More and more, today’s strategic communicators are assuming executive positions that direct and oversee not only an organization’s external communications and brand perceptions, but also internal perceptions and employee engagement. This makes perfect sense, given that employees are an organization’s most important audience. Without employee buy-in, loyalty, and commitment to the brand, long-term success will be elusive.
According to the IABC Handbook of Organizational Communication (2006), “An organization’s brand resides in its people and their ability to deliver value to clients every day. The brand is literally everybody’s business. The challenge is getting everyone to live the brand as they interact with both internal clients (their colleagues) and external clients. In order [to do so], employees must understand the brand promise and brand attributes and be offered concrete examples of brand-centered behavior” (pg. 411).
These responsibilities should be a priority for every strategic communication professional. Working collaboratively with senior leadership, HR, and the organizational development team, strategic communicators must lead the charge in ensuring that employees understand, embrace, and live the corporate brand.
The following figures depict how internal branding and communication impact the organization and its performance.
Fig. 1 Balmer's Corporate Marketing Mix. Balmer and Greyser, pg. 735.
Fig. 2 Retrieved from http://justpeopleconsulting.blogspot.com/2010/07/blog-post_03.html
Note that internal brand communication begins with the recruitment and hiring processes. By clearly conveying the organization’s brand message in all recruitment, hiring, and HR communications, organizations can attract (and retain) employees who share the organization’s values and believe in the brand message.
Brand communications are both verbal and nonverbal, tangible and intangible. Essentially, a brand is everything about an organization that has the potential to impact audience perceptions; this can include leader presentations, training videos, organizational values, employee word-of-mouth, customer service, memos, emails, newsletters, logos, slogans, tag lines, advertising and PR messages, uniforms, signage, packaging, color schemes, office décor, and other artifacts.
It’s important to remember that perceptions directly influence emotions (thoughts precede feelings). As every savvy communicator knows, the key to brand success is stimulating a positive emotional connection with key audiences – in this case, the organization’s employees. Following is a three-step, “A-B-C” process for stimulating brand acceptance, employee buy-in, and emotional engagement.
Successful internal brand messaging is:
A: Aligned. Internal messaging must align with the organization’s mission, vision, and values – all of which directly reflect the leader’s personal value system. Every employee should clearly understand how their role contributes to the overall brand. Further, leaders must recognize that, particularly in top-down organizations, their messages often become distorted as they travel through the chain of command. Therefore, it’s imperative that strategic communication executives ensure message alignment and integrity throughout the organization.
B: Believable. Leaders and managers must “walk their talk” in order to be perceived as credible by the internal audience. Employees are acutely aware when leader behaviors and organizational values are not in sync. Additionally, hyperbole, “spin,” false advertising, and other forms of self-aggrandizement will quickly erode employee trust. Mixed messages create cognitive dissonance and a disrupted culture that can lead to employee turnover, diminished performance, and negative word-of-mouth.
C: Consistent. Sloppy, haphazard, or erratic communications convey that the organization’s leaders are fickle and untrustworthy. The “need to know” approach to internal communication is no longer an acceptable practice; employees are the lifeblood of the organization and, therefore, they should be kept informed on a regular and frequent basis. After all, how can leaders expect their people to be effective brand ambassadors if they’re not privy to essential information?
Strategic communicators should employ all aspects of the integrated marketing mix to “sell” the brand concept across the organization, thus helping employees understand how their behaviors, decisions, and their own communications directly impact the organization and its success. By executing a comprehensive internal branding campaign, based on the “A-B-C” model above, the brand message can be effectively reinforced and monitored. And, when an organization has a positive brand image and reputation, employees will enjoy a more positive workplace experience, which will then extend to key external audiences.
Balmer, J.M.T. and Greyser, S.A. (2006). Corporate marketing: Integrating corporate identity, corporate branding, corporate communications, corporate image and corporate reputation. European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 40 , No. 7/8, pp. 730 – 741.
Gillis, T. (Ed.) (2006). The IABC handbook of organizational communication: A guide to internal communication, public relations, marketing, and leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.