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Reframing Branding: How Sales Force eLearning Drives Brand Identity


Sales Force eLearning Tech For Positive Branding

According to common wisdom, a company’s brand is its consumer-facing identity—the traits the consumer assigns to the company, the beliefs the consumer holds about the company’s market positioning, and so forth. As one vivid example, think about Target, which has established itself through its branding as a more upmarket, but still affordable, version of Walmart. Since the company’s founding, it has aspired toward its identity; one of its executives is quoted all the way back in 1990 as offering “high-quality merchandise at low margins.”

Only over the past decade, as Targets and Super Targets have become ubiquitous in the US, has the company’s primary psychological association for consumers become “the upscale alternative to other discount department stores.” Of course, Target is a success story. Other enterprises struggle to establish or adapt their brand identity. These enterprises would do well to look toward the role that eLearning, training, and enablement for the workforce play in branding efforts.

Social Identity, Positive Attitude, And Branding

In talking about brand identity, experts often focus on consumer-oriented marketing and positioning as delivered through conventional channels—digital and TV ads, word of mouth, and the literal branding of the company’s products. One aspect that is undersold here is how the in-store workforce influences and affects brand identity. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in psychology to figure this out. Think about Trader Joe’s, which is known for its friendly, upbeat employees. Its workforce has become ingrained in its brand identity, which has rebounded to the company’s benefit, with its revenue listed at $16.5 billion. It is hard to imagine this company without its workforce; they are intermeshed, and the helpful, happy aura of the store is part of its appeal to its core audience, people aged 25 to 44.

Of course, not every store is Trader Joe’s, and not every business pitches itself to that age bracket. Yet every organization with multiple brick-and-mortar locations should strive for a similar uniformity of workforce “branding”: the idea that no matter which store location you go to, you can expect a similar, if not identical, experience.

Brand Image And The Consumer’s Identity

However, not just any experience will suffice: it ought to be one that affirms the identity of the consumer themselves. This is especially true in the age of “conscious consuming,” at a time when people are heavily judged based on their day-to-day decisions, including, if not especially, their purchasing decisions. Where you shop and what you buy reflect who you are and what you value. The latest research in consumer psychology validates this idea.

The authors of a 2022 article in Frontiers in Psychology argue that “consumers, influenced by creating and maintaining their social image, are more inclined to choose goods and services that can verify their social identity, and thus develop positive attitudes.” Many people would rather be seen bringing home Trader Joe’s groceries than Walmart groceries, and that’s in no small part because Trader Joe’s employees are seen as upbeat where Walmart associates are rarely discussed unless it is to note their poor working conditions. Thus a critical aspect of brand identity, of the “positive image” that consumers wish to associate with, is the attitude and performance of the salespersons they encounter associated with the company.

Don’t Forget The Sales Force: Optimizing Brand Identity In The Age Of Omnichannel

In investigating this aspect of brand identity, it is vital to touch on some of the key questions regarding the sales-based workforce today. At a time when many companies are investing in eCommerce platforms (anticipated to grow 8.9% in this year alone), supply chain management tools, customer data analytics, logistics systems, and other smart technologies to drive online growth, they are neglecting the optimization of the most immediate customer-facing marketing feature they have: their workforce. Indeed, in pursuing the question of brand identity, corporate leaders and operations managers should take an “omnichannel” approach.

Omnichannel is not just a buzzword. It includes all sales channels, among them the in-store or person-to-person experience, supported primarily by the performance of the sales force. Digital sales channels are important and growing in importance, but especially for high-ticket items (think home goods and luxury gifts), the foreseeable future will require a workforce, and not just any workforce, but one which can help expand order sizes and establish customer loyalty—one optimized to solve post-pandemic business challenges, in this case, for the pickier consumer who is weighing ever-more purchase options from a mix of physical stores, websites, apps, and digital marketplaces.

