In today’s context, Branding is commonly seen as a capability building tool in helping businesses expand and be more relevant to their consumers. However, it is often regarded as a back burner; overshadowed by business operations such as product development, marketing and inventory management etc. due to the lack of its immediate and quantifiable impact. This is especially so for small medium enterprises, which are often strapped by their limited pool of resources.
An important aspect of branding, is the need for internal brand alignment. Internal branding is the linking of an organisation’s culture and value to its employees’ individual values, in ways that enable both parties to achieve their goals. It is about aligning the internal stakeholders to the brand; where their actions are translated into consistent delivery of the brand’s promise and values through the organisation’s key activities, culture and rewards systems.
A company with strong internal branding manages its touch-points to consistently deliver the envisaged brand experience to its staff and consumers. Take Ritz Carlton as an example. The organisation is well-known for its exceptional customer service where employees embrace and live the essence of the brand in their daily work – denoted in its core value of “Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen”.
Benefits of internal branding
Internal branding nurtures an organisation’s identity
It helps employees understand who they are and what they do. It builds a common platform to the brand, where the organisation’s vision, mission, values and objectives are clearly defined and communicated.
Internal branding as a mode of communication to signal commitment
It is also a mode of communication where the actions required to fulfil the brand’s promise and values are clearly clarified. It serves to raise employees’ morale through the shared beliefs and vision.
Internal branding aids in clarifying alignment
Very often, a consumer’s experience with a brand is the determining factor that may make or break the deal. Full comprehension of the brand’s promise and values enables employees to effectively communicate the messages that are attached to the brand. By keeping employees’ values in tune with the corporate values, the company is better able to ensure product performance and service efficiency.
An example of a company with strong internal branding is Singapore Airlines. The company focuses on an experiential brand strategy (in-flight hospitality), which is well associated with its core values of excellence, safety and customers. The consistent permeation of the brand in every facet such as their inflight facilities and entertainment, flight schedules, and services by the Singapore Girl warrant its traveller a safe and pleasant journey on board. This in turn, strengthens the brand’s positioning as a product and service differentiator.
Building the internal brand
Several factors have been identified to help align your organisation with your brand promise and values.
Connect the dots between the business and brand strategy
Build the brand by defining what the organisation stands for! The key activities of a business should be communicated in the same manner as its brand promise. The organisation culture is formed when both the business and brand strategies are aligned. A part of this alignment process includes hiring suitable candidates who share the same values as the organisation. When internal stakeholders are able to attune the brand’s value to customers’ needs and wants in their day-to-day interactions, the brand comes to life naturally.
Walk the Talk
Leadership drives the brand to its success. It is important for senior management to understand and demonstrate the importance of internal branding through their individual dedication to the brand’s promise and values. Their actions could then be translated into inspirations for their staff, fostering a company-wide movement towards attaining the organisation’s goals.
Mr Ho Kwon Ping, Founder and Executive Chairman of Banyan Tree Group, is such a leader. “My job has been to drum that message (brand vision) into everyone, and to also focus everyone’s work towards promoting the brand equity.” He believes that every department has to have the “brand” as the key driving force.
Communication is key
Communication is the focal point in relationship management. A brand without communication will not make an impression on its consumers. Internally, employees will be confused about their identity. Communication tools such as employee meetings, organisational-wide memos will help to reinforce the brand. However, this should not be limited to a one-way approach where information is passed down from the top. Employees should be engaged at all points of the communication process as they are ultimately the ones championing the brand.
Set performance measurements for internal branding
Performance measures should be set in place to check the progress of internal brand alignment within the organisation. Examples of which include the assessment of employees behaviour in relation to the brand’s values during their performance appraisals or customer feedback to monitor the effectiveness of brand delivery at each touch-point. By having these measurements in place, it allows the organisation to assess the validity of its brand promise and values through the feedback of its staff and customers.
Brands, which are strong in internal branding, stand out. Internal brand alignment contributes to credibility and makes brands trustworthy entities to both its employees and consumers. With organisational-wide unity, half the battle of establishing a successful business will be won.
By Chan Min Li