Build brand love from the inside out

Heather Rast/Tree Full of Owls

If your sales and marketing teams have had conversations about social media, chances are those conversations centered on how to find constituents to join the company networks, how to incite those people to share content and engage the brand, or how to tie the activity and effort back to key business goals.

Brand love moves product. How can we encourage others to share the love to organically amplify interest-generating and conversion efforts? Good question. Maybe the answer is inside.

Few companies have figured out how to integrate social media effectively into the marketing mix to hasten sales movement or backfill the pipeline. Who, how and was-it-worth-it conversations like the one above are offshoots of higher-level discussions dissecting brand awareness, lead generation, and marketing efficiency – big-picture stuff focusing externally on customers and prospects.

Strategic and tactical conversations about increasing brand exposure online, growing web site traffic, and converting more prospects are taking place in both the conference rooms and the break rooms, at all levels of the organization. Everyone charged with business growth and revenue-building is searching for ways to cast a wider net around the fishes with the biggest spend and highest propensity to spread a favorable word about the brand. Our eyes are scanning the horizon.

Both types of conversations – those where the strategic roadmap is drawn and others where the tactical directives are defined – overlook or discount the role social media plays at the operational level, internally, where the thread lay that weaves all employees together, irrespective of seniority and role, to form the fabric of the company. After all, building a brand to grow the business isn’t achieved through one-way communication from a brand outward to its targets. It’s the multi-directional flow of information and communication detritus that customers piece together which informs their decision to buy or pass. What happens inside affects the choices of those outside, whether you realize it or not.

Said another way, if many customers buy not because of what your marketing says you are, but because of what customers glean from one another, from interactions with your sales forces and customer service, and from opinions formed by observing your employees, you had better give some thought to your internal brand-building before obsessing about what can or can’t be done through social media.

A couple of years ago, noted brand strategist Denise Lee Yohn wrote an article which examined the most common method by which companies measured brand-building efforts (for certain, a common objective of social media is to build the brand). Ms. Lee Yohn wrote that externally targeted practices involving customer touch points like quantifying advertising and promotion campaigns on brand equity were used by more than 50 percent of the companies she surveyed. These Fortune 500 companies were looking to external audiences to build their brand.

In the course of conducting the research upon which Ms. Lee Yohn’s article rests, she discovered that less than one-third of the companies interviewed reported measuring “how well the strategy is understood internally” and evaluating “individual employees on how well they support the strategy.” The main thrust of her article is that companies should shift brand-building from externally centered activities to more internally-directed efforts. She urges companies to scale back efforts designed to tell others who your company is and what you do, and focus more efforts on who you actually are and what you actually do (there’s disparity more often than you might think).

Could this lesson, which places emphasis on doing over self-promoting (or the “walk the walk” axiom), be one of the keys to succeeding in social media?

“Organizations must stop only using brands as outward-facing, image-oriented messages. Instead of thinking about marketing our brands, think about operationalizing them. [So operationalizing means]…putting your brand into the operations of your company and making it something every person can work with, for the purposes of achieving results…use it as a business tool.”

When the brand is operationalized, it becomes integrated into your company’s core operating system. Integration that’s simply intrinsic can expose new growth opportunities, soften the beachhead for entry into new markets, shape corporate culture, direct policies and processes, and foster the unity and focus necessary for operational excellence.

For some businesses, social media may be part of the net cast out into an ocean of customers, prospects, suppliers and influencers. The companies whose efforts yield the best catch don’t have special nets or know about secret holes where the fish are abundant.

Instead, the businesses which endeavor to build their brand with strategies including social media may find success with a phased approach. By first examining brand position and corporate culture (how people view and experience things from the inside), then using findings to identify gaps between what’s felt and what’s said, what’s experienced and what’s reported, companies can strengthen critical internal communication and raise brand affinity among employees. Employees can be some of the strongest brand advocates a business ever has. And their brand love is visible from the inside out to the customer.

Make any social media activity second to building a base of internal brand advocates. Their passion and affinity will be palpable and the alignment with business objectives will be lockstep.

Heather Rast is principal of Insights & Ingenuity, a digital marketing company in the Cedar Rapids area. Learn more at