The Importance of Internal Branding
U.S. workers quit their jobs at record levels last year, and 55% of Americans say they will pursue new career opportunities in 2022. Dubbed “The Great Resignation,” this exodus acutely underscores the importance of strong internal branding.
Internal branding has a proven impact on the employee experience as well as recruitment and retention. An effective internal branding strategy educates and inspires employees to meaningfully contribute toward a shared purpose—and in so doing, they become authoritative brand ambassadors who not only know the brand but live its values every day.
- Effective internal branding communicates your purpose and core values and activates them across all aspects of company life
- Educate and involve employees at every step of the internal branding process to instill shared ownership and inspire passionate advocacy
- Successful internal branding is an ongoing task that demands constant evaluation and iteration
- When done successfully, internal branding empowers employees to bring brand values to life as true ambassadors
Building a Strong Brand from the Inside Out
The strongest brands are built from the inside out. Organizations must make an effort to actively educate new and existing employees about the brand, including its positioning (relative to the category and competition), its values (what it stands for) and its purpose (why it exists).
After all, if employees don’t understand or believe in a brand, why should customers? Educated employees are empowered to speak with authority and conviction about the brand and its products and services in interactions with customers, fellow employees, friends and family.
Consider that your audience today interacts with your brand across many touchpoints, from social media to search results to store shelves. Clear and actionable internal branding promotes a living, breathing and evolving corporate culture that radiates outward to customers at each of these touchpoints.
Trader Joe’s describes itself as a “national chain of neighborhood grocery stores.” This positioning is made actionable by giving store managers more autonomy and encouraging them to actively engage with their local communities. The consistent, quirky nomenclature for Trader Joe’s employees also helps infuse the personality of the brand into their business at every level. Stores are led by a “captain,” supported by “mates,” “merchants” and “crew.” This contributes toward an environment defined by teamwork and collective action while simply conveying the spirit of the brand.
How to Build Your Internal Brand Strategy
Establishing meaningful internal alignment doesn’t happen overnight. A single email or town hall meeting won’t cut it. Companies need to plan strategically and continually reinforce their values through concrete, visible action to create a strong and durable internal brand.
Start by engaging a small group of employees to identify the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the brand. What do they find most fulfilling about what they do? What do they wish was different? This process can reveal points of pride as well as points of friction; be sure to select a diverse group of individuals from all levels of the organization to gain a complex and nuanced view of what’s working—and what isn’t. Leverage this group moving forward to collaboratively develop, align on and roll out specific actions and initiatives that bring the brand’s core values to life in the workplace—and outside it.
Google provides employees with a set of actionable values they call “things we know to be true.” For example, the list includes “You can be serious without a suit,” reflecting the out-of-the-box creative nature of work at Google and a belief that inspiration can come from anywhere. “You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer” smartly suggests the ubiquity of Google users while also encouraging employees to adopt flexible working spaces and embrace creativity, whether they are working remotely or on the Google campus.
Be sure to consider the timing and context of internal branding campaigns carefully. Points of transition—new leadership, a new space, a major change in products or company direction, a rebranding initiative—are all ideal and vital times to strengthen the existing brand or introduce a new direction.
This can be particularly complicated when multiple companies merge or when one or many companies are acquired by another. Employees may bring their preexisting brand values and loyalties to the new company, and this can cause friction. Once again, research about employee attitudes and points of pride remains a vital first step in any branding initiative, particularly in the case of a merger, acquisition or major restructuring. Learn more about branding during mergers and acquisitions.
Lastly, remember that internal branding encompasses every facet of the employee experience and is always ongoing—your purpose and core values must permeate your approach to employee incentives, mentorship programs, career development training, meeting times, social structures and even compensation models.
Despite the rise of remote work, the physical space a company occupies still carries weight as well—interior design, signage and layout must all tie back to the brand itself, allowing who you are and what you believe to infuse every aspect of the employee experience. In this way, work becomes synonymous with the values of the brand; employees don’t just do their jobs—they live its values.
Effective internal branding communicates company values and activates them across all aspects of company life. Employees from the mailroom to the board room must feel connected to the brand purpose and core values in order to bring them to life as true ambassadors.
- Emerald Insight: Employee Retention: The Effects of Internal Branding and Brand Attitudes in Sales Organizations
- Inc.: How Trader Joe's Built an Iconic Brand Through Employee Engagement
- Google: Ten Things We Know to Be True
- Branding Business: 5 Steps to Internal Brand Introduction
- Forbes: How Starbucks, Walmart and IBM Launch Brands Internally and What You Can Learn From Them
- McKee Wallwork + Company: Don’t Neglect Internal Branding
- Harvard Business Review: Selling the Brand Inside