Making sure a brand story is clearly defined for every employee in an organization, from marketing to those on the front lines, is no game. At least, it shouldn’t be.

But according to a joint study my company conducted with FocusVision, marketing teams are losing control of their brand messages the minute they start sharing them with other internal teams. That’s a serious problem.

Of the 250 professionals we surveyed, only 34% said they believe their company has a clearly defined brand story that is consistently communicated throughout the organization. That means roughly two-thirds of companies aren’t confident in their ability to clearly communicate their brand messages.

Obviously, something has to change.

The Cost of a Game of Telephone

Misalignment comes at a hefty price — it costs companies millions. In fact, more than half of our respondents who reported that their companies were struggling with this issue placed the cost of inconsistency at $5 million or more every year, and 28% said it cost them $10 million or more.

When companies don’t clearly communicate their brand story to all employees, they’re essentially playing a high-stakes game of “telephone.” If you’ve forgotten this game since your elementary days, what begins as a clear and simple message gets mangled and diluted as it travels from one person to the next. By the time it gets to the end of the line, the message barely resembles the original idea.

Brand messages are traveling from marketing teams down to frontline employees in a way that is far too similar to this game. Once the story gets to the last person — the employee who’s communicating directly with the customer — it’s often unrecognizable.

Because of this, companies are struggling to connect their brand promise with the customer experience they deliver.

Look at Jaguar. In 2014, the luxury automaker introduced the XE sports sedan to compete with entry-level BMW and Mercedes-Benz models. In 2017, Jaguar launched a massive ad campaign for its new offering but has consistently struggled to gain traction with it. Between 2017 and 2018, sales of the XE declined to nearly half of what they were.

A major contribution to the problem? Jaguar struggled to get its own representatives, its dealer network, to embrace this strategy. The XE was a conscious departure from the brand’s typical ultra-luxury models, so when it arrived on dealer lots without any clear explanation of how to tell its story, expectations were clearly fuzzy.

In contrast, Subaru has managed to catapult its safe and sensible crossovers to 81 months of sales growth by telling a consistent brand story. This started with its iconic “Love” campaign that launched over a decade ago, which communicates Subaru’s brand story of reliability and its mission to promote harmony between people and the environment.

That’s the message shared every step of the way, right down to the front lines. A salesperson at a Subaru dealership is ready to talk about how the Forester X-Mode can help drivers safely navigate a snowy driveway with their kids in the backseat, as well as how it can be the perfect vehicle to take on an off-road outdoor adventure. The story is impactful because it’s consistent, and the numbers back that up.

Our data shows that the reward of having a well-defined brand story might be even bigger than the cost of not having one. Of the respondents who did report having a high degree of confidence that their brand story is clearly communicated throughout their organizations, 62% placed the value of that consistency at $10 million or more.

If the cost of a diluted brand story wasn’t enough to move you to action, the potential payoff should be.

Forget Telephone — Perfect Your Story

So how can you ensure your brand story doesn’t get diluted as it makes its way to the front lines?

Above all else, empower employees at all levels of your organization to share your messages. One of the biggest problems we see is that it isn’t always clear who’s responsible for improving communication within an organization.

Think of it this way, though. The marketing team is responsible for crafting the brand message and then critical aspects of brand storytelling typically get split between sales, HR/training, and customer service. But because the marketing department is ultimately judged on the effectiveness of a campaign, it only makes sense for it to take a more hands-on role in turning employees outside the department into the kind of storytellers they need to be.

That said, this involvement has to go beyond marketing team members simply handing customer service associates a script or giving sales teams a list of brand-approved talking points. It means starting a conversation with front-line teams to get their feedback on the brand and what it offers. What are they hearing from customers? How do they feel about the products? Which lines do they gravitate toward again and again?

These sorts of conversations help marketers pinpoint branding inconsistencies and potential trouble spots. Opening up communication channels also helps frontline employees see themselves as crucial extensions of the brand. When these teams are able to give their input, they’re that much more likely to take ownership of the brand story and relay it to customers with confidence and expertise.

Finally, brands have to look at how they are communicating with internal stakeholders. All too often, companies rely solely on push tactics like email marketing and product training to engage employees. That’s not enough. It’s critical that brands begin viewing their employees as a crucial component — perhaps the most crucial component — of their marketing plan.

This means engaging team members with more dynamic and experiential tactics, like in-person events and peer-to-peer learning opportunities. Our study found that these tactics produce more consistent brand messaging and transform employees into passionate brand advocates as they experience the brand for themselves. Connection to the story matters. Engaging tactics like these make it possible.

Everyone in an organization should be able to communicate its brand stories consistently, and those stories should be far more than messages passed down from marketing on high. When organizations stop playing telephone and instead focus on alignment, it creates the potential for every employee to become a passionate storyteller and brand representative.

Click here to download my company’s brand dilution report to learn more.