Internal brand communication is a matter of telling, internal brand culture one of involving. Unfortunately, many organisations don’t go any further than telling.
With talented people in increasingly short supply, companies have to create a working environment that staff feel they understand and are committed to. But to achieve this involves more than mere communication.
So if communication alone is not the answer, what else is needed? The ultimate commercial goal is sustainable growth in sales and profits, which can only be achieved through satisfied customers. This in turn requires employees who are committed, motivated and feel that they make a valuable contribution.
Given clear direction, employees understand what they need to deliver and how they can contribute. This makes them more effective, resulting in happy customers and satisfied shareholders. The overall business proposition is embodied within the corporate brand, which should act as a beacon for an organisation and reassures customers.
Internal branding is management’s mechanism for delivering all of these elements. Any internal action that increases brand understanding, vision and values can be termed internal branding. This should encompass human resource policies, systems and processes, the way the business operates, and how employees and management interact with each other.
The most compelling reason for management to take this area seriously is that there is real payback for getting it right. When employees are given the same consideration and importance as shareholders and customers, the financial and commercial returns are improved, as is the organisation’s working environment.
A study carried out over 11 years at Harvard showed that a management culture which gives equal priority to employees, customers and shareholders can quadruple sales growth. This conclusion is based on substantial evidence from large, well established companies.
Much has changed in business recently: layers of management have been excised, project and team working have increased, and the workforce is becoming increasingly well educated. With more fluid working structures it is essential that everyone in the company understands the objectives of the company, their own role and their responsibilities.
To start this process it is important to define what the brand stands for – or if necessary redefine it. Too often the assumption is that the brand is well understood. With strong brands like Tesco this may be the case, but with a more fluid workforce it is important for it to be so well established within the organisation that there is simply no room for misinterpretation. Each person’s role needs to be related to his or her contribution to further strengthening the brand’s identity.
If the brand is being redefined, all employees need to be involved. Top management usually produces a draft model. This will encompass how the organisation sees itself in the market, the beliefs that drive its marketing strategy, and how it competes. Management will identify the core competencies of the organisation and will articulate their ambitions for the company.
Next, middle management gets involved. It looks at the brand model that has been developed from the perspective of practical delivery. Thoughts and ideas are exchanged and the new or existing brand model is adjusted on the basis of this additional input.
Much the same process is repeated with employees from all parts of the business. At each stage, the brand model is honed and ideas collected that will enhance the brand’s differentiation and competitive edge.
Define your brand
Customers should also be involved in the process at an early stage, ideally before the draft model is presented to middle management. This is central to understanding how the brand is perceived by customers.
Once a brand model and a brand culture are agreed upon, their communication can take many forms. Clearly everyone needs to be informed about the brand and this often takes the form of a brand book, or is part of an intranet devoted to the brand. Most important is the appraisal and objective-setting processes for individual employees, the personnel policies and how they reflect the brand, and brand-focused training programmes.
A wasted resource
This prescriptive and quite formalised process of defining the brand can be counterbalanced with more informal involvement.
This could be through intranet chat-lines in a brand-room forum, or a brand agony column where employees can voice any concerns they have. This approach has worked well in organisations like the John Lewis Partnership, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and Tesco, all of which have demonstrated their commitment to employees by offering and receiving much greater involvement.
New technology can help enormously in this process. Bureaucratic organisations in particular can use technology to give momentum to a new, more progressive type of culture – intranets in particular offer the opportunity for regular and informal communication.
Most employees feel they have so much to contribute that it is criminal for management not to use this resource to strengthen the company brand and develop its culture.
Pam Robertson is director of branding consultancy Brandsmiths