The ancient art of storytelling is a potent force in modern business. “Stories resonate with people on so many levels,” says Darren Dahl, associate dean and a marketing professor at UBC’s Sauder School of Business.
So Dahl isn’t surprised by the recent spate of TV commercials and social media campaigns by retailers that put employees in the spotlight. Take McDonald’s “Welcome to McDonald’s” campaign, which featured the personal stories of people behind the counter.
“Stories are a way to grab people’s attention and put a human face on a business,” Dahl says. “It’s great for internal branding, too; employees see they matter, and it’s exciting for them.”
Now grocers are getting in on the act. “We want our employees in the spotlight,” says Tyler Romano, marketing manager of Choices Markets, the 10-store chain in British Columbia. “The quality of our employees makes service a part of our business that’s hard to duplicate.” That’s the reason Choices ran full- page newspaper ads featuring employees from its Abbotsford store, which opened last October.
The ads star Alex, the meat department manager; and Tracey, the deli manager, among others. “He never planned on becoming a butcher, but destiny intervened,” reads the ad featuring Alex. “One day, while working as a bag boy, he got asked to cover in the meat department after an accident. He never looked back.”
Tracey’s ad is similar in tone. “Tracey has a pretty young team in her deli department, and she likes to see herself as a role model to a staff that is a similar age to her own kids,” it reads. “As a mother, knows how hard it is to get dinner on the table sometimes. That’s why she’s here to help. Say hi to Tracey next time you stop by. She’d love to chat.”
According to Romano, the ads are proving popular with both employees and customers. The chain also gets playful on its Instagram page, which features in-store selfies taken by employees and captioned with creative hashtags.
“Everyone’s talking about it sharing some laughs,” Romano says. “It highlights our strength as true B.C. grocers with highly trained and knowledgeable staff from the community.”
Overwaitea Food Group’s Save-On-Foods has been using a similar tactic with its “Go the extra mile” campaign. Promoted on the Save-On-Foods website, the campaign features videos and commercials of staff members making pledges to offer the best-possible service to customers.
“It highlights the fact that customer service is in our DNA,” says Overwaitea’s Julie Dickson Olmstead. “It’s also part of our mandate to put the customer first a process to help improve service.”
Metro Ontario has put employees at the forefront of some marketing campaigns for its 57 stores in the Greater Toronto Area. A selfie contest on the chain’s Instagram account encouraged both customers and staff to post pictures from two of its downtown stores.
“We wanted to give staff members the opportunity to introduce themselves to the community in an innovative and fun way,” says Kathleen O’Hara, Metro’s director of brand and promotional marketing. “We saw some really great engagements from our employees they had a lot of fun with it.”
Metro also features staff in flyers mailed around its Humber Bay Park store in Toronto. Using the headline “Nice to meet you!” the flyers introduce department managers and other store employees. “We find opportunities to introduce staff to customers beyond our store walls,” says O’Hara. “It’s nice when people see a familiar face.”
Ken Wong, a marketing professor at Queen’s University’s Smith School of Business, says that while featuring employees is not new in marketing, the advent and popularity of social media has amplified its power.
“It provides external validation and recognition among friends and family that can motivate employees,” says Wong. “But the danger is the same as with celebrity endorsement: it’s only as good as the celebrity. If an employee does something wrong, it defeats the purpose.”