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Internal Branding: Marketing from the Inside Out
Seven Principles for Building an Effective Internal Branding and Communications Program

By: Patrick Di Chiro, Chairman and CEO, THUNDER FACTORY

It would probably be safe to say that the most common element found in corporate vision/mission statements and values lists is “customer focused.”  At the same time, I would bet that a concept not commonly found in these same documents would be “employee focused.”

Virtually every company understands the importance of having a customer focused approach to business, especially in today’s turbulent and uncertain economic environment. So, why is it that so few organizations feel the need to focus on employees?  Companies spend millions of dollars to communicate their brands to customers, but rarely do they make the same effort to build that same brand with their employees.

This critical concept of being “employee focused” is at the heart of what I refer to as Internal Branding.

First, let me point out that being customer focused and employee focused are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are closely connected.  For any organization to live up to that core value of putting their clients first, they must first realize that their primary focus actually needs to be on their own people. The question is: “How are those employees/colleagues building and consistently delivering upon the brand promise internally?  If one can get that internal brand promise and process right, then delivering for clients is pretty well assured.

This “branding from the inside out” approach (Internal Branding) is in many ways the greatest untapped marketing and communications opportunity for companies and their brands. This whitepaper will outline seven key internal branding principles that anyone can employ to strengthen their brand and internal alignment, and achieve buy-in to drive better marketing results as well as vital employee satisfaction.

There are multiple reasons why Internal Branding is so under-leveraged by companies and organizations of all types. The fact is, organizations tend to be outward directed, mainly because that is what they were designed to do. Companies try to sell more products, more profitably. To accomplish these goals they need customers, and are almost single-mindedly focused on finding, cultivating and converting them. Non-profit organizations are not terribly different in this regard. Their mission typically is to provide services and support for members, stakeholders and other constituents. Again, the focus tends to be externally oriented.

Another reason why Internal Branding has traditionally been a stepchild in the marketing mix is that it does not fall neatly into one area of the corporate structure. Actually, Internal Branding bridges a number of corporate departments, including marketing, HR, training, corporate communications/PR, customer service, and operations. The fact that Internal Branding touches on all of these corporate areas ensures that, as a function, it frequently lacks an essential internal champion (should it be the COO, CMO, head of HR or VP of Corporate Communications?). This can lead to confusion and ultimately in-action.

Internal Branding is indeed a multi-departmental and multi-disciplinary function. That makes it even more important for the success of your company, organization and brand.

Brand Definition

My favorite definition of a brand is “a promise made and a promise kept… consistently over time.” If you are in the business of building, nurturing and growing a brand (or brands), wouldn’t you want to make sure that you were keeping your promises — first and foremost to your employees — before you reached out to any other audiences? After all, they are customers and clients, too. With consumer products, they are probably major users and customers of your brand. As such, shouldn’t those employees be loyal advocates of and even evangelists for your brand?

That employee brand advocacy and evangelism represents the Holy Grail of marketing (and business overall), but how often does it really occur? How many times in your interactions with representatives of other companies — either as a consumer, partner, customer or client — do you feel like they truly understand their brand and are passionate about it? Think about it: If they don’t deeply care about and believe in their brand, why should you?

There are some great examples of companies and organizations that have embraced Internal Branding with incredible success. They may or may not realize that what they are doing is Internal Branding, but that is what it amounts to. Some of these brands include (the fast growing online seller of shoes), Southwest Airlines and the Marine Corps. All three of these entities have built category leading brands by treating their people as critically important audiences and stakeholders, and holding them accountable for delivering on the organization’s brand promise.

Seven Key Principles to Internal Branding

In order to build a strong Internal Branding Program, it is important to consider the following seven key principles:

  1. Co-Creation Just as effective external marketing is no longer about just “telling and selling,” Internal Branding needs to be a collaborative effort between management and employees, and amongst employees themselves. From the beginning, you should not be thinking about creating your brand and then educating your employees about it. It is much more effective to “co-create” your brand in concert and close collaboration with your employees. President Barack Obama’s remarkable campaign in 2008 demonstrated the incredible power of leading and creating from the bottom up rather than directing by the top down. Candidate Obama was brilliant at “co-creating” all the key elements of his historic campaign. That is superb Internal Branding at work.

