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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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory ( will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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