This is a little bit different to what we usually do here for The #WorkLifeShow because of the global pandemic. We were really interested to see how companies are thriving in this environment so we joined Matt Harris and the team from Brandbassador via Zoom to find out how they are thriving within this new culture that we've had to adapt to.
First up I want to ask you what you do in your job and what do you do with Brandbassador?
I am the Vice President of Sales and Marketing so pretty much everything commercial. I work directly with our founders to grow our business. We've built a tool that enables any B2C brand to build community around what we believe are their most prized assets - their customers, their followers and their fans and we call them ambassadors. Similar to influencer marketing only it tends to be more authentic because these are everyday people who are connecting with the brand. We were actually founded by the brand One Piece. They're the crazy adult onesies. One of the founders actually built that business out of Norway back in 2008-2009 and as they grew that business from their living rooms to this huge one hundred and twenty million dollar business, with stores in every continent, with people like Justin Bieber and Richard Branson organically, they found that a brand like theirs had such affinity with their customers. Their customers love them and then wear them out and about. Everyone would talk about them. People wearing them around campuses showing off this crazy garment and it just exploded. They started building their very first ambassador community and they gave them the name, The Peacekeepers, and they just went around collecting cool people who enjoyed their brand, looked at what they were doing and they built the first ambassador community. The issue they had was when you've got 20 ambassadors it's relatively straightforward to manage, right? Email is manageable. If I need to send them money, it's manageable but if I add a zero onto that and then call it two hundred or even two thousand, it's impossible. My email's flooded. I'm constantly in and out of my bank account. I can't track anything. So that was ultimately what seeded the idea to build a platform that enables brands to build those communities. In a nutshell that's ultimately what Brandbassador is.
A lot of people will have never really heard of a brand ambassador, they might have heard of an influencer. Can you tell us the main differences between the two?
We have a rather cheesy phrase but it's perfectly applicable. We say that influencers have followers. They're measured in how much following they have and how much exposure am I going to get. Not to do it a disservice but it’s like the modern-day digital billboard whereas an ambassador is measured in their friends. If you say to me, "Matt, you gotta check out this awesome jacket." The chances of me actually going to check it out are considerably higher than if I see Molly Mayer, an influencer doing it with a hashtag and everyone sees straight through it. It needs to be an authentic voice. There needs to be that believability and that level of trust and you only get that from people who love your products, who are buying your products or want to buy your products. They want to talk about it and that's fundamentally that's the difference. That's an ambassador.
I also have to thank you for Friday night. Brandbassador invited me along to their wonderful quiz night that we had in isolation. I'm self-employed so I don't have a company and a company culture but could you explain to me how important company culture is to Brandbassador?
We're a startup. We've gone from 13 people only 12 months ago to around 25, 26 now, a reasonably quick growth and you know when you're working, it's the place you spend most of your life, right. I see my colleagues more than I see my wife and kids which is a bit depressing but it's the reality of the world we live in. So it's so important to find that right blend, that right atmosphere, that environment. I think if you have even slight inaccuracies they can cause such a toxic environment where people don't want to go to work because there's politics or there's not a nice atmosphere. It's so important to build that culture and nurture and take care of it, not see it as just it's just a byproduct of what happens when you build a team. It's actually something we're actively investing in and saying that,“We know how important that is" and so for us it's massively important. We actually built our own social committee to ensure that we're being social, we're doing things to get outside of work. We were meant to go bowling last Friday but obviously this pandemic has thrown that out the window so when we were asking ourselves, “How can we still hang out?”, that was when the idea for doing a virtual social was spawned.
You used quite a lot of different applications, some I'd never even heard of Kizoot? Kahoot? Which was fantastic. Tell me what you think went really well and what went maybe not as well as you'd like?
We ultimately used Zoom, Kahoot and Whereby. Zoom and Whereby are two meeting rooms and Kahoot is really a learning tool but we use it too. You can create a quiz easily, you can invite everyone to it, it's the fastest finger first. A question comes up on the screen and it's the first one to answer everyone submits their answers and then you get points based on how quick you were and how accurate you were. We use it every Friday actually. Every Friday we release all of the new features and developments on our products that week and the whole company is supposed to go into Slack and read them and learn them and then we test them with a Kahoot group and it's actually become a really integral part of who we are. Basically for those people out there who know Kahoot, there's a theme tune, it's a song and it's evocative of Kahoot and every Friday you hear people coming in and singing it and as soon as that music comes on you know it's Friday, we get the beers out and we, we do a quiz together. When we first started planning the virtual social, I was in the headspace that this is either going to be really average and difficult because of the circumstances or it's going to be awesome and I was so pleased that it was on the other side of that spectrum. It went so well. To start with we gave everybody a £15 UberEats voucher. We told everyone to order food by 17:45 and start joining the virtual dining room, Zoom room by 18:30 and we were just going to eat together and everyone was going to be on mute and we're going to go around the room and unmute and do show-and-tell. I asked everyone to go and find something, sitting at home that they wanted to bring and share with most of the team. When I was planning it, I was thinking, this is a bit of a time killer, we've got to eat and it's going to be weird if we're on mute, at least there's something out there and I wasn't really expecting that to go well but it was actually incredible. One of my favourite bits was seeing the different things that people brought and wanted to talk about. One of our guys shared how he was training to be in the circus. Ollie, one of our co-founders shared one of his prized knives and shared his passion for cooking and I think a lot of people have shared how we learned something about each other in that experience that we didn't know. The quiz itself was the pub quiz, you can't go wrong with a pub quiz and we were able to use Whereby as a kind of POD tables. So each team went to a different meeting room at their table. I as the quiz master joined each room and then we'd read the questions off. This is the bit where I feel we needed slight refinement because I completely forgot that I'm not able to mute all three rooms in one go so I'll read the question out like, "What's the capital of blah blah?" Then you would hear other people in the other meeting rooms shouting answers around. So I had to be like "ssshh ssshh ssshh ssshh".
