The digital revolution, the rise of social media, and the reality of everyone having a camera and broadcast medium in their smartphone has taken business’s control of their brands. (If you have any question about that, just look at recent news from the airline industry!) What customers see when they experience your brand becomes the definition of your brand. And what do they see? Your employees!
An organization’s employer brand is often used to refer to their reputation as an employer, of focusing and compensation, benefits, training and development, and corporate culture. But employer branding – and its companion – internal branding goes beyond the organization as an employer to how the organization wants to appear in the marketplace. According to WiseGeek, “Internal branding is a corporate philosophy that focuses on bringing the company’s core culture, identity, and premise to its employees as well as its consumers, and usually looks to make workers at all levels “ambassadors” or true representatives of the company and its values.”
Internal branding connects employees with your external, customer-facing brand; and ensures they understand and really live the company mission. Through internal branding, employees learn how to deliver your brand to the customer. If they don’t understand your brand, they will deliver a customer experience – but it may not be the one you want!
Here are five keys to building a strong internal or employer brand:
- Define your values and mission
Employees want to come to work for more than a paycheck; they are motivated by a bigger purpose. Not every business can be engaged in saving the world, but every business must have a higher purpose than simple profitability. Defining your values and mission help give your employees that higher purpose that motivates them to go beyond “just a job.” Research has shown that companies with a higher purpose outperform those who do not have a higher purpose by as much as 400%.
- Improve Employee Engagement
Employee engagement is the commitment and energy that employees bring to work and is a key indicator of their involvement and dedication to the organization. Engaged employees are more productive, willing to go beyond the expected, and more likely to be loyal to an organization. Start by understanding your employees’ perceptions of your brand, and how that impacts their job performance. Your employees cannot effectively and accurately deliver your brand promise unless they know what it is, so start with some exploratory research.
3. Give your internal brand an identity – and align it with the external brand
Giving your internal brand a distinct identity that is intimately related to your external brand will help employees remember your brand promise. For example, Macy’s department stores have a strong external brand focused around the red Macy’s Star logo (originally a tattoo Mr. Macy received when he was part of the merchant marine.) Recently, Macy’s introduced an internal brand campaign centered on the same red star – with each of the star’s points relating to a key customer brand value, tying the new internal brand directly to the customer experience and the heritage of the external Macy’s brand.
4. Communicate, communicate, communicate
We talk about what’s important, so don’t create your internal brand and forget it. Communicating about your brand, your values, and the customer experience keeps them top-of-mind for employees and embeds them in your culture. The internal brand underpins every decision your employees make, so reinforce those decisions with frequent communications.
- Recognize, reward and incentivize
Again, internal branding strategies cannot magically transform the engagement of your employees. Use communications of all types to reinforce brand behaviors when exhibited by your employees. Reward and recognize brand strengthening behaviors. Create incentive programs that build the customer experience of your brand. In addition to communicating the internal brand, you communicate leadership commitment to maintaining and nurturing it.
Internal branding does not take place overnight. For it to be effective, it takes time, resources, and most of all, commitment. But engaged employees (who become brand ambassadors) contribute to the bottom line by:
- Recommending your company’s products and services (78% of engaged employees).
- Reducing staff turnover (87% of engaged employees say they intend to stay with their employer)
- Improving customer service (70% of engaged employees understand this.)
Research has shown that companies with strong internal brands and engaged employees have better business performance than those companies lacking internal brands. So, while it does take time and resources, the results can be well worth the investment!