The Three Dimensions of Internal Branding

by Heather Rast |

When you’re trying to build your company’s brand, one clear focal point is the marketplace and another is the target consumer.  An often overlooked (or under considered) leg of the stool is your work force, and subsequently, everyone those people know. Internal branding. Do your plans for steadily building a sustainable brand place enough weight on those internal audiences so crucial to your success?

One of my favorite quotes related to branding is from Jeff Bezos, founder of  When speaking of a company’s reputation, the legacy under recursive construction, Bezos said something like “Your brand is what they say about you when you’ve left the room.”  The “they” in that sentence being any audience or segment and the “you” being the company, the brand.  The guys in charge.

The way I see it, small business needs a better understanding of the role internal audiences play within the branding infrastructure, the manner in which their perceptions lead them to do their jobs, and the way they embody the brand on their own accord.

The brand beneath the surface

3D Glasses - See your brand internally as well as externallyA brand is a living, breathing organism.  It experiences failures, successes, and everyday trials.  While the vast majority of small business resources are placed behind developing and promoting the brand externally, that approach discounts the value held by employees.  We need to cross the streams.  The very people that solve the problems, deliver the goods, negotiate manufacturer pricing and code the site can offer unique perspectives if only they’re asked.  Their individual roles means they have a direct line-of-sight to the customer not held by anyone else (more so if they’re old-timers or have had lateral or successive roles).  These people are a gold mine of information that can help:

  • Surface flaws in process or procedure (create value through efficiency or increased ease of use)
  • Identify barriers to purchase (functionality, policies, taxonomy, etc.)
  • Define future marketing communications strategies (bet you don’t know what those guys in the other room know. Ask.)
  • Spark innovation (brilliant ideas come from everywhere. Don’t be myopic and brainstorm with the same staid group)
  • Solidify personal ownership, end-to-end (give ’em the complete picture, how their role affects the whole)
  • So, you think smugly, you’ve already asked their opinion?  In a SurveyMonkey poll in Q4 2009?  You see where I’m going with this. After you collected the information, did you do anything with it?  Or does the cross-tab function in your Excel only work when it involves tangible assets like inventory?  In this case, not only are you missing out on valuable, relevant, and timely insight but you’ve also probably sent a poor message to those who bothered to participate.

The brand within each of them

If you aren’t tapping into your paid assets (so to speak) to find out what you don’t know, then chances are you’re not giving sufficient thought to how well those valuable assets live and breathe the brand (see above).  While admittedly some people want to clock in, do a job, and cruise on home, most people truly want to be part of something bigger than them.  I’m talking about the people out there on that floor, in that warehouse, in those cubbies – they’re ready to be emotionally invested in their work.  Are you walking blithely by, oblivious to those folks just waiting for a rally cry?

Building your internal brand is more than the logo’d coffee mugs and calendars that nOObs get handed on day one.  The gear may be flags they can carry out into the field, but that stuff holds little meaning if the tools and training (read: mentorship programs, career development training, joint efforts between HR and marketing, and leadership that walk the talk) establishing internal brand culture isn’t in place.  When the purpose, the meaning, isn’t there, then it just becomes a job and subject to all the vulnerabilities inherent to anything perfunctory.

The brand on the street

Your employees buy groceries, run to the post office, and play Little League with a bajillion people.  These people, as people will, ask your employees “So, where do you work?” and “How do you like it?” If you had to guess, what do you think the responses would be to the latter?  Answers can range from the practical “The pay is fair.” or “The benefits are good.” to the more telling responses invariably leading to … wait for it … wait … culture.

If people in authority micromanage, it speaks to the culture.  If there’s inequity in employee perks or disproportionate leniency for some, that speaks to culture.  If one guy is allowed to be a loudmouthed crude jerk or another gal only fills openings with her cronies or hand-picked recruits (irrespective of true qualifications), that speaks to culture.   As the boss, you may not always hear about such things but if they’re happening, you can bet money the rank-and-file are talking and commiserating.  And they’re telling their friends.

The point

Systematically, purposefully building an internal brand-centric culture as part of a comprehensive strategy can lead to heightened customer-focused actions and stronger bottom-line results.  What are you (or your employer) doing to develop the relationship between employees and the brand?

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About the Author

Heather Rast

Heather is Principal of a boutique Cedar Rapids digital marketing company. She develops brand positioning strategy and marketing communications plans to distinguish small businesses from the competition and attract their ideal customers. Her content planning, writing, and online community-building work helps larger businesses better serve their audiences with useful information that solves problems as it builds affinity for the brand.