don’t truly see its purpose, and if we don’t ask them to be our ambassadors. Remember that advertising only bought you an expectation in the minds and hearts of your customers.  If your people aren’t living it, it’s not your brand.

Dr. John Izzo/August, 2017