Communicating Your Brand Internally
By Jean Marie Caragher
Branding has been defined as the active development of a personal relationship between the client and the product or service. The ultimate goal is to create identification between you and the brand.
Positioning is the theory that drives brand strategy. Ultimately, a market position is a promise between the firm and the client. If you drive that promise through all of your communications so that you develop identification by clients with your service based on that promise, you have created a brand.
There are many ways to execute your firm’s brand, including advertising, public relations, promotions, packaging, trade shows, Web sites, direct mail, event sponsorships, and publicity stunts. The keys are to break through the clutter, implement the positioning strategy, and connect that implementation to the brand name.
Developing Your Brand
A critical component of developing and promoting your firm’s brand is your internal audience, your partners and staff. As David Maister said in an interview, “Your brand is not what you claim. Your brand is what you enforce.” Therefore, your firm brand is not what you would like to be but what you are, what your partners and staff can “live and breathe.”
A February 2001 Harvard Business Review article, “Are the Strategic Stars Aligned for Your Corporate Brand?,” asserts that to get the most out of a corporate branding strategy three essential elements must be aligned: vision, culture, and image. Vision is top management’s aspirations for the company. Culture is the organization’s values, behaviors, and attitudes – that is, the way employees all through the ranks feel about the company. Image is the outside world’s overall impression of the company. This includes all stakeholders – clients, the media, the general public, and so on.
Problems arise when any of these elements are misaligned, or gaps exist. For example, a vision-culture gap develops when senior management moves a company in a strategic direction that employees don’t understand or support. In the early 1990s IBM experienced severe downsizing in spite of the company’s promises of lifelong employment. This resulted in anxiety, depression, and fear among its employees. The effect of this disillusionment on IBM’s brand at the time was considered devastating.
Misalignment between a company’s image and culture leads to confusion among clients about what a company stands for. To identify image-culture gaps, you need to compare what your employees are saying with what your clients and other stakeholders are saying. Consider British Airways. When it decided to go global, British Airways launched a campaign to change the image of the airline. Advertising was used to persuade the public that “Britain’s favorite airline” was now “the world’s favorite airline.” The tail fins of its planes were repainted with artwork from around the world. However, the proper cabin crew uniforms and silver tea service continued to give passengers the impression that British Airways was distinctly British.
These examples demonstrate that your partners’ aspirations for your firm and your firm’s culture are two important components in developing and building your brand. Consider asking your partners and staff the following questions:
- Does your firm practice the values it promotes?
- Does your firm’s vision inspire all its departments or groups, e.g., partners, staff, marketing, sales, niches?
- Are your vision and culture differentiated from those of your competitors?
- In what ways do your employees and stakeholders interact?
- Do your employees care what stakeholders think of the firm?
- What images do stakeholders associate with your firm?
A March 26, 2001 Marketing News article, “Branding works for internal audience, too,” claims that companies use their brands’ power to motivate employees. A strong brand can instill a sense of pride in employees, “building their loyalty, spurring their performance and boosting the level of customer service they deliver.”
A survey of 138 companies, sponsored by Charles Schwab Corp. and published in February 2001 by The Conference Board, reports that “about 40 percent of survey respondents use the techniques and resources of corporate brand-building, such as print and Internet and intranet communications, to lure and retain good employees.”
The report puts a new twist on traditional branding: “The employer brand establishes the identity of the firm as an employer. It encompasses the firm’s values, systems, policies and behaviors toward the objectives of attracting, motivating and retaining the firm’s current and potential employees.”
Communicating Your Brand
Before you promote your firm’s brand to the outside world be sure to promote it internally. In early 2000 I collaborated with Working Design to develop a brand for Moore Colson, a local Atlanta CPA firm. The brand was unveiled at its first firmwide marketing training session. Everyone was educated about the branding process and the strategy behind the partners’ decisions.
With a dramatic flair the new lobby sign was unveiled, revealing the firm’s new logo. Everyone was given samples of the new brochures, letterhead, envelopes, and note pads. Talking points were also distributed, including answers to the questions we anticipated clients and contacts were going to ask about the new brand and the firm, including:
- What is Moore Colson?
- What does the logo signify?
- What does the new tagline mean?
- What is the meaning behind the brochure graphics?
- What services does the firm offer?
- What is (each specific service line)?
- How does Moore Colson’s client service approach differ from other firms of comparable size?
- How can I identify prospective clients?
- How do I know whom to talk to when at a client’s office?
Then, the leaders of each service line delivered a brief presentation to:
- Describe the service.
- Describe the client base.
- Explain how to recognize new business and cross-selling opportunities for the service.
This session gave all participants the ammunition to tell the firm’s story in a consistent manner.
Building a brand can be a very wise investment for the long-term success of your firm and can help differentiate it in the marketplace. The creative process, i.e., positioning, logo, tagline, and other style issues, is the easy part. The hard work begins with consistently executing your brand and ensuring that your internal audience both understands and make a commitment to it.