Company Tours: A Peek behind the Brand Curtain

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There’s no better outlet for showcasing why you do what you do                  

A lot of firms offer tours of their facilities for the general public. If you ask the people who manage the tour why they invest the time and effort, you’ll get a lot of different answers: tours provide important information, they integrate fun into the sales process, they’re about as face-to-face as you can get with a participant, they provide tangible evidence of your key selling points…

The reason, in a word, is “marketing.” Giving current and potential new customers a peak behind the curtain is widely seen in corporate America as a way to build brand equity as a foundation for future sales.

But those tours are essentially designed for an audience of tourists and other potential customers. Fewer companies offer tours customized for an audience of professionals, even professionals who have a stake in the business, such as suppliers or clients. After all, building the brand isn’t typically on the company’s list of objectives for their professional relationships.

This attitude may reflect a misunderstanding in terms of what the role of a brand really is. A brand positioning strategy is often defined simply: it’s how you want people to think and feel about your brand. But that language ignores the power of a brand to inspire not only customers, but internal and external stakeholders as well. The brand connects an ecosystem of management, employees, suppliers, clients, and employees. A well-articulated brand proposition that’s true to the company’s history and values will foster passion in each of those stakeholders.

And just as it does for customers, a company tour is one of the best ways to build the brand power among stakeholders. In particular, a tour can viscerally communicate answers to the three most important questions any brand owner can provide: What do you do? How do you do it? And, the most critical question of all: Why do you do it?

Starting with The Question

The title of Simon Sinek’s hugely successful book, Start With Why, advises us to do just that. “People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it,” according to Sinek. And like the “What” and the “How,” there’s no better place to communicate your “Why” than through a tour of your facilities – assuming, of course, that you do in fact know why you do what you do. Sinek tells us that, while every organization knows what they do, only some know how they do it, and “very few” can articulate why they do it.

For an example of a company that has built great success on knowing and communicating why it does what it does, look no further than Anheuser-Busch (now Anheuser-Busch InBev). A hundred and fifty years ago Adolphus Busch, the son-in-law of founder Eberhard Anheuser, reportedly told him “Our business is not just making beer. Making friends is our business.” That sentiment has served as a lighthouse beacon for the company, its people, and its customers ever since. And it’s also still communicated throughout the company’s outstanding brewery tour in their home of St. Louis. It’s no coincidence that a company with such a clear understanding of its “why” is so dominant in its category.      

Of course, it helps that Anheuser-Busch InBev’s “reason why” is articulated in language that’s both straightforward and inspiring. This is critical to communicating the “why” to employees, suppliers, and clients. Organizational stakeholders who understand and can articulate the “why” can make more effective decisions more quickly, because they’re seldom in doubt about how their actions will support company objectives. They are inspired to act.

Conveying the Answers

If you think about it, the essential purpose of any facilities tour is to show people what you do first hand, with their own eyes. This doesn’t represent a challenge.

Communicating how you do it is a more multi-layered task, since it can be about both physical and mental or social processes. Yet ultimately the answers provided to this question will also rely on visual communication.

Letting your participants know why you do it can be more challenging. While the “what” is largely tangible and therefore visual, and the “how” is a mix of tangibles and intangibles, by nature the “why” is a more abstract question with abstract answers. Some perspective can certainly be gained by observing the way people interact or go about tasks, but to a fair extent explaining why you do what you do – literally why your company exists – requires words.

And therein lies one of the few drawbacks related to using a company tour as your primary brand-building vehicle. Many work environments are noisy – noisy enough to make verbal communication a real challenge. Social distancing, or even the naturally-occurring distance between the tour guide and the stragglers at the back of the pack – can also make it difficult to hear. Having the tour guide’s words obscured by noisy equipment or even the buzz of nearby conversations can ruin even the most well-written tour guide script.

Fortunately, there is a simple way to overcome barriers to hearing on a tour. A wireless tour guide system, with each participant wearing a headset and a connected receiver/transmitter, will put the tour guide’s voice directly in the ears of his or her audience. No one will ever miss any part of your message again.

Sinek’s book tells us that “why” is where the brand-building process must start. When stakeholders or others walk away from a tour knowing the answers to that question, it’s also where brand-building reaches the next level.

Author: Rick Farrell, President, Plant-Tours.com

Rick is North America’s foremost expert in improving manufacturing group communication, education, training and group hospitality processes. He has over 40 years of group hospitality experience, most recently serving as President of Plant-Tours.com for the last 18 years.  He has provided consulting services with the majority of Fortune 500 industrial corporations improving group communication dynamics of all types in manufacturing environments.