Why internal branding is as important as external branding…. if not more so

Why internal branding is as important as external branding…. if not more so

Every year, companies of all sizes across the world invest money and resources in external branding efforts, as they should. The objectives are many, including creating awareness, developing connections, and getting loyal customers.

When it comes to branding, different people have different ideas of what that really means. Some believe that it’s just another fancy way to define marketing, others identify it as the guardian body that protects logos and font types, many see it as a business strategy. The number of definitions for brand and branding is close to infinite.

Personally, I relate to the definition of brand as “what people say about you when you are not in the room” which is the definition that Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is credited with saying first.

It’s true, whatever brand image you are trying to portray, whatever brand promise your company has agreed upon, whatever values your brand believes to stand for, if your target audience doesn’t fall for it, if they don’t see it and don’t believe it, all branding exercises will remain just that, exercises.

In a world where audiences freely discuss brands online amongst their peers, where brands get slashed for contradicting themselves, or raised to glory for embracing powerful messages, what you say and how you act is open for everybody to see, judge and react to.

And I’m not just talking about giants like Nike or Starbucks. From pram makers (never get on a mum blogger’s bad side!) to the local bakery, everyone has a story, a brand to sell. Just how consistent are you with your purpose?

Now imagine this: you finally convince the C-suite of your company to invest in branding. You have your brand promise, your brand awareness campaign, you are tracking you customers’ behaviour, your brand is out there, loud and clear. Only to discover that every time a customer, or potential customer, calls your central line, your receptionist’s standard answer is “errr…?, …uh uh…not sure … hmm, no I can’t help”

What do you think is the image of your brand that the caller will get in their mind? Unfriendly, unprofessional, unreliable. And if by any chance one of the values that you so loudly promoted on the outside was something along the lines of “we are there for you”, well, you are in for a bad review, to say the least.

The same would apply to many other touch points: a rude cashier in your shop, a CEO’s interview gone wrong, the weak manager that drives talent away. Every single touch point tells your story, even more than any branding campaign will ever do.

Also, the even trickier part is that touch points are everywhere, and they are not just the obvious ones. For example, you might not regard a candidate for a role in your organisation as your target audience, hence whatever the experience with your brand it’s irrelevant for the purpose of your campaign. Now that might be the case, but what if this candidate was interviewed 2, 3, 4 times; what if they were asked to provide support material, to take time off their existing work hours to meet your company’s representative; and then your HR team chooses another candidate, and decides not to bother informing this candidate that they didn’t get the job? Today it’s just a candidate, tomorrow it’s an upset blogger venting their frustration on the net. Not to mention that one day they might be working for a potential client…

This is a time where people share; they share their experiences, their preferences, the things that make them happy and those that make them angry. You will never be 100% covered from making customers or potential customers unhappy, after all we all enjoy a good whinge. But you can definitely minimise the number of weak touch-points by bringing your employees to tell your side of the story.

Employee Value Propositions, brand roadmaps, town halls, are all tools that can help you. Engage your internal comms team, work with them to craft messages that resonate with your employees. Partner with HR, make branding a key element of the yearly reviews. Engage your C-suite, get them to align corporate strategies and branding. Listen, listen, listen. What do your fellow colleagues think of the company’s brand? Do they know what the company stands for? How can they support the brand in their role? Just because they are not customer facing doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t live and breathe the brand. We are talking among the “others” of brand advocacy: companies are only now starting to realise that their regular employees are regarded as way more trustable than executives.

Engaged employees, those loyal to the company that would go the extra mile to support your brand, usually only count for a maximum of 1/3 of your total workforce. It’s OK, aim for that, but make sure that the remaining 2/3 are not so far off that they become a hazard for your brand.

So, back to the example of the candidate that didn’t get the job. Your HR team, or the relevant manager, should know that their job is not just getting people in and out of the organisation, it’s the way they do it. Because they tell your story for you when they fail to inform someone that has invested in your brand with their time and hopes. They say “this company is not worth investing in as a potential employee, let alone as a customer”. The same goes for the receptionist and the weak manager. The first should know that every single interaction she has over the phone has a direct impact on the company’s ability to deliver its brand promise and fulfil customers’ expectations. Also, managers driving away talent create real costs for the business and should be held accountable for that. The last thing a company wants is to lose valuable employees or have unhappy employees sharing their unhappy thoughts online. They will be telling their story for you, and not a nice one.

Everybody in your organisation needs to know what the brand stands for and that by failing to deliver the brand’s values and promise, they fail the company. This is why internal branding is just as important as external branding, if not more.

Check the Brand inside-out infographic

Giulia Iannucci

Giulia Iannucci