Feature Article - September/October 2017

Unifying External and Internal Brands

Marketing, HR Experts Explain the Benefits to Your Bottom Line

By Rick Dandes

Standing out in the ever more competitive and crowded global marketplace by establishing an external brand identity is a business requirement for increased sales, profits and success.

But equally as important to the bottom line, say marketing and human resource experts, is the aligning of that established external brand with a corporate internal brand: "Something that encapsulates the values and culture of a company and ultimately represents them to the outside world," explained Robert Passikoff, founder and president, Brand Keys, of New York City. "You need to have alignment between whatever the internal brand is and the external communication points that you express."

An internal brand, your corporate character, is also very much a factor in keeping a talent pool alive, thriving and growing. In many cases, employees will base their decision to stay, to go or to contribute based upon how contented they are within the work environment.

Employees have become an essential component of branding, and brand experiences are now largely shaped by the workers on the front lines who interact daily with customers and must meet their ever-rising expectations, noted Alysa McKenna, marketing manager, Rymax Marketing Services, Pine Brook, N.J. "Successful brand management requires fuller and more consistent engagement among the people inside and outside your company, both those who experience the brand and those who represent it."

Any marketing efforts, from new partnerships to brand launches and ongoing reinforcement, must first be introduced internally to ensure that each and every employee of the corporation recognizes and embraces the change, McKenna said. Employees are closely tied to brand touch points, from customer service, to the sales force, to the distribution team. All your employees, no matter what they do at your company, should be capable of communicating the brand value proposition. Your employees play a critical role in the brand experience because of these brand touch points. Their responsibility is to actively deliver on the brand promise. They also rank higher in public trust than a company's public relations department, as consumers trust employees more.

"In the past few years," McKenna said, "more companies have emphasized a policy of understanding internal mechanics by developing mandatory training programs, as well as establishing incentive programs to promote and encourage their efforts."

Employees need to be educated about the brand, devoted to what it stands for and able to see its values emulated through company culture," McKenna said. Consistency within translates to consistency in the external market, and by having an effective internal marketing strategy you create authoritative brand ambassadors, encourage employees to embrace brand values, which results in working towards the same goals, and develop an effective and powerful reputation amongst your customers.

It is critical, added Ira Ozer, founder and president, Engagement Partners, Chappaqua, N.Y., that the internal brand deliver on the promises of the external brand, or there will be a disconnect in service quality and delivery, with the result being employee disengagement and consumer distrust and lack of loyalty. "The brand then becomes more of a commodity than an experience to the customer, and profit margins erode and the negative spiral continues," he said.

Defining Your Brands

The company leadership defines the brand promise, mission, vision and values, ideally in conjunction with employees as a collaborative effort, based on what the customer wants, Ozer said.

Marketing establishes the external brand using whatever resources it deems appropriate, said Mike Ryan, senior vice president, client strategy, Madison Performance Group, New York City. But ultimately the internal brand is going to be defined by people. "There are some companies that come right out and say something like, 'Our organization is built upon values like integration and customer focus,'" Ryan said. "But an internal brand is defined and reinforced on a day-to-day basis by the workforce, their attitudes and actions."

In a really healthy organization the internal brand reflects the external voice in the marketplace.

That's right, agreed Jennifer Lumba, chief marketing officer, Rideau Recognition Solutions Inc., Montréal, Québec. An internal brand is really a synonym or an expression of that corporate culture. It's what connects employees, regardless of role, location, language or tenure.