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Each and every year, companies invest millions of dollars into their branding strategy. In a digitalized world dominated by the likes of TripAdvisor and Twitter, where experiences and reviews are a free-for-all and accessible 24/7, a negative review can bring down a brand overnight. Ensuring the right image of your business in the public eye, therefore, has never been more important.

Fact: 47% of consumers around the world trust traditional paid advertising; a huge 92% trust earned promotions such as word-of-mouth recommendations from friends or impartial reviews.

In a saturated market in which those at the face of our organization are the key differentiator to set us apart from competitors, engaging and aligning our employees to the company brand may be the single greatest priority to ensure business success.

Yet despite its indisputable value, many organizations have yet to extend the same investment into their internal branding.

“Success in business is all about people, people, people. Whatever industry a company is in, its employees are its biggest competitive advantage. As Virgin Pulse CEO Chris Boyce said recently, “They’re the ones making the magic happen – so long as their needs are being met.”” – Sir Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin

Our employees form ‘touchpoints’ for our engagement with customers, consumers and potential ‘reviewers’ in a multitude of ways within their roles; whether that be your shop clerk processing a customer transaction or your HR Manager interviewing your next would-be employee. If those employees aren’t invested in your brand or engaged with your business, something as small as a throwaway comment or a lack of feedback could cause long-term damage to your organization.   

To build a strong and successful brand, your organization requires an inside-out approach that begins with the embedment of high levels of engagement in your employees.

What is an internal branding strategy?

what is internal branding

As the concept of branding has grown and evolved, it has come to mean many things: a unique design, a sign, a symbol or certain words; anything unique, designed to differentiate an organization from its competitors. Fundamentally, it’s this point of ‘individuality’ that will, in time, become associated with a level of credibility, quality, and satisfaction in the eyes of the customer.

But what does that mean to your employees?

Actually, that is precisely the point. Internal branding is about connecting employees with your external brand; showing them what that brand means to them and ensuring they understand and really live the company mission.

“Internal branding is a corporate philosophy that focuses on bringing the company’s core culture, identity and premise to its employees as well as its consumers, and usually looks to make workers at all levels “ambassadors” or true representatives of the company and its values.” (Source: Wisegeek)

How do you go about creating and embedding an internal brand that will transform workers into true brand ambassadors who contribute to the success of your business?

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1. Define your values and mission

internal branding values mission

Without a defined direction, your business will lack an identity or purpose with which your employees can identify. Defining your mission as an organization and stating those philosophies or principles that make you, “YOU” will communicate to your employees exactly what is important. Companies with a higher sense of purpose outperform others by as much as 400% (Jim Stengel).

Having a mission and values gives your employees a sense of purpose to their role, taking the mindset from “I’m doing a job to earn my wage” to “I’m contributing to something bigger”.

Internal brand win: One of the winners of this initiative was professional services giant KPMG, whose ‘Purpose Program’ launched in 2014 with the following challenge put to employees; “what my job means to me”.

Pioneered by leaders who discussed KPMG’s contribution to events of worldwide importance, the company was overwhelmed by an astounding 42,000 entries via its employee intranet, with staff creating posters that included a personal testimonial relaying the “meaning” they derived from their job. From “I advance science” to “I help farms grow”, the responses demonstrated the value individuals derived outside of simply completing the 9 – 5. The company went on to have its most profitable year in its 118-year history.

Want to create values to engage your workforce but unsure where to start? Our blog “How to build company values (that your employees actually like)” outlines to process for defining and rolling out your own sense of purpose.

2. Engage your People

internal branding engage people

Your internal brand is about your people, defined by your people and driven by your people. So get them involved.

Start by obtaining feedback from your employees on their perception of your brand and get their input in defining and shaping it. Using employee surveys, focus groups, open discussion forums and Q & A sessions, you can provide employees with a sense of ownership that will increase engagement and receptiveness to the concept.

Consider assigning dedicated people to internal change communication and internal branding, picking out those engaged employees who are well-positioned to become ‘brand ambassadors’ for the company. Employees are more likely to buy-in to positivity about their organization from their peers than when receiving the input top-down from management; this breeds a level of belief that individuals are championing the brand because they believe in it – not because they have to.

