The advertising industry has spent untold amounts of money on the likes of influencers and celebrities to get consumers on board with their products. But, according to NATIVE VML digital strategist, Dono White, if they look closely, their best brand advocates are right under their nose: their own employees.

On Wednesday, 29 June, NATIVE VML held its latest in #NativeInreach session at its Sandton offices, with White speaking about the topic of employee engagement, brand advocacy and synergising it.
White began his talk by noting that “the world is changing and, thanks to digital, that world is changing. It’s changing because humans and their behaviour are changing with it”.
Society has now moved into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, with a significant number of companies listed among the Fortune 500 in 2000 having since disappeared because of their failure to adapt to changing times.
“In this world, consumers are becoming mindful and what they are really doing is taking stock of their own personal values and they are looking for brands that can help articulate those values,” White said.
Brands need to be more authentic, but how do they do that? White says the answer is elegantly simple: through their own employees.
An important step in aligning the goals of a brand and their employees is for their management of human resources to transform itself into a valued consultant that brings innovative solutions. Brands need to recognise that “the person sitting at your front desk is as much a leader as your CEO”.
“We need to make HR more agile, more forward thinking and provide bolder solutions,” White said.
South Africa is sitting at fifth in the world, at 28%, for the proportion of its online population that advocated for brands.
White says they are advocating for the people they actually work for through the likes of Facebook andTwitter, making comments, asking questions and doing so in both a positive and negative light.
To ensure employees positively advocates for the brands they work for, they need to be actively engaged with. White said employee engagement is an emotional commitment the employee has with their organisation and its goals.
White cited a statistic produced by Aon Hewitt which said a 5% increase in employment engagement was linked to a 3% increase in revenue growth.
This emphasises the importance of a brand engaging positively with their employees, with the results mutually beneficial for both parties.
The view of “a job is just a job” needs to be moved past, with monetary rewards no longer the defining motivation for job seekers, especially younger job seekers in the form of Gen Y and Gen X.
“They want fulfilment. It’s not necessarily monetary values.Employees who are engaged but not empowered are at risk of frustration, burnout, disengagement, suboptimal productivity, and turnover,” White said.
It is about employees taking stock of their values and placing it on a brand.
Three steps brands can take within the workplace to engage with their employees is to digitise the workplace, promote collaboration in the workplace, and promote collaboration in new innovations in the workplace.
“We need to let go of these fixed rules and allow people to play a little more. If you are playing, you are invested in the game,” White said.
Brands need to take note of what their employees are saying and sharing on social media, because these are congruent with their values.
“They [the employees] consume the product, they consume our services. The bottom line is that brands need to protect themselves. It’s the right thing to do,” White said.
“Get the right people with the right values. Understand that your employees are your consumers and, most importantly, we need to make those values [theirs and the brands] congruent.”