  2. Larger “Purpose” Defining your business and brand around a larger purpose can inspire and motivate employees and other key stakeholders.  It demonstrates that your organization is about more than just making money or winning.  Having a purpose is ultimately about making a difference and improving peoples lives.  Unlike a philanthropic or charitable cause that a company might get behind, a purpose springs directly form the strategic positioning of the company/brand.  As such, it can have a profound, and very positive, effect on that most important audience – employees. Basing an Internal Branding program on a larger purpose that your people can get excited about can be one of the best ways to create and enhance that much needed alignment between the needs and interests of your company and your employees.

  3. Empowerment Yes, I realize this is over-used corporate jargon. That said, empowerment is still central to an effective Internal Branding effort. You need to “empower” your people with the tools, information and support to live your brand and represent it consistently in the way you want it to be perceived. The absence of that empowerment usually leads to zero employee brand advocacy.

  4. Education This is fundamental to effective Internal Branding, but it is much easier said than done. How many times in your career have you experienced a corporate education effort that really inspired you and/or had a tangible, lasting effect? But, without effective, focused and inspiring educational support, Internal Branding activities will not amount to much. It probably goes without saying that the education I am referring to is not just monthly employee town hall meetings, brown baggers with the CEO, email campaigns, corporate intranets or employee orientation sessions. Internal Branding education has to be relevant, timely and very useful for your people. Ideally, you should be “co-creating” these educational initiatives with your employees.

  5. Accountability Internal Branding requires giving employees much greater responsibility for creating and delivering the brand experience. In doing so, we also need to hold employees and management accountable to the goals of the Internal Branding program. As part of this, the Internal Branding objectives and key metrics need to be built into the performance goals of both employees and management. Here again, true alignment is vital between employees wants, needs and desires and the corporate objectives and strategy. This is particularly true for an effective Internal Branding effort.

  6. Shared Incentives As we enlist our colleagues as vital players in an Internal Branding initiative (while also holding them accountable for their performance and results), we need to make sure we are providing incentives that are appropriate for, and commensurate with, this effort. Of course, incentives are a cornerstone of organizational management, cohesion and success, but they become especially important when we are truly making employees front line participants/principals in the branding process. By the way, incentives are not just compensation based. You should be looking for and developing other ways to motivate employees to make them true advocates of your brand.
  7. Measurement Another one of the roadblocks to greater adoption of Internal Branding programs is the perceived lack of measurability. And, I am not just referring to employee performance reviews. Measurement is just as important to the successful Internal Branding program as it is to an external marketing campaign. From the beginning, you should establish clear goals and the metrics to measure how you are doing relative to accomplishing those goals. Then, you need to make sure everyone agrees to these goals and metrics and signs up for them. As they say, if you can measure something, you can improve it. By building a clear and agreed-to measurement methodology into your Internal Branding program, you will be taking a key step toward ensuring its effectiveness and impact.

There is significant potential for you and your organization to improve performance, strengthen your corporate culture, and increase results, through Internal Branding. This really is an untapped and under-leveraged process that bridges multiple organizational functions.

Internal Branding works. And it is needed more than ever in light of today’s uncertain global economic environment. I strongly suggest that you consider putting an Internal Branding program to work for you and your organization.  

About the Author
Patrick Di Chiro has more than 30 years of international experience in marketing, branding and communications. He has worked at, and for, some of the world’s leading brands and marketing-communications agencies. Before launching THUNDER FACTORY in 2000, Patrick was Chief Communications Officer for E*TRADE Group, the pioneering web-based brokerage and banking company. Prior to that, Patrick was head of global technology and e-commerce marketing for Visa International, and Partner with Ketchum, the world’s fifth largest public relations firm. Earlier in his career, Patrick was director of international marketing and communications for American Express Company.

Since its founding in 2000, THUNDER FACTORY has built a national reputation for delivering integrated, big idea-driven marketing services and solutions that help clients build their businesses. The firm provides a comprehensive range of services in five key areas: integrated marketing strategy/brand development; communications (including online/offline advertising, public relations, social media, collateral development and event marketing); digital/Interactive marketing (including web development, online/email marketing, mobile marketing, search marketing and online promotions); direct response marketing; and partnership marketing/sales promotions. THUNDER FACTORY's clients range from Fortune 50 corporations to leading mid-sized companies and start-ups, including McKesson Corporation, TD AMERITRADE, RSM McGladrey and Omni-ID.

Eric Granof
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