As the fallout of the Great Resignation looms large over anyone that is even remotely interested in brands, companies, and employee loyalty, the prospect of strengthening a company’s internal branding has taken a back seat.
Nowadays it seems that everyone is concerned about getting access to top talent while trying to mitigate the damages caused by the ongoing inflation without seeing their company explode into thousands of little pieces. Or even worse: be eventually acquired by a different enterprise that has somehow survived the incoming onslaught of, well, pretty much any bad corporate thing that you can imagine happening all at once.
Therefore, navigating the murky waters of corporate identity has shifted from the naive optimism of expecting indefinite growth, into a more sober introspection about what it really takes to elevate your brand above your competitors in a way that is morally, ethically, and financially acceptable.
In this article, I’ll try to unravel the best practices behind properly planning, building, and maintaining a healthy internal brand identity that would persist in times of both good and bad luck.
What is internal branding?
Internal branding—especially effective internal branding—is the concept of familiarizing your employees with the ins and outs of your brand, introducing them to the overall company goals, and also talking about external branding as well.
In simpler terms, it’s like unraveling the mechanism behind what makes your company tick, in an attempt to boost morale and make sure that everyone works under the banner of a common overarching goal.
A proper internal branding strategy does a lot more than simply parroting a truist statement: it is the underlying thread that connects employees to the company’s brand. It also serves as a training exercise that builds the entrepreneurial spirit and teaches them to act as brand ambassadors who strive to better themselves every step of the way.
Internal branding practices often go hand-in-hand with external brand-building campaigns to achieve the best result for the business. Without internal brand awareness, everyone will often wonder whether their personal values are in alignment with the company’s values. They won’t live the brand, which creates additional gaps in the company culture that, incrementally, could spell disaster further down the road.
A strong and effective branding initiative is tailored toward making your employees know a lot more about the future plans, goals, initiatives, products, services, and company vision. In doing so, they will get to experience how the company markets its products externally, which will increase their awareness on a more fundamental level and ultimately turn them into loyal brand ambassadors in the long term.
The importance of strong internal branding
A brand representative means a person who respects the values of the brand, what the brand stands for, and what it means to them personally. After all, brand success strictly depends on how people perceive the brand.
The employee experience, whether positive or negative, is very valuable for the brand. If they perceive the brand to be positive, employees will promote the business to their friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances. If the company struggles with bad days, they will defend the company values as they understand them.
If, on the other hand, employees are dissatisfied with how the company operates, the exact opposite will happen. They will fall in line with the many critics of the brand, surface the shortcomings of the business, and eventually jump ship to join a competitor before management has time to react.
When employees share the values of the brand, they will advocate its content on various social media platforms and other channels, like Reddit for example. This is a great pseudo-strategy for getting effective business referrals that essentially plays out by itself.
According to a Nielsen report, the most credible, believable, and organic advertisement comes from people that we already know. In fact, at least 83% of the poll participants (from 60 countries) stated that they trust the recommendations of their friends and family over traditional media marketing messages. What’s more staggering is that one-third of all digital advertising campaigns simply don’t raise any brand awareness for the advertising party.
Yet, most companies will never elevate their internal brand messages above the average company newsletter or, in more recent days, a generic mass email blastoff or a forgettable Slack announcement. Needless to say, this is not enough.
Brands are serious entities that are built on top of lots of hard work, proper investment and unselfish effort from all sides. A small initial investment in developing the internal branding of the company will reflect on how your employees behave further down the line in the ever-changing landscape of corporate success. It’s a prerequisite for achieving better results, getting more sales and increasing the positive sentiment of how people perceive the company—internally and externally.
Internal vs external branding
External branding refers to how the public perceives the brand. The idea behind external branding can be conveyed through the use of company logos, colors, print designs, leaflets, and other promotional materials.
As opposed to external branding, internal branding (in a way) takes a life of its own and stays within the company. Employees who are well educated on the company, its goals and values, share the brand’s unique vision and deliver an impeccable service outside the boundaries of the business. This is the part where internal and external branding intersect.
Internal branding through communication
Usually, internal communication is more important than internal branding. Why? Simply because you cannot build strong brand values inside the company without properly communicating what those values in fact are.
Here are some creative ways how to improve employee engagement through internal communication:
Planning strong internal branding campaigns
The internal branding process is very different from building an external company presence. In that sense, posters, newsletters, and other paraphernalia-like doohickeys will not be enough. The addition of these items can’t really help to create an internal brand.
If you want your employees to organically promote your brand and become brand representatives themselves, the approach has to be unique and has to tie back to your core company values. This can be achieved by devising a thorough internal branding strategy.
Fun is a thing that always comes to mind: after all, everyone wants to get their daily dopamine hit whenever applicable! A company-wide party, engaging workshop, or kart racing (it’s a thing) could be just enough to introduce or reinforce some of your most prominent branding ideas across the entire business.
