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July 20, 2009
The Inside Job

The great brand is a wonderful thing—a symbol of your offering; the story of you; a powerful being that attracts new business, keep buyers from jumping ship, and earns you a prime position in the market’s mind.

After spending resources out the wazooo and gaining gray hair, it seems like all this branding stuff should be flying high by now. You’ve got the logo, a punchy tagline, and even a slick brand manual, so what’s up with this brand breakdown?

The marketing department is cranky because every employee you ask about the company brand says something different. The non-marketing folks think it’s all propaganda. And the CEO is in a delusional state, proudly touting the invisible brand peacock that no one has ever really seen. And to make the day complete—the market sees your offering as another same old sack of commodity and is generally irritated because the majority of the employees act like they hate their job and life too.

Sound familiar? Hopefully you’re not experiencing all these woes, but even if you are experiencing only a few of these ugly warts, effective internal branding can transform this muck and can significantly impact your organization’s overall health and well-being.

It starts inside.
The brand—which is the mental mark held in the minds of all markets—needs to be equally tattooed on to your internal forces as well as the external ones to enjoy the full value of the brand.

Leaders who miss this aspect of the brand building process—because of cost, time, or energy required—will likely pay a much higher price in the near future.

Delivering engaging internal brand communications can impact your bottom line dramatically. A study by Watson Wyatt showed that a significant improvement in communication effectiveness is associated with a 29.5% increase in market value.

The employee factor is the soul of a brand.
Without troop support, buy-in, and conviction, a brand is just another lifeless enterprise.

Julie Anixter, a strategic branding consultant and speaker, who has counsels companies on internal branding issues, proclaims, “Brands are not surface matters; they live in the work culture.” All organizations have a brand by default. The question is, is the default state of your brand truly contributing to your success?

Jack Morton Worldwide, another branding firm I admire, that pioneered the practice of audience alignment, is careful about how to label internal branding. They claim the word brand is a lightning rod in some organizations. The discipline also falls into the category of "organization effectiveness, a rose by any other name.” Selecting the right language for an internal branding effort is often the most critical difference between employees resisting or championing the organization’s goals.

Branding inside can positively impact an organization on many levels. Here’s where and how to do it:

As universal marketing momentum.
Add high-octane fuel to your external market outreach by creating programs that empower all staff to become ambassadors of the brand and to carry the torch even farther.

Under CMO Arun Sinha’s leadership, Pitney Bowes Inc. with 33,000 employees worldwide, transformed their “postage meter” brand into a company that provides “information solutions.” The $10 million rebranding effort included extensive internal initiatives. Sinha and his team personally met with more than 7,000 of the company staff face-to-face to communicate the reengineered vision and customer promise. The results were a 140% increase in C-level awareness as “an integrated mail and document provider,” accelerating their selling success.

As a talent magnet.
Become an “employer of choice” by communicating a spirit of the “right fit” community.

Chris Pierce-Cooke, an executive vice president at Right Management Consultants, an organizational consulting and career transition firm, claims, “The brand inside not only attracts top talent, but more importantly, finds and keeps ‘the right fit‘ talent.“

Right developed a process it calls “PeopleBrandSM”—essentially developing and articulating an internal brand for a company that supports its HR goals. The methodology is a 3-D relationship—define a distinctive promise to key talent, then declare and demonstrate that promise.

Pierce-Cooke explained, “The internal brand work payoff is more than turnover savings. Top performers outperform and outproduce average performers by 50-125 percent.”

As a culture consummator.
Serve as an organizational centerpiece by aligning core values, competencies, and brand personality.

UPS has certainly evolved since its 1907 beginning (formerly called American Messenger Company). Founded by teenage entrepreneur Jim Casey with a $100 loan, today the company employs more than 360,000 employees around the world.

After 2 years of research and planning, and after 41 years with the former UPS brand mark, the company launched a new brand symbol. A massive internal campaign was deployed, not only to communicate the new icon, but to infuse the “reason” behind the change.

Larry Bloomemkranz, former VP of global brand management and advertising for UPS, credits the internal branding efforts as the silo buster—the organization was fragmented and needed a unified voice to tell its story to the marketplace.

He says, “We learned that the logo change and its application to uniforms, vehicles, aircraft, and so on—even though it’s not the whole program—has been a powerful catalyst for internal integration. It provided tangible action to support our mantra, One Company, One Vision, One Brand.”

As a peacemaker.
Activate a friendly fusing agent by managing change with added sensitivity and forthright communications.

In life and business stuff happens. Many times it’s not all good or what everyone wants—mergers, acquisitions, or a shift in market conditions can create a mean environment. The brand inside can ease the pain of change and serve as a positive bonding agent for all.

D. Mark Hornung, senior VP, Bernard Hodes Group, worked with a healthcare supply and service provider. The company had not only merged with another firm, but shortly thereafter accounting irregularities surfaced. The company stock fell, causing a domino effect of massive employee stress and fresh brand wounds.

Mark points to key factors that led to the success of this project. First, identify the potential ROI from a branding initiative. This will lead to executive level buy-in, which is imperative for the program to work.

Equally recognize the employee’s along with the company’s contribution to the end benefactor, the marketplace. This was accomplished with a highly visible “Power of You” campaign.

Understand that you are speaking to both a geographically and professionally diverse employee pool. Create materials that are easy to access from anywhere: Intranets and CD presentations that can be customized with audience segment relevance.

The by-product of any or all of these can increase brand demand and operational productivity for any size or kind of organization.

What’s working?
Jack Morton Worldwide suggests the following:

• Establish a "vision day" that unites the organization with a series of activities that encourage cross-functional and cross-regional collaboration.

• Create a learning road show that's experiential, immersive, and highly interactive. Get employees out of the conference room or classroom.

• The magic mix looks different. Make the brand experience fun and exciting—part training, part ritual, and part entertainment.

What’s not working?
• Assuming that with rallying cries and posters around the office, on-brand behavior will just happen.
• Unidirectional communication that feels top down and faddish, making the effort purely inspirational, but not offering employees any support in terms of what they actually need to do to help the company meet its objectives.
• Treating employees like the audience for an advertising campaign.
• Ignoring that successful branding must be a holistic and integrated effort incorporating input and expertise from Marketing, PR, IT, Internal Communications, Strategic Planning, Human Resources, Operations and Leadership Development, etc.
• One-size-fits-all solution. There are none. Effective communications must be engineered to specific audiences and specific needs.

How do you know it’s working?
Conduct qualitative and quantitative analysis before you begin so you have benchmarks to work from.

Julie Anixter, who has worked extensively with Ian Schrager’s boutique hotel group, says you feel the success in the air, the properties receive high volumes of happy customer email feedback, housekeeping enjoys extreme monetary tips, and positive word-of-mouth buzz is abundant.

Without the inside covered, get ready for some chilly days.
Remember the last time you made a purchase based on a brand’s promised value proposition and you were big time disappointed. Was there a character involved who looked like a human?

I hate when that happens. It’s counterbrandmanship deluxe! The good news is it’s a treatable challenge.

Make the brand inside a priority. Dedicate resources and creative people to the effort. Think organizational alignment and make it a way of life, not a short-term campaign.

Brand on!

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Karen Post, aka The Branding Diva®, is an international branding expert, consultant, and speaker. She has been featured in a broad range of media outlets, including Bloomberg TV and radio, CBS's "The Early Show," The New York Times, The New York Post, NPR, Fast Company, and The Boston Globe. She is also the author of Brand Turnaround (McGraw-Hill) and Brain Tattoos: Creating Unique Brands That Stick in Your Customers' Minds (AMACOM).

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