A conversation with Rich Kylberg, Vice President, Global Marketing and Communications, Arrow Electronics. Attend the 6th National Summit on Strategic Communications on May 4-5. Hear Rich describe how he and his team are transforming the Arrow brand — turning 10,000 Arrow employees into content contributors.
UF: How has Arrow Electronics leveraged its employees to help create and tell the company’s transformation story?
RK: When we embarked on this journey, people asked me “Who do you target with these messages? Are you trying to go after our customers? Potential customers? Influencers in the media? Companies around the world? Investors? Potential investors?
We made it really clear from the start is that we targeted employees. The fundamental reason for that is the belief that when you put your messages together, one of two things is going to happen as far as employees are concerned. They are either going to like them, or they’re not going to like them. If they actually don’t like them, the employees will generally come up with their own messages, throw your collateral in the trash because they are embarrassed by it, or get other jobs.
If they just think that the messages are just buzzword bingo, throw-out jargon or meaningless, or that there’s no real connection behind it, then they’ll just kind of ignore it and go about their day. It enhances their cynicism when the company comes out and says, “We’re going to help you with your 401k” or “We’re HR and we’re here to help you.” Oh brother, here we go, right? “Here’s our company values,” and you get a list of words, you can’t remember any of them, and you don’t necessarily see those values lived inside the company. It just starts to erode things.
You have to create messages that employees can see, hear, feel and get excited about. We built messages that really were not messages from the corporation, the CEO or the Board. They were messages from the people who work here. We did a lot of surveying. We took that language, and the message came back as something that, one, people recognized, and, two, they could be really proud of. Some employees might say, “Maybe some of those messages aren’t the company I know, but they’re the company I’d like to work for.” The messages are aspirational in a way.
Then, employees start to prosecute those messages for you. They start going out and saying these messages for you. As soon as they understand the messages, and if they like them, the messages mean something to the employees. Well, now you have the multiplier effect. In Arrow’s case, you have the potential to have 18,000 people in the world talking about how great your message is. They talk about it from the standpoint of, one, understanding it, and, two, actually really caring about it. That’s far more powerful than any advertising or any channels, including buying time in the Superbowl.
Engaging employees is critical.
UF: After you established key messages, what was the first thing you did to launch the new brand?
RK: The first thing we did — the first physical manifestation of the brand — was to change everybody in the company’s business cards. We physically/actively engaged everyone in the world behind the message simply by changing their business cards. You might think, “Oh, you’re going to put some ads on TV,” or putting out emails or going online. We couldn’t give everybody t-shirts and hats; People just throw those out. But everybody carries a business card for the company they work for. By going after the business card, we had everybody engaged. And then once that happened, from there, we could build the rest of the campaigns. We could go to television, and we could go to outdoor, and we go to a lot of different things.
UF: What was different about the new business cards?
RK: Everybody’s business card all of the sudden had a new company logo and a new message on it. People didn’t even understand really what it was, but it had their name on it and it was the thing that they hand out when they meet people. The business cards were a different size and a different shape. People would ask, “What is this? What does this mean?”
At first, employees didn’t even really know what to say, but when you’re handing out your business card and you’re not sure what it is you’re supposed to be saying, pretty quickly you either get used to being embarrassed or you figure out what to say when people ask, “What does ‘5 Years Out’ mean?”
Employees began to develop [the meaning]. We didn’t tell them what it meant, believe it or not. They can figure it out. These aren’t people with a lack of imagination. Everybody in the company found their own voice for what “5 Years Out” means. They would say basically the same thing: it had to do with the future and working for a brighter tomorrow. But they would say it in their own language and in their own way. By doing that, they understood it in their core, and they would practice it. After awhile, that was their elevator pitch. Or they would be hanging out with other employees, and they would hear other employees say, “Well, here’s what ‘5 Years Out’ means.” They would learn from each other and all come up with the same kind of thing.
Everything starts with the employees. It’s not entirely in line with conventional marketing theory.