Branding from the inside and out
The goal of every business leader is that all employees should wholeheartedly adopt the company’s brand/s as their own. But it’s only when an organization truly lives by the brand’s values and guidelines that it’s seen as being credible and genuine. This is one of the most difficult challenges an enterprise faces. With the right strategy and well-structured internal communications, however, internal branding can successfully be integrated with everyday work.
A company’s brand image is often based on a recipe formulated by a PR or communications agency. It usually comprises a set of rules governing the brand’s look, values and message. Concocting the recipe is an easy task, however, compared with the challenge of getting the whole organization on board with the values that the brand stands for.
It’s about making sure the right branding materials are used correctly in all external communications and that the way in which employees interact with the outside world and with each other mirrors the brand’s core values. This codex creates a uniform understanding of the brand, ensuring that customers, collaboration partners, suppliers and other parties of interest all immediately recognize the brand in every encounter with the company’s representatives. With a modern Document Management System, it’s easy to control the brand’s visual identity.
Furthermore, most people don’t have a problem with wearing a uniform or with removing personal jewelry that could be seen as being in conflict with brand values. In fact, it’s often a requirement in their work description. But learning the brand’s values and code of conduct, and making the company’s mission and vision your own, is a different ball game entirely. For this to happen, employees must be in agreement with and personally embrace the values, the rules and the goals.
The same mechanisms apply to both internal and external branding. The success and strength of a brand is ultimately dependent on how many people truly bond with it.
Participation and engagement build strong brands
How can you get employees to fully adopt the brand and everything it stands for? The simple answer is: engage them in the brand’s development. Ideally, the entire organization would shape the brand together from scratch, with all employees investing a piece of themselves in it. They would then care for it as if it were their own personal brand. Unless it’s a start-up, though, such a scenario is rarely an option. But every business can in fact involve employees in the brand development process. A brand is never ever the finished product and always needs continuous care and adjustments to stay relevant.
With a powerful, modern and mobile-friendly intranet, you have the tools and the opportunity to ensure that your whole organization participates in the brand’s development. For instance, you can:
- Create an online form for brand-related incidents where employees can report observations from their interactions with customers and other parties of interest as well as ideas for improvement. Customer service representatives and other employees in the frontline are the people closest to your market, constantly making observations of the brand’s strengths and weaknesses. Make use of their insights by making it easier for them to share!
- Challenge the organization. Create feedback forms relating to the brand and targeted at the whole organization or selected groups, and ask respondents to submit ideas for improvement based on the form’s questions. In Ideation Management-solutions it’s called Challenges. You can integrate an Ideation Management System on the intranet or use simple standard forms.
- Create communities and regular workshops in Teams, for example, where employees can discuss the brand.
Integrate external with internal communications
It’s of the utmost importance that you link your external with your internal communications so that your organization, and in particular your frontline personnel, is always kept fully informed about your external branding activities. If ignored, such an oversight can directly have harmful effects on the brand and marketing campaigns.
It’s always good, in fact, to test-drive external campaigns internally so as to ensure that your employees’ perception of the brand and the organization is in sync with what you’re communicating externally. For instance, when United Airlines 1996 changed their slogan from “Come Fly the Friendly Skies” to ”Rising” in an attempt to reverse the market’s negativity towards the airline industry, their campaign backfired due to internal opposition. The airline personnel was far from happy with the campaign, feeling that they were being criticized by their own corporate management. The campaign ricocheted, the brand took a hit and management learned an expensive lesson.
When Swedish company Oatly rebuilt their intranet in early 2020, a primary goal was to link their external with their internal communications. The brand identity, messages and tone of voice used externally are accordingly now being duplicated in the company’s internal communications. Read more about Oatly’s new intranet.
Keep your organization in sync with your external branding by:
- Creating a page on the intranet where the most crucial components of your external communications are published. These can, for instance, include visual identity guidelines, the branding platform and its core messages, customer service manuals, active and earlier marketing campaigns and the news feed running on the external website. In order to make the brand easy to grasp, many organizations produce a quick reference guide containing the messages, values and behavior codes that form the brand’s foundation. Back in the ’90s, Swedish airline company SAS gave every employee a copy of its Mao-inspired handbook, called SAS Little Blue, so as to reignite both employees’ and customers’ affection for SAS.
- Briefing the whole organization on upcoming campaigns and changes of brand messages via recurrent notifications on the intranet. This is especially vital for employees working on the frontline. With Omnia, it’s easy to keep employees in the loop via the mobile app.
- Engaging employees in upcoming campaigns and asking for their opinion on new branding tactics and messages. This is easily done via online surveys and communities. In Omnia you can, for instance, use the tool Quick Polls.
According to Colin Mitchell, Senior Vice President Global Marketing at McDonald’s, integration of external and internal branding will help the company achieve its goals and visions. When the same messages are at work on both sides of the company gates, it’s easier and more inspiring for employees to identify themselves with and live by the brand’s promises. As an outstanding example of this strategy, Colin highlights IBM:s transition in the late ’90s from being a traditional IT company to evolving into an e-business partner.
Openness and transparency strengthen brand community
If participation is one side of the engagement coin, community is the other. It’s not enough just to have employees participate in the brand’s development. If they are to be engaged and eager to promote its properties, then they must also feel an emotional attachment to the brand. Quite simply, the stronger the brand community, the stronger the value of the brand. In a workplace, it’s of course important to ensure that the collegial community is strengthened and that employees experience a positive connection with the overall operation.
From a communicative perspective, the organization’s sense of community is reinforced through transparency and openness among colleagues and between management and the organization. The digital workplace offers unique possibilities for “keeping all doors open”. Transparency and openness boost motivation by making people feel included, which in turn keeps your brand alive and kicking and constantly evolving.
To enhance transparency, you should make sure that employees with the same permission levels have access to the same information, that you always record online meetings, log conversations, and take and publish notes from every meeting. For management, it’s absolutely crucial to keep your employees constantly in the loop about where the company and its brand/s is today and where it’s headed, but more than anything else to ensure that your future is shaped in partnership with your whole organization.