Internal Branding: Find Your Sweet Spot

Let your employees and customers tell you who you are.

January 24, 2013
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CU Mag: Which companies do internal branding well?

LePla: In “Create a Brand That Inspires” [], co-author Wolfgang Giehl and I developed 16 case studies that spotlight companies that are very good at internal branding and reveal the specific activities they use to build their brands.

Two good financial services examples of internal branding are ING and HSBC.

HSBC [aims to be] the world’s local bank, resulting in a strategic plan that calls for a strong local presence in each country where it operates. HSBC describes the parameters for this branding role as:

  • Largest international emerging markets bank;
  • Widespread international network;
  • Uniquely cosmopolitan customer base; and
  • Considerable financial strength.

In contrast, ING is primarily an online bank whose strategic brand role is about creating high-performance vehicles for people saving for retirement. This brand appeals to everyday people around the world who are looking for ways to save for retirement with safe but higher-than-average returns.

While both are banks, they have two entirely different ways of capturing and sustaining their customer base. As a result, their external and internal branding look very different.

HSBC stresses ubiquity of branches in many countries and a long tradition of internationalism. ING stresses somewhat higher interest rates for savings accounts and money market funds.

HSBC internal branding supports its local service focus while ING emphasizes one culture and people who are behind the scenes but friendly when reached through customer service.

Internal branding is guided by brand strategy which is based on your brand promise, culture, and business strategy. Both HSBC and ING take deposits, sell certificates of deposit, and write mortgages and car loans.

HSBC’s expression of internal branding relies on staff at the local branches who see many of their customers once per week or more. ING relies more heavily on the quality of its website and on the telephone capabilities of its customer service representatives.

CU Mag: What other advice would you offer companies about creating an internal brand?

LePla: Find the sweet spot between what you do well, what customers value, and what you can own over time.

Integrate your brand approach into all departments and company initiatives, and quantify and manage to specific brand practices.

Also, create brand champions at every level of the organization.

Don’t, however, think that you and your competitors are all the same or are commodities. And don’t create separate internal and external brands.

A strong internal brand can be your key to competitive advantage but it needn’t be expensive to implement. Brand is primarily an experience you deliver—so since you are delivering your products and services anyway, why not ensure that they all play to your strengths?

Here’s a guide to determine your current internal branding effectiveness:

  • Do you have a clear and actionable brand promise?
  • Does the promise include actionable brand tools such as a strategic role, guiding principle, culture norms, story, and personality?
  • Do you use your brand to develop strategy?
  • Have you hired employees who buy into your brand?
  • Are employees brand ambassadors?
  • Are brand goals integrated into employee performance expectations?
  • Does human resources use change-management principles?
  • Is social branding a company-wide activity?

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