This is the goal: the means by which companies reach it is arguably through appealing to what the above researchers called social identity verification—that by shopping at X store, consumers will validate their own positive attributes Y and Z (e.g., sophistication). Sales force eLearning technology, when implemented the right way, helps introduce and reinforce this brand identity among the workforce.

Sales Force Enablement And The Reinforcement Of Brand Identity

How so? After all, one might ask, doesn’t eLearning technology primarily train salespersons on merchandise know-how, the high points of a sofa, for instance, or the wearability of a specific brand of watch? Perhaps, but at a moment when the average American checks their phone repeatedly throughout the day, we should rethink the role of technology on the sales floor.

Let’s say an imaginary retailer’s brand identity is the following: they sell luxury watches but are unpretentious, approachable, and cool. Think Warby Parker but for wristwear. In combination with in-person training, this company might use its sales force app to inculcate this brand identity, with videos showing associates who have the ideal attitude and tonality; notifications with a gamified company “customer interaction challenge of the day”; sales leaderboards for prizes such as gift cards to local bookstores, record stores, or Taylor Swift tickets; plus other smart elements, both personalized and not, that in subtle ways reflect corporate branding.

Let’s say that our wristwear brand is sold outside of its own stores at multi-brand retailers. The brand and these retailers should consider collaborating on the development and distribution of training content. Deploying a single app with a single brand experience for all sellers will help brand identity stay consistent across channels and stores. What our wristwear brand doesn’t want is a brand experience that changes depending on where the brand appears. In an age of many channels and manifold purchase options, it’s important to create an experience and brand sensibility that consumers can rely on. By using such technology, the retailer is–again, subtly–developing and then reinforcing the brand identity in the in-store sales channel in such a way that is consistent with their external marketing and their digital store.

Performance Enablement And Sales

This is not simply eLearning for the sake of getting the workforce up to speed on this or that product. Rather, it is eLearning for the sake of establishing a concrete goal, in this case, the motivation of behaviors that reflect the brand identity. Some experts have called this model for eLearning technology “performance enablement,” technology that does not merely enable learning but that enables learning in order to motivate the right behaviors in the in-store sales channel and ultimately (in this case), brand consistency.

As a real-world example, a cycling company used targeted sales incentives to increase eLearning engagement to 458%. This eLearning consisted of customized learning content designed by the company, which helped them introduce and reinforce their brand identity to their sellers at scale.

Performance enablement technology integrates with the sales force’s past data to target specific salespersons with the right motivators for them, whether that is a notification of their progress toward a commission bonus, the possibility of concert tickets, or unlocking a new achievement within the app if they take a quiz. Yet as mentioned, the company can design and customize these motivators to reflect the brand identity they want to create—to give them “the cool factor,” in the case of the wristwear store.

Our theoretical company can see their eLearning app as a kind of marketing, yet internal marketing, for the sales force, rather than directly for consumers. Then, by helping to drive the “social identity verification” that is so central to the shopping choices of today’s consumer, such an app generates more foot traffic, expands cart size, and secures repeat customers.

Rethinking Branding Means Rethinking The In-Person Sales Channel

At a time when many companies are actively, and rightly, embracing omnichannel sales, it’s important not to neglect person-to-person selling. To create a unified brand experience, companies with sales-based workforces should consider the role that eLearning technology can play in demonstrating and reinforcing their brand’s identity for the workforce, particularly today, at a time when consumers more than ever make decisions based on what the brands they buy from represent.

In the case of chains like Trader Joe’s and Warby Parker, their in-store experiences are key to consumers’ ideas about those companies. But these are exceptions. Many culture and operations leaders struggle to transform their brands into companies that buyers actively want to transact with—that they seek out—in large part because these brands do not have enough personality to say anything about who the consumers are and what they value. Performance enablement eLearning solves this problem by subtly transforming the habits, behaviors, and attitudes of the workforce in a way that reflects the brand identity, whatever that may be.


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