MindFire Communications, Inc.
Inside out branding
May 5, 2008 | Inga Rundquist
A long time ago, a brand was a burn scorched into an animal’s hide – a visible external mark that symbolized ownership and insured quality.

Over time, most companies have focused their attention on the most visible aspects of a brand – the logo and tagline, the carefully crafted advertising campaign, or perhaps the cool web site that was just launched.But, just like so many years ago, the brand is still all about what’s under the surface.

A lot of people mistakenly believe that branding initiatives come from the marketing department. Branding success is actually very dependent upon other functions within the company. In order for branding to drive growth, it has to start inside the company. The internal branding plan has to be developed and implemented with the same level of importance as the external branding plan.

The concept behind internal branding is simple. It’s a matter of aligning employees with the corporate brand and its values. That can’t happen unless employees really understand the company brand.

The difference between an average corporate brand and a great one is employees who actively and enthusiastically engage in delivering the company’s brand promise day in and day out. All the branding initiatives aimed at the customer are meaningless if the company’s employees are not brand ambassadors. Every employee either contributes to the company’s brand or impacts it in a negative way.

Most businesses – especially service businesses – communicate their brands significantly more through employees and their interactions among themselves and customers than by external marketing communications.  If your employees believe in the brand and live it every day, your customers, potential customers and potential employees will believe it as well.

Several steps will help your employees develop a brand culture:

  • A cross-functional brand team
  • A strategic internal brand plan
  • Internal measurement

The brand team needs to be made up of a cross-functional team to accelerate buy-in and facilitate the consistent communication of the brand promise and what it means across the organization.

The team needs to include a variety of key players, including marketing communications, human resources, change agents from across the company (not just senior level people), as well as senior managers. The most critical player in the success of this brand initiative is the CEO.  If employees can clearly see that brand building is a priority for the CEO, they will embrace it as a priority as well.

The goal of this cross-functional team is to help bridge the communication gaps between departments and other internal silos and form a seamless flow of responsibility and communication. The brand team also plays an important role in the implementation of the internal brand marketing plan.

A basic internal brand marketing plan has three broad objectives:

  • Brand education: Make sure every employee clearly understands the brand promise and how it is experienced internally and externally every day.
  • Brand resources: Give every employee the resources needed to bring the brand to life on a daily basis.
  • Brand engagement: Make employees active participants in brand building.

Branding is a constant process. To improve the process you have to know what’s working and what’s not working. Use internal research to confirm that your messages are getting across, and that you have removed all possible barriers for employees.

Find out how well your internal training and communication initiatives are working, and ask employees for their suggestions. Consider launching an internal survey regularly – perhaps every six months initially – to confirm that your efforts are on track and identify areas that need increased attention.

With your internal branding firmly in place, you’re finally ready to tell the rest of the world about your brand. You can be confident that the customer brand experience will be everything you’ve promised. After all, that’s the whole point of branding.

- Lynn Manternach, Ph.D. This article originally appeared in the Tree Full of Owls column in the Corridor Business Journal.

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