Feature Article - September/October 2017

Unifying External and Internal Brands

Marketing, HR Experts Explain the Benefits to Your Bottom Line

By Rick Dandes

The Importance of Alignment

No matter how much marketing your organization might do, at the end of the day it is your people who deliver your brand, Lumba explained. "Your external brand and internal brand cannot be considered two separate entities. Instead they should be considered symbiotic, unable to exist without each other. The extent to which employees own and feel connected to the internal brand will have a direct correlation on how they deliver service to the end customer regardless of their role within the company. Alignment = United Vision = Common Goals = Consistent Delivery of Brand."

Companies that ignore or underestimate the importance of internal branding do so at their own risk, as it could undermine behavior, communication and even marketing efforts, suggested McKenna. "In some cases," she said, "it may be that the employees do not believe in the brand and feel completely disengaged or, worse, antagonistic towards the corporation. In other cases, employees do not comprehend what you have promised to the public and, therefore, work at cross purposes."

If employees do not have confidence in the organization itself, then it becomes very difficult for them to convince the buyers to purchase the company's products and services, McKenna said. "It is crucial that your employees understand and embrace everything about the brand, from its positioning to its values to its purpose."

Ensuring ongoing alignment, however, can be tricky business. Try a couple of things. You can use communications, training and recognition programs to let people know not only what the internal brand is supposed to be, but more importantly, what their roles should be in the overall scheme. Teamwork and customer focus are terms frequently used by firms to describe their internal culture, but it is important to help employees understand how exactly they can contribute through what they do every day, Ryan said. "Examples of that will be different by job code. But it's important to try and break it down so people can understand and act upon it."

Another way to ensure ongoing alignment, Lumba said, is to understand that your internal brand is not just words on a website or intranet and that the internal brand is supported by all levels of management.

"Leadership must be held accountable," Lumba said, "and to hold them accountable you need to have the necessary metrics and have identified the associated key performance indicators by which you are going to measure the success of internal brand adoption."

All strategic planning should start with the question, How is this plan going to strengthen our brand? And after plan implementation, managers should be leveraging their analytics capabilities to measure degree of success on delivering on the brand promise to employees and end clients.

Ryan suggests yet another way to measure success: "Do it the same way marketing measures the impact of the brand, through measures like customer acquisition costs and long-term customer value. Human resources "should measure the impact of the brand in terms of not only supporting some of those measures like customer satisfaction externally, but also how customer satisfaction is manifesting itself internally via employee engagement, loyalty to the company, whether or not people are staying longer or if are they advocating for potential employee candidates to join the company."

All of those things are measures that HR can take advantage of to make sure their internal brand is aligned.

Can Incentives & Recognition Help?

Yes. Absolutely, said Ozer, incentive and recognition programs can help. "Delivering on a brand promise should be part of all employees' everyday behaviors, but in reality it often takes lots of extra effort to achieve it, especially during busy times. So incentives and recognition programs are crucial to recognizing above-and-beyond performance, as well as innovative suggestions to improve the customer experience, while in many cases reducing costs."

These programs will not only reinforce the right behavior, but they will also help you, through social recognition, to make real life role models out of people that are living the brand every day.

"Having done research on incentive programs and how that influences behavior, I know it can be very effective in strengthening the internal brand," Passikoff added. "The kinds of things you can develop in a rewards program internally, whether for sales or performance, end up being very powerful mechanisms for companies."

It has been proven that having more satisfied employees results in more satisfied customers. "So you are able to see increases in terms of efficiencies inside, which result in actual, measurable returns on investment," Passikoff said. Having a strong core of employees, he continued, is critical to your company's success because they are the very people who can make the brand come alive for your customers. They do that by developing a powerful emotional connection to the products and services you sell. Without that connection, employees are likely to impair the expectations set by your marketing team.

Meanwhile, when you consider that most employees, especially young employees, value what they see exhibited by their colleagues and co-workers more than what senior management is telling them from the top down, it's very important to have a social recognition component where you are reinforcing individuals as role models to a particular type of behavior. That will help a brand come alive and stay alive.