Imagine you are attending a classical concert. The string and woodwind components are superb, but things go badly wrong when the percussionists enter the fray. Unfortunately they were not included in rehearsals and are badly off key. They spoil the entire rendition. It’s been a memorable afternoon, but for all the wrong reasons.
Later that evening you attend a major football game. Your team’s forwards are commendable, but the backs are not up to scratch. They weren’t included in the pre-match practise and strategy. Your team is thumped. Once again you walk away feeling disappointed. It just hasn’t been your day!
Some brand owners reading this may believe these examples naïve but are, ironically, doing something similar in their own organisations.
By focussing all, or almost all, of their brand development and communications efforts on their customers and target market, brand owners often ignore where brand development should begin, which is internally.
As a consequence they have created armies of ‘invisible’ men and women, so called because of the manner in which this important stakeholder group is left out in the cold. As though they didn’t exist.
Treated like puppets to represent, but not feeling part of, the brand it is understandable why customers often have below par experiences with staff under these circumstances.
Over time I have worked alongside corporations, not-for-profits, and other institutions of all sizes including large international blue-chips, conducted many brand audits and developed a multitude of brand strategies, as part of the bigger picture.
In the majority of instances internal stakeholder brand focus is not up to standard, to say the least. Like the examples of the orchestra and football team above, a brand can never be optimised unless a holistic vision and implementation is adopted and the process built from the inside out.
Whilst customers are of major significance to any brand and deserve our utmost respect they are not the only stakeholders nor do they sit closest to the brand.
When it comes to key entities like your brand’s mission, vision, culture and values, as well as the broader brand identity, including brand promise and point of difference your management and staff are more than simply your brand’s finest ambassadors, they are its heart beat.
In addition when it comes to service brands, in the absence of something more tangible, employees are often the major component that determines which brands customers choose to support, depending on the interaction and relationship.
Most of us have had great experiences where the service we receive goes way beyond expectations, which is great for the brand. Conversely, there are times when both staff and management don’t seem to care in the least and brand promises go out the window. This could happen for a multitude of reasons but the end result is that the reputation of the brand concerned takes an almighty dive and the situation becomes considerably worse, including online.
If your management and staff don’t understand, believe, or live the brand’s core values and promise, then your brand has major problems.
Consider a situation where companies treat customers like royalty but treat their staff like second class citizens. Under these circumstances the integrity of the brand will fail. And it happens. More than you think.
With social conscience growing and the proliferation of digital media, communities are now more aware than ever before and many factor in how companies treat employees and the community at large. If these are not in sync with how the brand’s treats core values many regard the brand as false and hypocritical and do not want to be associated with it.
Only when management and staff truly understand, believe in, and resonate with the brand will its soul come to the fore, because under these circumstances this passion will be communicated to other stakeholders, including customers.
These are not only practical issues but also emotional ones, and emotions are strong catalysts when it comes to building associations with any brand.
The advantages of branding from the inside out
There are many advantages of choosing to build your brand from the inside out. These include:
- Employees who are well informed, content and ‘live the brand’ are far more likely to be enthusiastic and be great brand ambassadors.
- They are also far better at promoting major points of difference and more emotionally attached to the brand, with positive outcomes.
- This in turn will often attract high calibre employees with the best cultural fit and talent for the brand concerned.
- Building the brand from the inside out makes staff feel that they are part of a far bigger brand picture, and that they are recognised.
- Brand concepts can be tested, constructively criticised, and amended internally before reaching external stakeholders.
- With the right input, brand standards are better understood by staff and can be regulated and implemented in an environment where the reasons for this are acknowledged. This is highly relevant for franchise owners and franchisees, as the latter often act independently if unchecked, often to the detriment of the brand.
- Staff can make valuable contributions to the brand as they are at the face of customer interaction. They are well placed to see many perspectives that brand owners sometimes don’t. They are aware if a company really practices what it preaches and if the desired brand image is compatible with the brand identity, which ideally it should be.
- The actions of employees can influence a wide range of brand equity measures including brand association, brand loyalty, advocacy and many others. In addition they can also influence the rate of diffusion. Diffusion in this instance relates to the manner in which new brands, products or services spread. Positively orientated employees will generally have a positive influence in this regard, whilst negatively orientated employees will have the opposite effect. Faster diffusion rates can be extremely beneficial for cash flow and market share.
- Enhanced brand equity and diffusion will, in turn, generally impact positively on the financial value of the brand and its owners moving forward.
- Brand strategy that acknowledges internal stakeholders optimally can also help extend brand and product life cycles by promoting the brand in a positive manner. To have perspective, many other aspects also need to be factored in.
How best to engage with employees and develop the brand from the inside out
- Involve employees from the beginning. If you are conducting a brand audit include both management and staff. Not only is this good from a methodological perspective but is also shows that you care, and value their knowledge and opinions. Utilise this information, where appropriate, in the relevant brand development or rebranding phases.
- Once you have developed all relevant aspects related to your brand, including a comprehensive brand identity and its implementation, ensure that management and staff across the entire organisation are informed of what your brand stands for in all relevant contexts. Also ensure that all elements are aligned across internal and external stakeholders in a logical sequence once the brand is rolled out.
- Create enthusiasm for the brand with your management and staff. Communicate, engage, reinforce and reward. Hire new staff members who are in sync with your brand’s core values and brand culture.
- Reinforce consistently and encourage your employees to become close knit members of your ‘brand family.’ Make them feel how important they are on a continuous basis.
- Introduce programs like employee of the month, best brand idea, etc.
- Be consistent in all that you do both internally and externally.
- Whilst the intranet and other digital messaging play an important role internally, iconic brands often include seminars, workshops and other face-to-face opportunities for staff engagement and enhancement, including brand related areas. Some even provide on-going training that includes brand elements. The key is to adopt a holistic approach in this regard.
- Create mechanisms to encourage employees to provide their views on all brand matters, with the option of remaining anonymous, if preferred.
- Research and monitor the internal brand environment over time, creating benchmarks as appropriate, and strive to improve.
- Encourage staff to spread positive brand news in all ways possible, including traditional word-of-mouth, and on- line.
Many brands that recognise the importance of building from the inside out are very successful
Companies such as Southwest Airlines and Panda Express have realised that people are their primary asset and have acted accordingly when it comes to developing their brands internally.
Both place tremendous emphasis on developing their human assets and provide a myriad of programs and support to management and staff, who acknowledge this in a very positive manner. Internal brand development is a major component of these efforts.
Not only do internal stakeholders thrive under these circumstances but the ‘follow on’ effect on customers and communities has also been outstanding, meaning that all stakeholders are winners.
If you haven’t thought of your brand development from the inside out, isn’t it time you did?
About the Author
Alan Kaplan PhD is an executive director of Optivance 360 a Sydney based management and franchise consultancy.
Alan’s international experience spans more than twenty five years across academic, media, agency, client and consulting areas.
Alan has worked with clients ranging in size from SME’s, such as Royal Copenhagen, to large corporates such as Agrevo, Aventis, AC Nielsen, BASF, Bates, FBC, Sakata, Qantas Loyalty and World Vision, to name but some.
Alan’s profile and company testimonials can be viewed at: www.optivance360.com or on LinkedIn, and he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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