Businesses and brands are inseparable. Every strategic decision, social media post and sales approach used by companies helps strengthen — or sabotage — their brand. According to Inc., almost 90 percent of organizations asked said it was critical to ensure brand image consistency across customer touch points.
Why? Because there's a measurable benefit to effective branding: On average, companies estimated a 23 percent boost to revenue when their brand generated consistent recognition and engagement. What's more, 71 percent recognize the potential for customer confusion if branding doesn't align with stated goals or if a presentation doesn't match corporate expectation.
For all the focus on better brand delivery and outcome measurements, however, many businesses ignore a critical component: Internal branding.
The Internal Brand Impact
How do employees engage with your brand? It's a question that's often overlooked — after all, your staff shapes your company's external value proposition and creates brand value for customers. But shifting workforce populations come with changes to employee expectations.
It’s worth noting that Millennials now make up the bulk of U.S. workers. And according to CNBC, 86 percent of Millennials surveyed said they would take a pay cut to work at a company whose corporate culture aligns with their own values. As a result, consistent internal branding is now critical for HR teams looking to recruit new talent and retain current staff: If external brand value propositions describe a company that's forward-thinking, environmentally conscious and values the individuality of its workforce, internal branding needs to match.
Employees have become consumers of internal brand identity. Just as consistent external branding can boost overall sales, consistent internal policies can help drive staff satisfaction.
Brand Equity and the HR Value Proposition
The ultimate goal of internal branding is the same as it is for external branding efforts: To generate brand equity. The Balance Small Business notes that brand equity is often considered intangible — for consumers, it's the impact a brand has on purchasing decisions driven by customer perceptions of company practices and products. Internally, brand equity comprises the alignment of stated brand goals with their actual implementation along with the ability of companies to embrace their own brand messaging.
While the concept of brand equity may be intangible, the benefits are quantifiable: According to Investopedia, consumers attach more value to products made by companies that create high brand equity — internally, these tangible benefits take the form of increased retention, engagement and productivity.
In practice, this means "environmentally conscious" companies taking steps to reduce internal waste by digitizing documents and using workspace collaboration tools or living up to recruitment promises about opportunities for growth within the organization.
Recent research highlights the value of successful internal branding across three key areas:
- Retention — Work from Chulalongkorn University notes that establishing a consistent internal brand has a positive impact on brand identification among employees. This, in turn, helps improve overall staff retention rates. According to the Center for American Progress, retention also drives cost savings: On average, staff turnover costs companies 21 percent of the lost employee's salary as they onboard, train and acclimate new workers.
- Engagement — Findings from the hospitality industry, meanwhile, suggests that internal branding both improves job satisfaction and staff loyalty, which in turn drives greater productivity: Engaged employees are 17 percent more productive, generate 20 percent higher sales and are absent 41 percent less than non-engaged staff.
- Corporate Identity — In a recent whitepaper, Internal Branding: A University's Most Valuable Intangible Asset, author Rex Whisman notes that effective internal branding can help overcome resistance to corporate-scale branding efforts, in effect using an "inside-out" identity development strategy to align staff culture with long-term branding goals.
Coming Up Short
The hard truth is that not all companies have great internal branding. In fact, Forbes reports that just 30 percent of employees have confidence that their company follows through on internal branding commitments. This leaves a disconnected 70 percent of employees that are less engaged and therefore less productive than their more satisfied colleagues.
To ensure internal branding has the desired impact, companies can start with a simple question: How do employees describe your brand and service offerings?
According to Business 2 Community, one telltale sign of a "brand alignment problem" is disparate brand descriptions. If one staff member defines your brand as socially conscious while another suggests that your biggest focus is on cost-cutting, chance are, you've got a disconnect.
Day-to-day this disconnect affects internal corporate culture, making it harder for staff to articulate key brand messaging and clearly communicate its impact. As the Forbes piece notes, this limits the ability of staff to authentically deliver brand value to customers, in turn reducing their overall satisfaction and engagement.
The Brand Marches On
It’s also worth noting that brands aren't static concepts. Changing corporate structures, market forces and customer expectations can all shift your brand focus, requiring a commensurate shift to your internal branding strategy.
Consistency is just as critical: The Inc. article reports that while 95 percent of organizations have branding guidelines, just one-quarter enforce these guidelines, leading to a full 60 percent of organizations creating internal and external marketing materials that are inconsistent with brand best practices.
Balancing the forces of brand consistency and change requires an adaptable strategy solution. First, companies must define key brand principles — both external and internal — and ensure they're followed across all written, visual and interactive communications. For HR teams, this creates a unified front when searching for candidates along with a simplified and straightforward set of value statements that clearly communicate company principles. This results in cohesive hiring policies that communicate brand values from initial contact to eventual employment offers.
Accounting for the changeable nature of brand messaging, meanwhile, requires regular reassessment of materials and mission statements. While there's no hard-and-fast rule here, yearly (or bi-yearly) evaluations of the brand impact that include employee feedback can help identify key trends and keep companies ahead of potential branding pitfalls.
This presentation on Medium states it simply: Every business is a brand.
The result? Without consistent messaging, both staff and consumers will create their own version of your brand — for better or worse. Externally, this impacts both the size of your potential client base and its composition. Internally, consistent commitment to the brand promise empowers HR to recruit new talent, reward employees and keep staff engaged while allowing other employees to clearly and accurately deliver brand messaging in their marketing efforts.