Some company logos are so widely known that they are the face of a brand worldwide. They are not the brand itself, but they are the image associated with it. When you see a company logo, the image calls up your memories and feelings about the company’s products or services. Logos are designed to make you feel your loyalty to the brand and to stimulate your desire for what the company is selling. They are an important part of a company’s brand.
Branding has changed a lot, though, since the days when the logo was king and the marketing campaign was its core activity. Branding today has more moving parts, and is much more complex than it used to be.
The most common branding usually consists of a core message that is developed by the company, complete with a logo image, that is wrapped in upbeat videos and then pushed out to customers and potential customers through many outlets to get them to feel good about the company and buy more of what it sells. A brand is meant to create value through desire, to differentiate your products from other products, create customer loyalty, and increase your market share.
I call this the intentional external brand. It is the manufactured and idealized story of a company and its products that is aimed at an external audience. This brand advertising piece is put together like a movie, and is a well-polished, multi-faceted presentation that is a targeted hunt for minds, hearts and wallets.
This is the part of a brand that still gets the most corporate attention. Companies want so much to shape their relationship with you on their terms. We will tell you who we are, how you are to feel about us and our products, and what you are to do as a result (buy more stuff!).
In today’s media-besotted world, the target audience tries hard to block out the intentional brand barrage. They are overwhelmed by so much of it from so many sources, and they are savvy enough to be skeptical of its claims.
They are also very sensitive to unintentional brands.
Your unintentional external brand is how people outside of your organization experience your company. This part of your brand is experienced on many levels – it is reactive, rational, emotional, interactive and fluid. It is about what people buy, what they hear, how they experience you, your people and technology, and most important, it’s about how their relationship with you makes them feel emotionally.
Thanks to technology and social media, this awareness of your company is always and instantly open to change. It is not anymore about a static logo symbol or a piece of text. It is the sum of how you are known in the world, and how people think and feel about you.
So, your overall brand includes both your intentional external brand, which is your company’s externally focused branding story, and your unintentional brand, which is peoples’ actual everyday experiences of anything and everything to do with your company.
Frontier Airlines with its low, lowest fares – their intentional brand – and the very same Frontier Airlines with some of the highest customer complaint levels in the industry – their unintentional brand.
Consider McDonald’s with its intentional external brand, “I’m lovin’ it”, and its unintentional brand – a growing public belief that their food is unhealthy. You can see how the unintentional brand can overwhelm the intentional brand and cause great trouble for a company.
And there’s more, as they say in sales.
There is another part of your brand that is also crucial – your internal brand. The internal brand has its intentional and unintentional parts, too, and it is about how all the people inside your company (your internal customers *) experience the organization.
A company’s intentional internal branding efforts are often no less intense than those aimed at potential customers. They include motivational articles, newsletters, speeches and trainings, pep talks, friendly communication policies (“My door is always open… “), awards and rewards, and upbeat visions of the past and future. This internal company storyline strives to create a happy, productive brand for company people so they will be engaged and stick around. That only works, though, if it is not at odds with the company’s unintentional internal brand.
The unintentional internal brand is how your people actually experience your company. This is not to be confused with your company culture-“the way we do things and treat people around here”. But, the way you do things around there will most certainly influence how your people really feel about your company, which will coalesce over time into your unintentional internal brand.
Whew. Much more complicated than a logo with a song and some text, isn’t it?
Take a second look at McDonald’s in that regard. They have a problem with their intentional external brand, “I’m lovin’ it” because of beliefs about their food content, and they also have a problem with their unintentional internal brand because of high-profile disagreements with franchise owners and workers. That’s a one-two punch.
When intentional and unintentional brand segments collide, very big, bad things can happen.
I worked for almost a year as a consultant for a company that had some real dissonance between its well-regarded external intentional brand as a supplier of equipment and its rock-bottom internal unintentional brand as a dysfunctional place to work. The internal negative brand started dramatically affecting the quality of work on projects and increased employee turnover, which in turn caused product recalls and lost customers. Ultimately the poor internal brand damaged the company’s overall brand.
So, if you want a great brand that will survive and thrive with everything the new digital and business environments can throw at you, work to improve all the parts of your brand. A shiny logo, some zippy ads and a celebrity endorsement can help, but they will not by themselves move your branding meter where you want it to be. For that to happen you must have great and consistent intentional and unintentional brands, both inside and outside of your organization.
Think Apple or Southwest Airlines. They are companies that function well internally, their external branding is superb, and the buzz about them out in the world is mostly positive.