It’s time for marketing to realize that we aren’t the only ones holding the mic, we need to create a chorus with our colleagues across the business, from the cash register to the C suite, to create a hit marketing sound. Retail and CPG marketing expert Casey Petersen charts how we got here and what we do now.


ECC > EGC > UGC – Adapting to the New Employee Power Paradigm

In 2008, I discovered “Mommy Bloggers,” and took a totally unknown baby care brand to a national chain fueled by blog reviews and buzz.  2008 also marked the first BlogWorld Conference (Now NMX), and the era of User Generated Content went mainstream as more and more people flocked away from MySpace to Twitter and Facebook, both of which were 2 years old. 

Small, scrappy brands began clamoring for bloggers to feature their junk products, as major companies scoffed at the idea of releasing “brand control” to the unwashed masses of the internet.  No “rando” from Albuquerque with a Twitter following would EVER be allowed to be seen as someone with input into a brand.  What if they posted something . . . untoward?  What if they criticized the company?  DEAR GOD, WHAT IF THEY’RE REPUBLICAN?

I spent the next several years of my career in a movement to make companies realize the truth: You don’t control your brand.  The media controls your brand.  Your customers control your brand.  As a matter of fact, literally EVERYONE on the planet has more control over your brand than the up-tight middle-managers in Marketing painstakingly ensuring that text elements in an image were at least 20 pixels away from the corner of your logo, and that the brand’s name had the proper kerning.

Remember when we talked about kerning?

Of course, by 2012, the idea of User Generated Content was so mainstream, everyone was either trying to start a blog or hire a blogger.  The world fitted into those two categories.  User Generated Content became something we all got comfortable with.  Everyone could talk about brands online, and the brands encouraged it!  Well, everyone except the employees of that brand could talk about it online.

In 2010, I was overseeing Digital Marketing for a major Oil and Gas company, when I came across a tweet from a Store Manager hiring an Assistant Store Manager.  It said:

Hiring Assistant Store Manager. Must have own car, and be able to work ALL THE M***ER F***ING TIME!

Don’t you love Social Media?

Despite the unwashed masses now being embraced as brand ambassadors, employees remained entirely censured online, with major global brands cowering in fear of what would happen, should their employees mention them online.  Slowly, reluctantly, brands began rolling out very controlled implementations of Employee Generated Content (EGC).

With EGC, brands could comfortably tap the power of large employee bases, with the knowledge that they were sharing exactly what they wanted.  Sterile, pre-created content was pushed out on Employee channels.  It all looked the same and was typically all equally ignored.  Brands were certainly reaching more people for free, but how effectively this method builds conversation online is questionable. 

My interaction with our Store Manager’s job promotion is a primary example of why this didn’t work.  While her delivery might not have been up to brand standards, the use of Social Media as a tool to solve a business problem was ahead of any corporate planning or Digital Marketing strategy we were considering 9 years ago and illustrates how employees actually use Social Media for business, whether we plan and control it or not. 

Most brands’ knee jerk reactions would be to create policies around mentioning the brand online, and perhaps even fire the Store Manager.  We took a different approach, and one that I see many companies moving towards today.

The main issue here is who is the steward of the brand – I would argue Marketing never has been.  The front-line employees at stores, in customer service, or in sales are the stewards of a brand.  Why?  Because they are my brand interface – they are literally the face of a brand to every consumer.  Typically, the lowest paid employees at every retailer are the most powerful brand representatives in the entire company.

Typically, the lowest paid employees at every retailer are the most powerful brand representatives in the entire company.

Put simply, I have NEVER quit patronizing a company because of a tweet I saw from an employee.  I have regularly quit bringing business to retailers, restaurants, and companies because of how I was treated, face to face, by their front-line employees.

If we Marketers entrust our brand to Tina the cashier every single day, with countless people throughout the year, shouldn’t we feel fairly confident that Tina can be trusted with the brand online?  Wouldn’t we expect employees to treat the brand more favorably in an easily trackable and public environment, than we would in one on one conversations with irritable customers, when they’re tired and ready to go home, and no one will ever know how rude they were?

If we Marketers entrust our brand to Tina the cashier every single day, with countless people throughout the year, shouldn’t we feel fairly confident that Tina can be trusted with the brand online? 

This is the premise of Employee Created Content, a term and business process I’ve embraced and promoted whole-heartedly.  Place tools in your employees’ hands to promote and represent the brand online – but don’t limit them.  The most customer-centric, innovative, and genuine messaging can come from your employees.  We all know it seldom comes from the over-thought, over-produced, over-analyzed marketing process.

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