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Brand Culture

The Internal Branding Mandate


The Internal Branding Mandate

It seems obvious that developing successful relationships with customers requires strong and successful relationships with those inside the company. Strikingly, though, many companies ignore employees in their branding efforts.

Indeed, brands that focus on creating brand admiration from the inside are often the exception, not the rule. Yet if the people who represent the brand and deliver its promise to the outside world don’t themselves admire the brand, how can they credibly and authentically convince customers to do the same? Customers and other stakeholders often see employees and employees’ actions as synonymous with the brand. As such, it’s essential that companies build brand admiration among employees.

Employees As Brand Champions

It’s easy to see how enhancing brand admiration among employees helps a company to realize its value. Employee brand admiration activates pro-brand employee behaviors, including employee brand-loyalty.

Employees who admire the brand (1) want to work for the brand and are loathe to leave it. (2) They have a sense of ownership in the brand, taking personal responsibility for its achievement and success. (3) They are more forgiving of organizational mistakes. When employees admire the brand, (4) it plays a role in their lives even outside of work (e.g, at home), and (5) they are vigilant about competitor actions deemed threatening to the brand.

Employees who admire the brand are also brand advocates, (1) They are strong and authentic brand champions. (2) They go beyond their prescribed roles for the well-being of customers and the brand. (3) They participate in various brand community-related events. (4) They recommend the brand to friends. (5) They defend the brand from criticism. (6) They also encourage other employees to focus on the brand (versus focusing on internal politics or other negative company behaviors). (7) They also publically display their association with the brand (e.g., on T-shirts, branded gear, tattoos, etc.). Beyond contributing to employee morale, these outcomes should also reduce employee acquisition and retention costs and enhance employee and knowledge retention.

Recognizing the power of internal customers, Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines (pictured), once noted the importance of treating employees like customers. He apparently succeeded at this effort.

When Kelleher retired after 37 years at Southwest Airlines, the company’s pilots and flight attendants took out a full-page ad in the USA Today newspaper to thank him for his service to the company. By way of contrast, the very same day American Airlines pilots and flight attendants went on strike and picketed during American Airlines’ annual meeting.

As with customers, marketers can create brand admiration and its drivers by finding ways to enable, entice, and enrich employees. This process is referred to as internal branding or brand culture.

The mission statement plays an important role here as it serves as the guidepost for employees’ feelings, thoughts, and pro brand actions. Hence, we define internal branding as a set of processes that enable, entice, and enrich employees so they can deliver on the brand’s mission in a consistent and credible way.

Cultivating brand admiration starts with the mission statement and its features. Specifically, building trust, love, and respect among employees is possible only when a brand’s mission statement has enabling, enticing, and enriching features, and when the company offers enabling, enticing, and enriching benefits to employees. These combined outcomes boost employee brand admiration, enhancing employees’ brand loyalty and advocacy behaviors. What’s important to realize here is that by creating these effects, the company develops internal brand admirers who consistently deliver on the brand promise and help to set it apart from competitors.

Key to this discussion is the company’s mission statement.

Creating A Meaningful Mission Statement

The company’s mission statement plays an important role in creating employee brand admiration. When the company is new and it has a single brand, the mission is closely aligned with the brand’s positioning in the marketplace. When companies become larger and have a portfolio of distinct brands, die company’s mission can become more abstract so as to accommodate the various brands that it makes. Each brand’s positioning may well be somewhat different. But the mission statement is important because it represents a global perspective on what the company (and each of its brands) stands for. It provides a broader description of the company’s identity, based on the brands it markets. Thus, the company’s mission and brand positioning statements should be aligned (or at least not inconsistent) with each other.

When thinking about the mission, consider the following quote from Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz: “ People want to be part of something larger than themselves. They want to be part of something they’re really proud of, that they’ll fight for, sacrifice for, that they trust.” As human beings, we want to have a sense of belonging and distinctiveness, and we take pride in what we do. Employees are no different. The mission statement can encapsulate this belief, such that employees are inspired to have faith in it and make it happen. But if a mission is to contribute to employees’ behavior, it must be meaningful.

A meaningful mission statement should describe the brand’s purpose and goals and answer the following questions: (1) what benefits should be offered, (2) to whom, and (3) how should they be delivered.

The decision about what benefits to offer gets at what core customer needs have yet to be addressed in the marketplace. Employees are frustrated when they lack clarity on what the brand is supposed to do for customers. Employees must understand what the brand (and by extension, they themselves) is expected to deliver to customers. A clear promise (i.e., an articulation of what benefits the brand offers) makes it easier for employees to deliver on that promise.

The for whom question asks which target customers are most likely to appreciate the brand’s benefits. If employees know what benefits to deliver but they lack knowledge about who the real target customer is, they are less capable and effective in communicating these benefits. Without clarity on the core target market, employees end up using their resources inefficiently— by targeting the wrong customer group(s)— or even worse, inadvertently damaging the brand.

Finally, the how question describes the means or strategies by which a brand plans to respond to target customers’ needs. Answering the how question gives employees guidance and clarity on what needs to be done to satisfy customers’ needs, particularly as it pertains to employees’ roles and responsibilities. A mission statement that addresses these questions acts as a compass for employees. It gives them a sense of direction and it reassures them of the path taken to get there.

Consider, for example, Google’s mission “ to organize the world’s information (the what) and make it universally (the whom) accessible and useful (the how)”. Such a sense of purpose and direction helps to build employee brand trust, love, and respect. Whereas it’s helpful for a company to have a mission statement, employees must also accept and embody it to make it meaningful.

Unfortunately, some internal branding experts suggest that over 50 percent of employees don’t believe in their company’s mission statement, or don’t think they have the knowledge, skills, and training to deliver on it. Thus, beyond stating a mission statement, internal branding needs to focus on making that mission come to life for employees.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: C. Whan Park, Deborah MacInnis and Andreas Eisingerich, excerpted from their book, Brand Admiration with permission from Wiley Publishing.

The Blake Project Can Help: Please email us for more about our purpose, mission, vision and values and brand culture workshops.

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Licensing and Brand Education

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