What’s the Big Deal About Internal Branding?
Is it important that employees have an emotional connection to the company? Critical.
A brand is more than a logo or catchy pay-off line. It is a promise – an expression of a company’s commitment to its customers. It’s about reputation which is based upon one’s experience with the brand. The bottom-line – a brand must meet its customers’ expectations consistently so that each and every encounter with the brand is a positive experience.
This experience is largely reliant on employee behaviour and the extent to which they meet the expectations of customers during these critical interactions. The way in which employees behave has a direct influence on the reputation of a brand and ultimately an effect on the overall success of the organisation.
Brand activation involves branding on the inside as well as the outside of the organisation. Both internal and external branding follow similar methodologies in that the audience is segmented and then suitable brand communication strategies are developed. However, marketers have traditionally focused their efforts primarily on the external customer and neglected the internal customer; ie. the employee.
Experience shows that these external branding efforts – however well-intentioned – are often wasted, as it is impossible to activate the brand through customers without first engaging employees.
The crux here is steady delivery of the brand promise, which is largely reliant on employee behaviour and the extent to which they live the brand. Organisational success depends on brand activation strategies that appropriately guide and encourage brand-led behaviour. The wrong approach can have devastating results – and the company’s reputation can be insidiously undermined.
Consistent research over the years has demonstrated that a lack of alignment between employee behaviour and the brand promise will
cause customers to leave, as their expectations remain unfulfilled. Ultimately, customer satisfaction through exceptional and unwavering delivery of the brand promise, will keep customers coming back.
The purpose of internal branding is to create a distinct culture or mindset aligned with an organisation’s defined brand promise. Done properly, it will provide a host of benefits for the company, ultimately contributing to development of competitive advantage.
A meaningful internal branding intervention marries marketing and human resource practices to ensure long-term survival and delivery of the brand experience.
A dual-approach, incorporating both departments, is a fundamental element to any internal branding initiative as this process is not only about communication and the impact of the message; it is also about people and the effect of their behaviour.
Without this integration, internal branding can become yet another short-lived and costly intervention that has little impact other than to
It is essential to embed the brand internally within individual roles, responsibilities and rewards in order to inculcate a brand-driven culture at all levels. In this way, appropriate behaviour is continuously reinforced through suitable human resource processes and practices.
At the same time, a suitable internal brand communication strategy is required to further bring about real – and lasting – change in behaviour. However, as with all branding strategies, it is important to understand the nature of the audience. Audience segmentation is important. Different people respond to and absorb information in different ways.
The responsibility for charting the destination, and generating commitment from all organisational members to be players in the process, lies with the leaders of the business. Successful brands are further defined by having passionate leaders at the helm of the business, who are committed to the brand and its timbre throughout the company.
These brand evangelists should understand the brand and its relevance to staff behaviour and the customer experience. However, brand initiatives must not be entirely vertically structured. This approach can repeat the power structure of an organisation and in so doing, diminish the impact of brand activation internally.
A brand-centric business depends on effective inculcation of the brand across all touch points. The most effective way of doing this is to appoint brand champions consisting of staff members from across the organisational hierarchy whose clearly defined role is to ignite the brand from within.
A team of cross-functional brand champions is essential to measure, promote, integrate and champion the brand in order to create an integrated brand voice and an on-brand ideology. Brand champions should be chosen carefully, and then suitably trained in their roles and responsibilities.
Training should be experiential, and should include a type of train-the-trainer methodology to ensure the development of suitable skills and the meaningful transfer of knowledge. Furthermore, the brand champion should understand his/her role as a change agent, and understand the principles of change management. Once trained, brand champions can return to their working environments where they will build brand clarity, and in so doing ‘convert’ all employees into proud and effective brand ambassadors.
It is therefore of the utmost importance to engage employees, in addition to customers, through a tactical internal branding initiative. Essentially, the aim is to create a unified brand voice powered by the behaviour of the people.
In a nutshell, employees are the brand. No matter how ‘pretty’ the brand looks on the outside, it is the appeal on the inside that matters most.
Derry-Lee Lawrence is head of HKLM Ignite, a specialised business unit within the HKLM Group which handles all aspects of internal branding. She has a Masters Degree in Organisational Psychology (Cum Laude) and practical experience across a range of behavioural and psychological interventions.