You’ve spent hours working with focus groups and weeks (if not months) working with your agency to develop your external branding. You’ve flipped the switch, and everything looks incredible. Your drop benefitted with a nice little bump. Your campaign may even win you and your agency an award or two.
Fast forward three months and you’re back in the same spot you were 12 months ago. Now what? You could’ve sworn what you needed was a rebranding effort to dust off the cobwebs of stale campaigns. More free play? New campaign? New agency? What’s missing? For some answers, you may need to look inside.
Does the employee experience reflect your brand?
Do your employees know what your brand even means, and do they feel they have the tools to deliver the promise you’re making in your advertising?
Do your OPERATIONS reflect the brand promise?
Every year, companies around the world invest thousands if not millions of dollars in developing their brands. Your budget may or may not be as robust, but whether you spend $10,000 or $100,00, that expenditure impacts your bottom line and can often represent an opportunity cost to have done something else just as important to some other department. The missing piece could have been right in front of you all along – your INTERNAL brand.
Internal branding is less about a logo and colors and more about a philosophy that will focus employees and your operations. It is centered on the company culture and promises to customers, employees, and partners, creating a passionate army of ambassadors. Although it has a slightly different focus, it is still an integral part of your external branding.
Look around at the companies that are successfully growing. Take Amazon as an example. It’s easy to say that Amazon is successful because it offers the easiest way to shop, but some may argue that Amazon succeeds because at its core there is a culture of innovation – a single mission focus to deliver an outstanding customer experience. In her book Fusion, author Denise Lee Yohn calls this “brand-culture fusion – the full integration and alignment of external brand identity and internal organizational culture.” She argues (convincingly) that companies “can unleash great power when you fuse together your organization’s two nuclei: your culture — the way the people in your organization behave and the attitudes and beliefs that inform them (i.e., ‘the way we do things around here’) — and your brand or brand identity — how your organization is understood by customers and other stakeholders.”
Many organizations currently operate with the idea of culture being about providing logo items to employees or creating parties and celebrations. But culture is often experienced and seen in many unspoken ways. Too often, these ways do not match up to what we claim our culture to be.
How many of you laud or stress the importance of excellent customer service? Now, how many of you have a formalized training and expectation around what is considered excellence? How many executives attended said training? Or, rather, how many of your executives had meetings or calls that couldn’t be rescheduled? How many did you see sneaking peaks at their smartphones during the training?
What if your brand is about warmth, but communications are always done through emails posted on a bulletin board?
Savvy leaders know a strong brand can deliver results. Savvy leaders know a strong culture can do the same (sometimes even better). How savvy are the leaders that see the nuclear reaction that can come from fusing culture and brand? You will create something that cannot be matched. Competitors will always be able to match WHAT you do but never HOW or WHY you do it.
Additionally, as we look to emerging demographics for the future of our businesses, it’s essential to keep in mind that consumers are increasingly choosing to support businesses based on their values. Deliberately linking your brand to your culture to the values of your customers can give you an advantage over your competitors. And, don’t forget the digital platforms that allow employees and customers to report to their circles the good, the bad, and the ugly broken promises of our brands.
So, how can you go about creating an internal brand that will enhance your external one?
What makes you, YOU?
The first step must be to define your values and your mission. Without direction, your operation will lack purpose, creating a plethora of wasted resources. Having a clear mission will give your employees that needed sense of purpose. Companies with a sense of purpose have been known to outperform those without one by as much as 400%. A clear understanding of purpose can change an employee’s attitude from “I’m doing my job and earning my paycheck” to “I’m contributing to something I believe in AND getting paid.” Define a mission that will make employees want to come to work and do a good – make that great – job.
In a void, an internal brand is nothing more than tone-deaf advertising if it is not created and embraced by everyone. So, get everyone involved. Get input and feedback from all areas and layers, starting with line employees and up through management. Use focus groups and surveys, discussions, forums and Q&As or “lunch and learn” events in the EDR. When you provide employees with a sense of ownership, they will be receptive to concepts and ensuring success.
Give your internal brand an identity that matches the external brand.
External brands typically have a well-defined style guide that will address everything down to the tone of voice and key statements. Internal communications are often left to the creative genius of an admin or employment coordinator. These folks may be very gifted communicators but can lack clear brand direction, resulting in a different look, feel and tone for every piece of communication. While this may seem fun, your internal communications should reflect the same attention and thought that is given to external communications. It is essential that the internal and the external reflect connectivity to assist employees in understanding how the internal and external are related. When you draw on core ideas for both your internal and external communications, it will be easy for employees to see the vision. Furthermore, it will give them a clear vision to influence the decisions they often have to make on the fly.
Launch more than a poster.
You’ve done all the work to design a mission and vision you think will make a difference. You’ve included all areas of the operation you could have? You’ve worked with your agency to develop the tools you will need to distinguish yourself in the marketplace. Launch day for customers consists of a multi-media campaign using all the great media channels. You’ve created events for customers, and you’ve ensured something new and exciting is waiting for them in the mailbox. And, finally, you put up a poster in the back of the house. #fail
When you consider the vital roles employees have, in the success (or failure) of your brand, you must value them as much as your best customers. Consider a multi-pronged launch that will introduce and explain the messages to all employees in an engaging way. Consider launch parties, town halls or workshops to engage them in the brand and the promises you want to be made — and kept — to customers.
Communicate consistently and in-brand.
Imagine the disconnect employees feel when you communicate to customers that service and attention are your number one goal and yet your memo to the call center is about cutting down on call times. Your brand has to be the underpinning of everything you do and say so that it will create a connection for everyone at the company. Additionally, consider how you communicate to everyone, including your internal audiences. Small things add up to a bigger brand picture. Consider handwritten notes rather than memos or pre-printed materials if your brand is about a personal touch. Know birthdays and important dates or provide appropriate CRM tools to help front-line employees if your brand is based on relationships.
Hire for your mission.
Though last in this list, hiring deserves a much higher spot. The success or failure of your company can often rest squarely on your employees. I’ve had to hire in some markets I had not even heard of before joining the company. I’ve had to hire table service employees in a market where the only other food service job was fast food. Hiring the right people is easier said than done. Cultivate your culture to become a talent magnet. Rely on brand expectations as well as job duties. Utilize structured interviewing techniques and scoring, which can emphasize the brand expectations. Gather feedback from others. Convenience store QuickTrip has established a reputation for great hiring, despite the gas station C-store stereotype. Becoming an employee is more than an application submission and a quick background check. The process includes testing for appropriate skills that develop brand habits such as becoming fast and good at the registers. And the rigorous onboarding process ensures the formation of a real team. Some employees say they never realized what being part of a team truly meant until they worked for QuickTrip. Because of this, the team is an integral part of the process.
Invest in your external and internal brand. Employees and the operations ARE the brand touchpoints that can either create synergy or friction with your advertising. If you have the luxury of a “brand management” position, that person should be knowledgeable of the operation. They should work with the operations teams to understand and execute against the brand strategy. And if you can’t execute against the strategy, you might want to rethink it.
Although marketing by committee is a recipe for disaster, I will continue to encourage everyone to stop creating and making brand decisions in the marketing or executive offices alone. If employees are not engaged with the brand, they will miss the opportunity to deliver on the promise and feel like an essential part of something bigger. Strong brand building requires that you start at the bottom of the iceberg. Otherwise, you have an ice cube floating in the water and quickly melted.
Many of us work in very saturated markets where we face competition for that weekly visit every day. A key to distinguishing yourself is to engage your employees and align your operations to create consistent and authentic brand moments.
A version of this column appeared in the January 2019 issue of Casino Journal.