Great, iconic brands achieve a mystical state of oneness – a universal clarity and consistency that drives their businesses to fantastic success.
The rest of us? Instead of brand unity, we preside over what amounts to three different brands. For a business to operate at full power, these three need to be aligned. It takes work to make a brand whole.
3 brands? Where did they come from?
First: the brand you want to have. Call it your strategic brand. This is the brand that (ideally) is written in your strategy and is up there on your website. When you have meetings and discussions about brand, this is what people usually have in mind.
Second: your actual brand. It’s the brand as the outside world sees it – what your customers and the public are saying about your company when you’re not around. Many companies don’t concern themselves much with the actual brand, even though that’s what finally drives business success. It can be painful to learn how different the actual is from the strategic ideal.
Third: your internal brand. This is the brand that lives in the heads of your salespeople, managers and everyone else in your company. It’s the internal brand that makes it possible to transmit the strategic brand outward in the form of customer contacts, product design, marketing communications, business presentations, and so on. Yet this is the brand businesses are least likely to focus on.
It’s what’s inside that counts
There’s a good case to be made that the internal brand is the most important of the three brands – or at least the one that you should be spending most of your time on. After all, the strategic brand is mostly theory and ideals – it doesn’t actually do much. The actual brand is important, obviously, but you have limited control. The internal brand is where theory turns to practice – it’s what brings the strategic and the actual brands into alignment and makes the whole thing run.
In an ideal world, companies would enjoy a perfect mind-meld between staff and strategic vision: everyone would know and understand the brand and execute perfectly. But this never happens by itself. Instead, in the real world of neglected internal branding, everyone in the company has his own idea of what the brand is and how it should be expressed in everyday activities.
Internal branding in practice: a 3-stage process
Building an effective internal brand takes serious effort, preferably in the form of a formal program. What does such a program look like? There are usually three stages:
1. Knowledge stage
Immerse the organization in brand knowledge, typically through a system of training workshops and collateral material deployed at all levels of the organization.
2. Attitude stage
Reinforce brand knowledge through incentives and motivational activities. These can come in the form of HR performance systems, coaching, internal communications, team activities, competitions and rewards.
3. Skills stage
Modify the organization’s processes and practices to support the brand promise. Areas to focus on include customer-focused personal behavior, external communications and internal business processes. Give special attention to measuring changes in behavior and related business outcomes.
To be successful, internal branding needs to be a formal process with its own objectives, budget and resources. It works best as part of a wider strategic branding initiative. And it absolutely must be actively supported by top management.
If all goes well, internal branding closes the gap between strategy and internal practice. Do that, and you’re well on your way to whole-brand bliss.