Lynn Manternach/Tree Full of Owls
Your employees are your primary brand communicators. Do you know what they are communicating?
Internal branding is about connecting employees with the corporate brand. They want to understand how their efforts intersect with corporate brand efforts in a relevant way.
Employees can’t live a brand they don’t feel, don’t understand or don’t believe in. They want to be informed, inspired and motivated. When internal branding is authentic, employees are engaged and willing to help tell the story of the brand because they feel personally connected.
So how do you get them connected?
First, of course, you have to understand your organization’s brand well enough to communicate it. If you don’t have a clearly understood and articulated brand, that’s where you’ll need to start.
What is the current internal brand environment? An employee engagement survey can measure the alignment of your service, employees and systems to your brand. What is working? What is not working? What needs to happen to close the gap between the actual and the ideal brand behaviors of those responsible for delivering the brand? Your research should be designed to help you focus and prioritize your efforts in the areas that will have the greatest impact.
Use the research findings as the foundation for a focused internal communications plan. For best results, keep it simple. When it comes to making internal communications effective, the same rules apply as with external customers: keep it clear, simple and consistent; speak in a language your audience understands – avoid jargon; and frame it in the context of the “what’s in it for me” factor.
The external brand must be aligned with the internal brand. Successful brands build loyal relationships with customers. Those relationships are built by employees, and are a result of consistent delivery of the brand promise. Customers notice the difference between what you promise them and what they get. If your employees don’t clearly understand the expectations that are being set by your external communications, they cannot deliver the promised experience.
The bigger your organization, the more it takes to educate and align your employees. But it’s worth the effort, because the only way your brand can be properly explained to your customers is when your people are able to articulate it.
While successful internal brand building is highly dependent upon consistent and effective internal communication, it’s about much more than that. The brand expectations have to be woven throughout the DNA of the organization. Make sure new employee orientation, compensation and bonus structures, career development training, mentorship programs, reporting systems – everything – is tied to the brand strategy. The only way internal branding will work is if the effort is seen as the corporate strategy, not just a communications platform.
Living the brand is definitely the most challenging part of the brand process. It is not something that can be controlled by any single individual. Communicating the importance of the delivering the brand experience and giving the brand top priority is the CEO’s job, but the delivery of the brand experience can only happen through the organization’s employees. They are the ones who touch the customers who want the brand experience they heard about in the marketing materials.
Carefully crafted marketing materials can only propel a company so far. It’s typically the customer experience that creates the kind of energy and word of mouth referrals needed to sustain a brand.
Stay focused on the touch points between your customers and your employees to make sure efforts are consistently on target and on brand. Give your employees the autonomy they need to provide the expected brand experience when the unexpected happens. Those are the moments when your brand has the potential to shine – or not.
Ultimately, this is about culture. It’s not about a screen saver, mouse pad and coffee cup with the company logo on it for every employee. It’s about what lives behind that logo in the hearts and minds of your employees. If you can successfully provide your employees with the information, inspiration and motivation they need to embrace the brand and everything it stands for, they will be prepared to inform, inspire and motivate your customers.
Your brand – and your bottom line – will benefit.
Lynn Manternach is brand arsonist and president at MindFire Communications Inc. (www.mindfirecomm.com) in Cedar Rapids and the Quad Cities. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.