Most companies know that their actions shape the perception of their brand to those outside the company. But building a solid brand has to start with the people inside your company before you can begin making an impression externally.
In this article, we’ll discuss how companies can foster brands that draw buy-in from their teams and how that drives internal affinity and brand growth. Read on to learn how strong brands build from the inside out to encourage effective collaboration and long-term brand efficacy.
What is Internal Branding?
When you market your brand, you’re most likely focused on how it appears to customers, and how you can convince people to buy into your brand in order to buy more of your products or services. Often, employees aren’t considered in that marketing effort, or are considered an afterthought. But it’s as important to convince employees of your brand’s value as it is for clients.
In order to buy into your brand, people on your team need to know who they are and where they’re headed while working for your company. That doesn’t just mean logistically where the company is headed, but also the type of identity the company wants to foster and inhabit. But beyond knowing that trajectory, they need to understand and believe in it.
It’s one thing to keep teams informed about corporate strategies and long-term goals; it’s another entirely to convince them of the importance of that vision and gain their personal investment into making it happen. Your employees are the people actually implementing your brand and bringing it to life; therefore they need to understand why it’s worth growing.
When that vision is effectively communicated and marketed to your team, it leads to more effective collaboration. Teams that understand and value the brand know what their job is and why they’re doing it, which drives intrinsic motivation to help it grow. It also leads to less confusion down the road when it comes to, say, strategizing a solution to a problem or prioritizing items for a budget.
Without any buy-in or personal investment, you run the risk of having a disconnect between what your brand promises and what your team is actually providing. When that happens, and customer expectations aren’t met, it damages the integrity of your brand and can lead to long-term challenges to correct any negative perception of your brand.
Internal branding is what builds that connection between your brand and the people actively involved in executing its strategy. It’s an ongoing process that needs to evolve as your brand and long-term corporate strategy evolves, but it’s one that is crucial to making sure that employees understand the overall mission of your organization and are unified by a purposeful strategy.
Sharing a Brand Vision: Why Does it Matter?
Whether externally or internally, every brand strategy starts with attention towards your mission, vision and values—the driving forces behind everything you do as a company. Your MVVs will be a crucial guide for communicating the corporate and brand vision to your team.
Implementing an understanding of these values early (such as during the hiring and onboarding process for new team members) is one way to drive a better understanding of what your brand stands for. When hiring, looking specifically for people who match those values will prove valuable to your team’s buy-in and connection to your brand.
But beyond hiring and onboarding, your brand values need to be implemented in the day-to-day processes and strategies that your team subscribes to. Link your internal and external messaging to ensure that employees are hearing the same things about your brand that customers hear. When those are aligned, your team understands how their jobs directly link to the satisfaction of customers and the success of your brand.
It’s also crucial to communicate how the success of your brand translates into success for your team. If your brand’s purpose is to help your customers thrive, then communicate how that mission also helps employees thrive in the long term. Demonstrating how the company’s growth ties into their personal and professional growth will further reinforce their commitment to the brand.
However, there are always pitfalls that can lead to over-corrections or mistakes. During the internal branding process, try not to get caught up in so much employee feedback that you lose sight of the purpose of the brand. While you look to your team for areas of improvement and growth for the brand, don’t cede control completely to the team, as they might not have the same high-level perspective that leadership has.
When different teams or departments start vying for their interests and conflict with each other, you run the risk of losing a common purpose for your brand, which is a necessity for building an internal brand. So begin the internal branding process with clear priorities and guidelines to keep efforts focused and under control.
Building from the Inside Out
Southwest Airlines represents a case study in the importance of internal branding. Their employee-first approach cultivates a strong internal culture that leads to more buy-in, more collaboration and a better experience for the customer. Southwest believes that their employees are the company, and therefore investing in them is the same as investing in the company.
Internal branding requires much of the same work that it takes to run an external branding campaign. You’ll need to start with research on your own employees to understand their needs and their mindset when it comes to supporting the brand values. Among other dimensions, you’ll need to understand:
- How information gets disseminated in the organization
- Where the different subcultures reside within your company culture
- Your team’s understanding of what the brand stands for
- What parts of the brand identity your team is/isn’t proud of
These will inform every aspect of the way they work, which in turn informs the way people see your brand from the outside. If these dimensions don’t align with your brand values, you can focus on those discrepancies to try and turn the internal brand around.
Once the research is complete, it’s time to strategize a comprehensive communications strategy, the same way you would if you were running an external marketing campaign. Utilize the skills of your marketing team to reinforce the brand values you’re trying to communicate, through intentional strategies that consider what matters to your team. Don’t just provide a new t-shirt with a slogan on it and call it a day; you’ll need to consider what makes people excited to work for your organization and build upon that.
At the end of the day, your employees are the most important stakeholders for your company. They create and deliver the product or services that cause customers to keep coming back. So build your brand from the inside out to provide a foundation for customers and other stakeholders that gives them a reason to believe in your brand.