I enjoyed that. That intensified the atmosphere for me because I was like, “Oh no, they said it. I need to stop talking now.” I thought that was actually really brilliant.
I quite liked embracing the fact that we've got this technology here. It's the only way we can interact now and yes, it can be clunky. You have to tab through three meter members to press mute but it is what it is. Our founder, Thomas also created a Google Street view quiz which, which I was skeptical on, I think we were all a bit like "How is that going to work?" But I thought it went really well. He'd say something like, "There is an island in the Caribbean called blah blah blah, 100 miles South is another smaller island, what's it called?" And then the team was racing on Google Street to go and get the answers or leave the office, turn right. We did charades which was funny. Slightly harder, a lot of people didn't know the books or didn't know the films and I think because you've only got a little rectangular space it's harder to bring that to life with the screen.
It's true but like yourself I would say it would be fillers that actually made the whole thing for me. It was a real icebreaker because obviously I was coming into your world as someone who nobody had ever seen before, nobody knew and I had to share a little bit of my story but I got to hear everybody else's story and then once I'd heard a little bit about them, I felt like I'd done more than shook your hand, I'd actually heard a little bit about your life, it's actually quite deep.
I initially thought there's 20, 23, 24 people joining the Zoom room. I'm going to have to ask everyone to mute unless you're talking or responding to a question and I think we quickly worked out we didn't actually didn’t need to do that. People could self-govern and obviously appreciate, now isn't the time to try and talk but by allowing everyone to unmute, it unlocked that atmosphere, you could hear reactions and clapping and laughing and that was key, not over policing it.
Do you have any advice for other companies that may want to do this? What things should they be thinking about doing because I'm sure a lot of people do feel isolated and don't feel like they could have this type of culture with their company?
I think that the biggest one is just do it. We are in isolation. It is a weird time. Everyone's feeling it. The days are blurring. You miss actually physically hanging out with your colleagues and with all this stuff like furloughing going on, the ups and downs, you need to take a pause and just hang out like you would if you were in the office or going out for your social. So just do it! When I was planning it I was thinking this could be really bad, or this could be really great and it was nowhere near as bad as I was thinking in my head. Get creative around the tools we've got. Spend an hour as a management team just having a laugh planning these crazy ideas. The whole world's going crazy and we were laughing at ourselves, feeling like we've just spent an hour talking about how we can do virtual charades or quizzes but it's important, in this time more than ever. More than ever you've got to just do it. Find those opportunities to invest in culture and get together as a team and see it as an opportunity to learn more about your colleagues than you perhaps wouldn't have if you were going to the pub.
What other positives are you taking personally and in your work at this time?
Since doing it, honestly we've felt like in our team stand-ups there's been more banter. People have seemed happier by talking about Friday. There's just a sense of, we're in this world now, we've adapted to it now and heck, things can go on, we can still do our socials. The team's had a little glow this week on the back of doing it. I've heard so much good feedback so I feel really pleased we did it. We're definitely going to do it again. I think somebody related that we should do it every two weeks. That might be a bit of a stretch but we're definitely going to do it again soon. It's had a really positive impact this week on the culture and the team and the feeling of togetherness and this stuff isn't going to stop us from all hanging out.
A lot of companies in the UK are going through things that they've never had to go through before and one of those things is furlough. A lot of businesses have had no choice but to take some funding from the government and they put a lot of their employees into furlough. What has been your experience with that so far?
Like every other business out there there's so much uncertainty at the moment. We're in the business of acquiring and working with new brands and maintaining our existing ones and we've got no idea how long this thing is going to last. There is so much uncertainty and unfortunately we've had to make some tough decisions. We're a start-up, we don't have a few tens of million in the bank. Cash is an important thing to keep an eye on and ensure it is there for our survival so we come through this stronger. Three of our team had to be furloughed which isn’t pleasant but we wish them all the best and hopefully we can get through this and get back to where we were. Like a lot of people out there, globally, we’re having to make changes we didn't want to make or even foresee coming. It's tough, then again partly why now more than ever is the time to to double down investing in culture. It's hard for a business or it's hard for a leadership team but it's easy to underestimate the impact it has on the people in the business, these guys work together, they're also friends, they hang out together, they grow together, they invest in one another so making those decisions is necessary but it has the potential to harm not just the people going through it but the people adjacent to it, your people who are left over seeing the hole that's been left because someone is no longer doing their day job. I think now more than ever is that opportunity to to double down and invest in culture. Like a lot of other companies we're no exception, we've had to make a few tough decisions.
Are big brands saying that they want to invest in businesses like yourselves, are you finding a little bit of growth in that, any positives there?
We're in a world where eCommerce is the only real channel for a brand so we're seeing ambassadors more than ever engaging online with brands. We've seen brands spend more in e-commerce and online. So there's a real opportunity. Obviously there are brands initially that panic about “How long is this going to last? How bad is it going to be? Where are we going to stop spending?” We feel that with the conversations we have with brands. We feel that there's this putting breakers on that might prohibit us to work together but contrary to that we see brands say, “Hey look now is the perfect timing for us, we need to get going we need some help here, we need to get online, we need to upskill that piece of our business.” I say to my team “Now more than ever you need to spend time with friends and family. Those are the ones who get you through this tough time.” I feel like a brand is no exception. A brand needs to build a community of people who like what they do and want to be part of that movement, who want to buy the product to talk about it. Brands, more than ever, should be putting their arms around their fans, their customers and followers and building community around them to help them get through this time and grow through this time. We've definitely seen people adopt that mindset and we're able to help them and serve them.
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