Driving your brand from the inside

30 Aug 2022 by Steven Giannoulis

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At Insight Creative, we do a lot of brand work for clients. From developing new brands right through to repositioning and refreshing established brands. This work constantly reinforces to me the symbiotic relationship between culture, your internal brand, and the connection your external brand makes with your audiences. We call this inside out branding and it drives how we approach all brand projects. All successful brand projects - inside and out – articulate our client’s value proposition effectively and cohesively to all its audiences, including its people.

Your external brand is how your customers see your business. It captures who you are, what you stand for, and addresses their question “why choose these guys over the other options available to me?” Logos, colours, words, images and the other visual identity aspects are all important to building a cohesive brand. However what really drives how your customers perceive your brand is the experience they have each time they come into contact with you. For me, brands aren’t so much what you say but what audiences experience.

A brand experience is the collection of multiple single interactions, many of which involve your employees. From sales, to customer service, to distribution, to your 0800 number, right through to your after sales support services. At all these touchpoints it’s your people who actively deliver your brand promise. Your staff should be able to demonstrate your brand value proposition.

Your external brand effectively inspires engagement, purchase, loyalty, and advocacy from your customers. And given how important the brand experience is for driving how your customers perceive you, a successful brand starts on the inside, equipping your employees with the knowledge, skills, resources, and motivation to deliver on the promises your organisation makes to customers. That’s your internal brand.

An internal brand – often referred to as your employer brand -  is linked to your employer value proposition (EVP) and to your culture. It’s what inspires engagement and loyalty from your employees.

Building an internal brand is about bringing brand identity, values, and vision together to help your staff understand the what and why behind your purpose, your strategy, and your brand propositions. Understanding this allows them to know where they fit in, how to play their part, and empowers them to be the ambassadors of your brand. 

Essentially, if you want consumers to love your brand, you must first work on getting your own employees to fall in love with it. It’s not surprising then that some of the world’s most valuable brands like Apple, Google, and Salesforce, and even our very own Air New Zealand, are ‘employers of choice’, attracting and fostering great people who demonstrate the company’s brand positioning.

The ultimate goal of an internal brand strategy is to ensure all employees understand and buy into the company's purpose and culture, and are empowered to live it. Achieving this ensures your company culture underpins, embodies and delivers on your external brand promise.

When you attract and foster a team who share your vision and values and you also have customers who buy into and support your purpose, your brand becomes fully cohesive. This is what energises and motivates your people, enhancing and growing your external reputation. One feeds the other but it always starts internally. Get the inside right – and the outside follows.

Building a strong internal brand

There no single right way to build a strong internal brand, as every organisation, its culture, its positioning, and its challenges are unique. There are a number of things we’ve learnt throughout our years of working on internal branding projects that you should consider as part of your internal brand strategy.

  • Always start by listening. Listen to your people as they know a lot about what’s really going on in your organisation and how things really get done. They see the barriers and opportunities to good brand experiences. They are often the closest to customers, and therefore the best voice for what your customers need and want from you.
  • Engage all staff – across the whole business - in defining your mission, purpose, values and brand proposition. Wide inclusion gives you a broader perspective, but also allows staff to feel a sense of ownership of the final brand positioning. 
  • Openly express your brand story and proposition to all staff, ensuring they understand the why, what’s important, and what that means for them in their everyday work – whether they come into contact with customers directly or not.
  • Express a higher purpose in your brand story, something that transcends the work you do every day and gives your people a reason to rally together and to give their all in order to be part of something bigger.
  • Hire and develop people who embody your company’s brand qualities and are passionate about your purpose. These people are more likely to deliver on your brand promise and will also attract similar, like-minded employees. 
  • Display your brand, your purpose, and your values around the office to constantly remind and reinforce to staff what’s important. Incorporate them in your internal communications, taking every opportunity to link your actions and results directly back to your purpose and brand promise.
  • The actions and opinions of their peers are a great influencer of how staff feel and act. Ensure that the team and individual efforts and results you celebrate and reward are aligned with the culture you want to create. 

Internal vs external – same vs different?

I often get asked by clients about the value of a having an internal brand separate from your external brand. What’s critical here is that there must be a strong alignment between the two if the internal brand is to underpin the external brand experience. Staff must be able to see how your purpose, strategy, values, and culture all allow the external brand promise to be delivered. So, the answer is more about having a separate internal visual identity than a separate internal brand. Your customer brand promise may be expressed slightly differently for some customer groups compared to others. In the same way, I recommend thinking about the best way to express your brand to your people. Sometimes that means a look and feel that is slightly different from the external brand expression.  

All families have their own unique way of communicating with each other and your internal brand approach should recognise this, embracing your internal spoken, written, and visual language. Often this means a less formal, more personal approach to communicating. Always remember though that internal communications have a way of going external so ensure you don’t go so far as to create brand confusion if this happens.

Closing the internal / external gap

I’ve worked on way too many brand projects where we see a real disconnect between the brand that leadership think they have, or want to create, and the brand staff see or customers experience. So, how do you know if there’s a gap to be addressed at your business? We can help with that but start with these three simple questions:  

  1. Do all your staff know and understand your purpose, values, and brand promise?
  2. Do staff believe the way things are done at your place – your culture – aligns with your customer brand promise?
  3. Do the ways your customers describe their experiences with you align with your stated brand promise? 

If the answer is no to any of these questions, it’s probably time to start thinking about your inside out brand journey and how enhancing your internal brand can strength your external brand position.