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Internal Branding: Delivering Solutions through Employees

by: Frederic Moraillon

The aim of marketing has long been to carry the brand message to the public. This is not done for altruistic reasons but to simply entice them to buy the product or service that you sell. But did you know that your brand is carried by your people as much as by your marketing?

A few years ago, the management mantra ""If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers" appeared out of the customer service function leading to new development in internal branding. Interestingly, the marketing function did not follow-suit straight away and has only recently started to engineer internal marketing strategies to ensure that employees are well versed in the brand attributes and values.

Internal Branding: What is it?

Internal branding, internal marketing, internal communications…call it what you will. In the end, it's all about making sure your employees are brand advocates. Brand advocacy goes beyond being courteous to the first customer in the morning. It's about being fanatic about the brand, otherwise, it's just a job. And that's where the problem lies, for many of your employees, it's just a job. One they could easily give-up for another offering them a 5% salary increase.

Internal branding is not about building loyalty even though it's one of the side benefits. It's not about managing to retain your best employees, it's about developing a marketing story so compelling that people want to work for you and those who do, carry themselves with pride and honor. Now, your marketing story can never be a lie. Building your business on a promise you can't deliver is the surest way to fail. It has to be real and believable by both your customers and employees. And the latter can be more difficult than the former.

Most marketing stories are written for customers often making the company's employees smile and joke about the ‘story.' Is yours written in a way that your employees believe? And would they tell you if they did not?

So your brand is a story. A story you tell both your internal and external public.

Why do you need to focus on Internal Branding?

Seen in this light, it's easy to understand why you should develop your internal branding strategy. The benefits are tremendous: better informed employees potentially becoming happier with their jobs, their lives, etc. resulting in happier customers coming back for more. As most companies are not built on altruistic grounds, no business is truly a democracy, the focus on your employees is a real business strategy aimed at increasing your revenue and controlling your costs in a non-manipulative manner. How's is that for benefits?

It's often easier to identify the negative than the positive (ask any executive who has gone through a SWOT analysis.) And in the case of internal branding, the result of not doing is simple: Your company could fail. The problems you face today are often due to a lack of proper communication or understanding which can be addressed by explaining your values in details (an internal branding tactic) allowing your employees to make a daily decisions with customers based on a sound principles.

Formal vs. informal Internal Branding

Building your brand to ensure that your employees buy-in the story is often more difficult than to create one for consumers. Why is that? It seems that the internal knowledge employees have of the company prevents them from believing what is often referred to as ‘the marketing message' (pronounce this with a derogatory tone.) A brand message that is at odd with the real culture top management stands for is a sure way to fail. So ‘the marketing story' starts at the top. If your top management doesn't believe in it or even live it every single day, how can you expect your employees to do so?

There are two ways to go about building your brand internally. The first one is to simply match what you say to what you do. It's a simple strategy but often difficult to implement as it requires a real connection between who you are as CEO, your actions and your brand. SMEs are at an advantage as the CEOs are closer to the operations and can therefore oversee the brand story and its implementation throughout the organization (and don't be fooled, branding is the CEO's problem, not the marketing department.) It's harder for bigger corporations and this case a formal approach might be the best approach.

A five steps recipe:

1. Define your brand/marketing story (and get your employees involved) 2. Align your brand and your culture 3. Understand the employee touch points where your brand is playing a part 4. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate and Communicate some more 5. Your brand evolves, don't let it go stiff

It's a simple enough process but matching your brand to your culture, and vice-versa is often easier said than done and you might be wise to ask for external help. Once done, it's all about implementing it day-in, day-out without fail, discouragement or doubt. Remember, there is a direct link between what you do everyday and your brand.

Point 5. is important. The traditional logic is that a brand, once defined, should remain unchanged until it's accepted by your target markets. This still stand true in many cases but you'll soon find out that peripherals attributes, such as products, will change overtime, sometimes even redefining your brand in the process.

It's all in the tactics

The development of any strategy should always start with a deep definition of the target markets. In this case, your employees. Do you truly know them? What are their characteristics? Aspirations? You need to define your internal market thoroughly just as would an external target market. Once done, you can properly identify your objective (including ROI), the most appropriate strategy, tactics, schedule and budget. The planning part is important but it's all in the tactics. In internal branding, what you do is more important that what you say. Here are a few examples of standard tactics that will help you develop your internal branding:

• Brand Benefit Communications
• Company Celebrations
• Internal Branding Campaigns
• Intranet Communications
• New Employee Orientations
• Newsletters/E-Newsletters
• Organizational Development
• Rewards & Recognition Events
• Team Building
• Etc.

Which one should you choose? It depends on three factors: time, labor and money. Your strategy and tactics will depend on which one you have most of (and who has time these days?)

Should you involve HR?

Before we go further, the answer is yes.

If you look at the list of tactics above you could quickly decide that this the responsibility of human resources, and many marketing manager would quickly agree. I disagree. As a marketer, if you are lucky to have a progressive HR Director, you will reap tremendous benefits by developing an internal branding strategy with him or her and work together in the implementation. Going further, internal branding is a company exercise and your employees should be involved. While the idea of creating an internal branding committee could quickly defeat the purpose, having people from different functions involved throughout the year is certainly a good idea.

Can you measure Internal Branding?

Like all branding related activities, measuring it is as difficult as measuring advertising effectiveness. Short of putting your employees to a test, conducting regular checks on their brand awareness, support, etc. is useful. Doing an internal brand audit on a yearly basis could be considered as part of your internal branding strategy anyway.

Conducted yearly, the Internal Brand audit can become your measuring yardstick. Covering the different angles your brand offer, it is a helpful tool and can be as simple as a survey or as complex as you want it to be. The simpler the better though as its aims is to both reinforce the value of the branding message and identify areas of improvement.

What's next?

It's been a while since Orison Swett Marden, the first editor of Success Magazine, talked about chivalry and honesty in the business field. These two powerful words would serve well in developing an internal branding strategy worthy of the business consumers deserve. In today's world the impact your employees have on your business is even more important. Gone are the days where all you were hiring were hands to do a job. Today, each employee comes with a complex set of behaviors, emotions and attitude that can make or break your brand in a single heartbeat or phone call. What is the use of investing thousands of dollars in marketing if each time your customers calls, the receptionist is rude or unwilling to help?
 

See Also:

1-2-3 Success!
Gone are the days where your value as an employee or vendor was linked to your loyalty and seniority. Today, companies are in a constant state of reorganization in response to the rapidly changing demands of the market. In a sense, you are functioning like your own personal corporation. And that means that you have the same need to differentiate yourself and build demand for your services among your target markets.

Small Business Branding: The Personal Connection
As the leader of a small business, how do you succeed in a dynamic world of increasing complexity with a much larger set of competitors? The answer seems too easy to be true:
 Be Yourself.

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Copyright (c) 2006 Frederic Moraillon

About The Author:

Frederic leads marketing for Business Objects in Asia-Pacific & Japan where, with his team, he develops and implements profitable marketing strategies aimed at helping customers and prospects develop their business through the awareness, use and development of performance management solutions. Frederic brings with him 15 years of diversified industry and functional experience enhancing revenues, profits and market share of multinational businesses operating in Asia Pacific. See http://sound-principles.blogspot.com/  )


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