A great brand is a wonderful thing — a representation of your products and services; the story of you and your team; a powerful beacon that attracts new business, keeps buyers from jumping ship, and earns you a prime position in the market’s mind.
After spending resources out the wazoo and earning some ever-so-distinguishing gray hair, it seems like all this branding stuff should be flying high by now. You’ve got the logo, a punchy tagline, and even a slick brand manual, so what’s up with the occasional brand breakdown?
The marketing department is cranky because every employee you ask about the company brand says something different. The non-marketing folks think it’s all propaganda. The CEO is delusional, proudly touting the invisible brand peacock that no one has ever really seen. To make the day complete, potential customers and clients view your offerings as just another sad-sack commodity. And existing customers and partners are irritated because the majority of your employees act like they hate their job — and life, too.
Sound familiar? Hopefully you’re not experiencing all of these symptoms, but even if you’re experiencing only a few of the above leading indicators, effective internal branding can turns things around and significantly impact your organization’s overall health and well-being.
It starts inside.
The brand — which is the mental mark held in the minds of all the people in your potential markets — needs to be tattooed onto your internal employees and representatives as well as your external partners and service providers in order to leverage its full value.
Leaders who miss this aspect of the brand building process — because of the cost, time, or energy required — will likely pay a much higher price than those who don’t.
Delivering engaging internal brand communications can impact your bottom line dramatically. A study by Watson Wyatt showed that a significant improvement in communication effectiveness is associated with a 29.5% increase in market value.
The employee factor is the soul of a brand.
Without the support, buy in, and conviction of your troops, a brand is just another lifeless enterprise.
“Brands are not surface matters; they live in the work culture,” says Julie Anixter, a strategic director for the LAGA/Tom Peters Co. Alliance who counsels companies on internal branding issues. That means that all organizations have a brand. Brands happen. The question is: Is the default state of your brand truly contributing to your success?
Steven Overman of Jack Morton Worldwide, an international corporate experience firm who pioneered the practice of audience alignment, is careful about how to label internal branding. The word “brand” is a lightning rod in some organizations. The discipline also falls into the category of organizational effectiveness. Selecting the right language for an internal branding effort is often the most critical difference between employees resisting or championing the organization’s goals.
Branding inside can positively impact an organization on many levels. Here’s where and how to do it:
As universal marketing momentum.
Add high-octane fuel to your external market outreach by creating programs that empower all staff to become ambassadors of the brand and to carry the torch even farther.
Under CMO Arun Sinha’s leadership, 33,000-employee Pitney Bowes Inc. transformed its “postage meter” brand into a company that provides “information solutions.” The $10-million rebranding effort included extensive internal initiatives. Sinha and his team personally met with more than 7,000 of the company staff face to face to communicate the reengineered vision and customer promise. Results included a 140% increase in C-level awareness as “an integrated mail and document provider,” accelerating their selling success.
As a talent magnet.
Become an employer of choice.
“The brand inside not only attracts top talent, but more importantly, finds and keeps ‘the right fit’ talent,” says Chris Pierce-Cooke, an executive vice president at Right Management Consultants, an organizational consulting and career transition firm.
Right Management developed a process it calls PeopleBrand — essentially developing and articulating an internal brand for a company that supports its HR goals. The methodology is a 3-D relationship: define a distinctive promise to key talent, then declare and demonstrate that promise.
“The internal brand work payoff is more than turnover savings,” Pierce-Cooke explains. “Top performers outperform and outproduce average performers by 50-125%.”
As a culture consummator.
Serve as an organizational centerpiece by aligning core values, competencies, and brand personality.
UPS has evolved quite a bit since its 1907 beginning, when it was the American Messenger Company. Founded by teenage entrepreneur Jim Casey with a $100 loan, the company today employs more than 360,000 employees around the world.
After two years of research and planning, and after 41 years with the former UPS brand mark, the company launched a new brand symbol. A massive internal campaign was deployed, not only to communicate the new icon, but to infuse the reasons behind the change.
Larry Bloomemkranz, VP of global brand management and advertising for UPS, credits the internal branding efforts as the silo buster — it helped the formerly fragmented organization develop a unified voice to tell its brand story.
“We learned that the logo change and its application to uniforms, vehicles, and aircraft has been a powerful catalyst for internal integration,” he says. “It provided tangible action to support our mantra: One company, one vision, one brand.”
As a peacemaker.
Activate a friendly fusing agent by managing change with added sensitivity and forthright communications.
In life and business, just as brands happen, well, stuff happens. Many times it’s not all good or what everyone wants — mergers, acquisitions, or a shift in market conditions can create a mean environment. The brand inside can ease the pain of change and serve as a positive bonding agent for all.
D. Mark Hornung, senior VP for the Bernard Hodes Group, recently worked on a project for a healthcare supply and service provider. The company had not only merged with another firm but accounting irregularities surfaced shortly thereafter. The company stock fell, causing a domino effect of massive employee stress and fresh brand wounds.
Hornung points to several key factors that led to the success of this project. First, identify the potential ROI from a branding initiative. This will lead to executive level buy in, which is imperative for the program to work. Be sure to recognize the employees contributions along with those of senior leaders. The Bernard Hodes Group took this on with a highly visible “Power of You” campaign.
And finally, understand that you are speaking to a geographically and professionally diverse employee base. Create materials that are easy to access from anywhere, such as intranets and CD-ROM presentations that can be customized to meet the needs of various audiences. The by-product of all of these can increase brand demand and operational productivity for any size or kind of organization.
Steven Overman of Jack Morton Worldwide suggests the following:
- Establish a vision day that unites the organization with a series of activities that encourage cross-functional and cross-regional collaboration.
- Create a learning road show that’s experiential, immersive, and highly interactive. Get employees out of the conference room or classroom.
- The magic mix looks different. Make the brand experience fun and exciting: part training, part ritual, and part entertainment.
What’s not working?
- Rallying cries and posters around the office alone will not make on-brand behavior happen.
- Unidirectional communication that feels top down and faddish, making the effort purely inspirational, but not offering employees any support in terms of what they actually need to do to help the company meet its objectives.
- Treating employees like the audience for an advertising campaign.
- Ignoring that successful branding must be a holistic and integrated effort incorporating input and expertise from marketing, PR, IT, internal communications, strategic planning, HR, operations, and leadership development.
- Looking for a one-size-fits-all solution. There are none. Effective communications must be designed to target specific audiences and meet specific needs.
How do you know it’s working?
Conduct qualitative and quantitative analysis before you begin so you have benchmarks to work from.
Julie Anixter from the LAGA/Tom Peters Co. Alliance, who has worked extensively with Ian Schrager’s boutique hotel group, says that sometimes you can just feel the success in the air. Schrager’s hotel properties receive high volumes of happy customer feedback via email, the housekeeping staff enjoys ample monetary tips, and positive word-of-mouth buzz is abundant.
Without the inside covered, get ready for some chilly days.
Remember the last time you made a purchase based on a brand’s promised value proposition and you were disappointed big time? Was there a character involved who looked like a human?
I hate it when that happens. It’s counter-brandsmanship deluxe! The good news is that it’s a treatable challenge.
Make the brand inside your organization a priority. Dedicate resources and creative people to the effort. Think organizational alignment and make it a way of life, not a short-term campaign.
Brand on! And in.