Internal Branding: Find Your Sweet Spot

Let your employees and customers tell you who you are.

January 24, 2013
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Convinced employees build convincing brands.

Whether online or face-to-face, internal branding is about creating authentic and consistent experiences that allow your brand to thrive.

So say Joseph LePla and Wolfgang Giehl, co-authors of “Create a Brand That Inspires: How to Sell, Organize, and Sustain Internal Branding.”

Using the organizing principle of internal branding, the book offers a set of practical and detailed new rules for how business managers and CEOs can use a combination of intrinsic company value, culture, and social media to build long-term competitiveness.

“What people experience, believe, and say about your brand is accessible to almost anyone, at any time,” says Giehl. “That’s why today’s brand leaders can’t leave their brand experience to chance. While they learn and develop their social media and community branding, they also need to dedicate resources into employee brand engagement and alignment.”

Credit Union Magazine recently asked LePla about internal branding and how credit unions can use it to their advantage.

CU Mag: What is “internal branding?”

LePla: Internal branding is the process of aligning your senior management, your employees, your products or services, and your goals and strategies with your brand value and then managing that alignment over time. The brand itself is the promise you keep and the story you tell about it.

CU Mag: How does internal branding improve employee engagement?

LePla: Employees that work for companies with a clear and valued brand promise find their work transcends their day-to-day job activities. It creates a healthy esprit de corps while focusing the culture in a self-reinforcing way.

CU Mag: How does internal branding drive success?

LePla: Companies that develop strong brands via internal branding find that they have greater customer loyalty. Further, that customer loyalty translates into an ability to charge a price premium—often up to 15%.

That premium exists because brand-loyal customers tend not to shop rates, or they believe your offering is superior and worth the increased price. In industries where price differences are narrower, brand still causes customers to choose the brand they have more affinity with.

CU Mag: How can companies measure the success of their internal branding efforts?

LePla: By using metrics that help them quantify results from a bottom-line perspective for both employees and customers. We recommend measuring brand equity using a numeric scale for both groups.

Brand equity questions range from opinion to loyalty. Clients also measure brand performance on a numeric scale based on the difference between important customer buying criteria and how well their organization performs against that criteria.

There are also more general metrics around employees’ use of social media to advocate for the company that you can track.

Internal branding will also have a positive impact on your offer-to-acceptance ratios and your ability to keep payroll competitive. Employees will take a salary discount when choosing to work for a strong brand over a more generic brand.

CU Mag: What are some internal branding best practices?

LePla: Make your CEO your No. 1 brand champion. Also:

  • Identify and manage your culture via cultural norms. Cultural norms are “the way you do things” that guide decision making.
  • Create brand tools to guide and operationalize your brand value.
  • Build on-brand action into employee performance reviews.
  • Create a unified employee and external communications plan that builds your brand.
  • Develop milestones and metrics to optimize brand success at the senior management level.

CU Mag: How can organizations get employees to buy into the internal brand?

LePla: There are three best practices here:

  1. Make the CEO your brand champion and demonstrate to employees how he or she is acting on brand early and often.
  2. Develop a long-term employee campaign that ties internal branding to company success.
  3. Add internal branding practices to job performance measurements in a way that helps staff be more effective at their jobs.

CU Mag: What’s a good starting point for a company seeking to develop an internal brand?

LePla: [Conduct] open-ended research with employees and customers to understand brand value and your current cultural norms.

If you are successful, your organization’s brand strengths are distinct and compelling. You just need to figure out what they are and manage to them.

In the same way, all organizations have cultural norms. Research will reveal them and allow you to focus them, eliminate the negative ones, and resolve contradictions.

When conducting research, avoid the trap of equating brand with either best practices or trying to use research to justify a predetermined brand position. Let your employees and customers tell you who you are.

NEXT: Which companies do internal branding well?

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