Your internal branding ideas should be emphasized on every:
- Internal template (contracts, forms)
- Spreadsheet, invoice, calendar
- Powerpoint or Google Slides presentation
- Other relevant documents
Relating the internal to the external brand
Most of the elements associated with external branding, including the logo, company themes, and colors, are often pre-designed. The internal branding, albeit different, often has numerous similarities stemming from the close proximity of the two types of brandings.
You can use this notion to your advantage. When the portrayal of the elements from external brand campaigns starts to overlap internally, making a correlation between the two types of branding campaigns can significantly strengthen company authenticity.
Personalizing employee experiences
Communicating with employees is only a small part of building a strong internal brand identity. Consider opening up your business for their ideas and suggestions through the use of feedback, anonymous surveys, and short Q&A sessions.
In fact, they can choose their own leaders who will spearhead the brand-building efforts, which in turn will increase the levels of positivity and raise the energy in the office all at once.
Your employees should be free to share their personal interests and encourage others to do the same. This will incentivize everyone to work together and synchronize their personal experiences with the company’s internal values.
Awarding internal branding efforts
Rewards are a legitimate way to stimulate your employees to be more productive, responsible and accountable for their actions at your company.
Introducing incentives to employees, especially to ones who value the consideration of internal branding ideas both inside and outside the business, is a valid strategy. In fact, rewarding effort is the most effective way a leader can do to raise brand awareness within the organization.
To recognize and appreciate the hard work of your employees, both in their daily duties and as brand ambassadors, means to differentiate your company in the marketplace of ideas, goods, and services.
Actionable internal branding practices
Creating a reasonably good internal branding can’t happen overnight. Reaching this goal can only happen if the proper effort has been put in, preceded by a solid plan.
Before creating the strategy, however, you have to keep in mind that your employees have to recognize the brand value and consider the company’s experience above all. Here are some actionable tips on how you can create your own checklist to plan, create and sustain greater employee engagement.
Get to know your employees more
Get reacquainted with your current employees and use their perception of the company as a source. They might know more than what they let out, meaning that you can use this untapped knowledge to your advantage—as long as both parties are 100% transparent about the goal of the inquiry.
Information can be gathered by using a variety of methods, including surveys, in-person interviews, open discussions, and more. Ask your employees about the things that they consider important in the company, and make sure that honesty takes precedence over company politics.
Schedule at the right time
Interviews, questionnaires, and other methods of inquiry may sound fun in theory, but you need to time them right in order for the plan to work. Sometimes, there will be plenty of new ideas to pick from. Another day, creativity may take a hike and the magic will fizzle out.
Therefore, it’s important to ask the right questions, at the right time.
Come up with new ideas
In a company, things change over time. What’s old is new, and what’s new might suddenly become old news. When products, services, or goals have a tendency to change rapidly, it’s of the utmost importance to let things naturally fall into place.
A transition period can be triggered by several things, including change in leadership, market shifts, new lines of business, or a restructuring of the organization. During this time, it can be very difficult to maintain a coherent internal structure, which may reflect poorly on the internal branding as well.
Don’t let the emergent turmoil take its course, but use it to your advantage. Come up with several fresh ideas and present them to your team. It could be a fun way to overcome the transition period while retaining valuable information and boosting employee morale at the same time.
Assess the employees’ level of determination, wishes, and attitudes
For the hundredth time, talking in person with someone is the best way to uncover their motivations, desires, needs, and how they generally think about the organization. If certain podcast hosts can build empires on top of two-hour-long conversations, why can’t we, as business participants, employ the same measures for the business as well?
All employees will get a say in the matter of internal branding, and their opinions will be carefully considered by their employers, CEO, and other higher-ups. As such, your employees will start seeing the company in a more positive light.
Take effective measures to implement the strategy
Finally, after all the necessary steps are being taken care of, you can start thinking about implementing the internal branding strategy.
One fun way to begin is to use the company history and implement it into the brand. It can jump-start the process, ensure an efficient internal branding implementation, and enable the potential for a deeper connection with the employees over a certain amount of time.
Internal branding strategy benefits
The most prominent benefits of a proper internal branding strategy are:
- Improving the brand’s hiring and retention numbers
- Building a strong relationship between your employees and your brand
- Connecting the internal and the external marketing
- Creating brand ambassadors
- Empowering employees to offer organic brand experiences
- Setting your company apart from the competition
There is no explicit rule about how to perform a well-thought-out internal branding strategy. Organizational rules change every day, and so it’s up to your creativity and imagination to come up with an engagement plan and put it to good use.
When each person recognizes that they’re a part of something bigger, while also retaining their individuality, good things start to happen. You will see a generous boost in day-to-day activities, sales, customer service quality, and credibility.
The only thing you need is a company.