3. Give your internal brand an identity – and align it with the external

internal branding identity

Your external brand is defined; it will typically have its own logo, font, set colors, perhaps a determined tone of voice, its own taglines, key statements, look and feel. Why shouldn’t your internal brand have the same? A memorable identity will help your internal brand stick and translate that ‘meaning’ into the everyday roles of your employees.

When designing, it’s essential to relate your internal brand to the external; that connectivity will help employees understand how the two relate and ensures integrity. If your company is putting out one message to its consumers (e.g., “our number one priority is customer service”) and a very different one to its employees (e.g., “our number one priority is to be the biggest provider in the market by volume of customers”), this mismatch will cause confusion and disillusionment with your company’s purpose and direction. Drawing on the same ‘big ideas’ promoted in external advertising will not only resonate better with employees, but can actually result in more distinctive and authentic external marketing.

However, putting an individual spin on your internal brand will ensure it is distinct and give employees a sense of ownership. For example, take your existing logo and assign a spin-off color or name for internal communications purposes, or create an intranet name or brand associated with your external brand.

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4. Communicate your internal brand strategy and embed it

internal branding communication

So you have your defined “purpose” in the form of a mission and values; you have employee-led input into what your organizational brand is and you’ve created the logos, statements, tone of voice and design bits to make it stand out. Now, it’s time to communicate it.

Creating an emotional connection between employees and the brand is not something that can be achieved via an internal memo and the odd poster on the staff noticeboard. To ensure that connection informs the way your employees approach their roles and that your brand continues to underpin each decision they execute, you need to initiate a proper launch for the brand.

Use a multi-pronged approach to introduce and explain the messages and then reinforce by applying your internal branding to every internal touchpoint. Consider running launch workshops, an internal brand launch ‘party’ or townhall announcement, design a staggered communication plan and ensure more detailed information is easily accessible via your employee intranet.

Consider the day-to-day interactions experienced by your staff and weave your internal brand into the fabric of those experiences; for example, including the internal brand statement or mission and values on your intranet homepage and internal email signatures, on staff posters on-premise, or perhaps as the login screen for their HR or finance logins that they access regularly. Remember that this process is about inspiring, motivating and persuading your employees, not simply informing; so be creative and encourage two-way conversations by providing platforms for feedback and discussion.

Finally, make your internal brand something people talk about. Make it easily defined and communicated (think short, snappy and memorable phrases or straplines, rather than a 10-page book of ‘brand guidelines and principles’) and ensure it resonates.

5. Recognize, reward and incentivize

internal branding rewards

One common failure of internal branding initiatives is the lapse of focus and motivation after the initial launch. To truly drive a successful internal branding strategy and transform the engagement of employees, it needs continual reinforcement from higher management.

Got an employee, or several, who have demonstrated a true ‘living the brand’ approach to their work? Recognize their efforts and shout about it – use internal communication channels and your employee intranet to share the story and demonstrate how your brand translates into the day-to-day roles of the people.

Go one step further and set incentives or competitions to truly embed the principles and drive performance. At Interact, our peer-to-peer recognition program includes the use of #hashtagging the values of the business when nominating a colleague for recognition. Those who have been tagged as “courageous” “passionate” or for “thinking BIG”, for example, will be entered into a monthly draw to win a reward.  When it comes to creating brand ambassadors, remember that money alone is often insufficient;

“People think more frequently about noncash tangible incentives (such as merchandise and travel) than cash incentives and as the frequency of thought increases, performance increases,” (Professors Scott A. Jeffrey and Gordon K. Adomdza, ‘Human Performance’. Source: Inc.com)

A rewarding investment

Building and embedding an internal brand strategy takes time and investment. However, the rewards can be extensive. Engaged employee brand ambassadors contribute to tangible returns for your business, including:

  • ADVOCACY: 78% of engaged employees would recommend their company’s products and services
  • RETENTION: Highly engaged organisations can reduce staff turnover by as much as 87%
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE: 70% of engaged employees say they have a good understanding of how to meet customer needs
  • REVENUE AND RETURN: During a study, companies with highly engaged employees improved operating income by 19.2% over a 12 month period, according to The ISR Employee Engagement Report (Towers Perrin-ISR (2006) Source: Orchestra Communications)

And many more.

Can you afford not to?

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