The Leadership Lab

Creating brand evangelists

Selling coffee.

That may seem to be what Starbucks does, but that’s really never been the point. Starbucks sells an experience built around coffee that tells us a story about ourselves, a story that makes us feel better about ourselves.

It’s a well known fact that Starbucks doesn’t advertise, except for very limited, seasonal things. It has that in common with consolidated radio.

Where our two industries diverge is that Starbucks spends a lot of money training its employees, and especially in explaining its purpose, its true mission, to its frontline managers.

Howard Schultz: “Employees are the true ambassadors of our brand, the real merchants of romance and theater, and as such the primary catalysts for delighting customers.”

Schultz has always believed if we give employees a reason to believe in their work and make them feel part of a larger purpose they, in turn, will not only personally elevate the personal experience for each “customer” but become evangelists for the brands they serve.

This is all about feeling, something consolidated radio seems to have forgotten when it comes to its employees.

How inspired can most employees feel about working for Cumulus or Clear Channel or Entercom? What is their deeper purpose? What is the story they hear about their efforts?

It doesn’t have to be this way. Consolidated radio still does a tremendous amount of good in each of its local markets, even if cynics can point out they’ve found a way to cash in on those efforts.

And we — all of us — want to live lives of purpose. We want to be part of something bigger than ourselves, part of a mission that helps more than it hurts.

How pumped up would most CC employees be if they got the same access to the biggest stars and perqs made available to Tom Poleman or Bob Pittman? What if they could provide a bucket list experience with an occasional listener every month?

What if the story Cumulus employees lived — felt — was one of community service, of a team dedicated to providing hope and compassion in each of their markets? Not once a year, but whenever it’s needed. Constantly. Instantly.

Imagine the esprit de corps within Entercom if its top ranks sacrificed before asking local markets to cut back on employees, and all sacrifices were shared so that their commitment to their local markets stayed steady and strong.

What if we give our employees a reason to believe in their work and make them feel part of a larger purpose

Radio can’t do that?

All it would take is one leader making a commitment to employees, the way Starbucks, Apple, Patagonia and others have.

Can it start with you?