Here’s a question: Can you uphold your company’s reputation if over 90% of your employees don’t understand how to effectively represent the company brand?
Short answer: no.
In fact, if you’re going to position your brand for growth and reach your strategic goals, your employees must not only understand your branding efforts, they must begin to live the brand too. There is real power is numbers: The more people who embrace the brand within your company, the more impact the brand will have outside of it.
Which brings us to brand internalization.
Brand internalization means that the brand is communicated to all employees—not just senior executives. Yes, of course it’s critical to have the buy-in and support of senior people, but this won’t be enough to have a real effect on the desired brand. That’s why communicating the brand to all employees and across all company departments is important.
Note that when we use the word “communicate” we don’t just mean talking at employees. We mean talking with them and listening to their ideas. If you create a real-time feedback loop and an ongoing conversation, you’ll know what questions your employees have and be able to support them in ways that will make them internalize the brand—from defining it, to hearing it, to believing it, to living it. Then, later, when they live it, you can reward and recognize their accomplishment.
Employee messages associated with brand internalization have four distinct purposes:
What is a brand? Why is it important? What is its relationship to the organization’s reputation?
What does the brand stand for? How is it differentiating?
What behaviors are expected? How will the performance of these behaviors have a desirable effect on external perceptions of the organization?
What’s exciting about the new brand?
Answer these kinds of questions with all employees in an educational, yet stimulating way and you’ll be well on your way to creating an internal enthusiasm that’s contagious. If employees are truly engaged in a brand activity, they won’t even realize the point is educational. This was the case when a new hotel brand gave its employees a chance to enter a contest as a way to understand the new brand and its voice. The contest involved creating a two-word saying. The prize was a tote bag with the winner’s saying printed on it and thousands of employees entered the contest. They were engaged with the brand, learning to write in the brand voice, and being educated without even realizing it—a true brand internalization success story—and most importantly, because of this high level of employee engagement, today the brand is well on its way to realizing its desired external reputation and growth potential.
But you can’t stop at one contest or one activity. To progressively strengthen the brand and produce maximum return on investment, the brand must become part of the company-wide culture. So you also need brand operationalization.
When you operationalize a brand, you ensure it is driven to all functional areas of the company and that the brand is used as a driver for decision-making. For employees, this means two key elements are in place:
What’s in it for me?
You must recognize or reward employees for living the brand. This means you infuse it into performance and compensation programs and set a platform of rewards and consequence for compliance.
What resources do I have to live the brand?
Employees must be equipped to live the brand if they are going to be held responsible for doing so.
There are many ways to focus on operationalization. Division-specific workshops. Social media. E-learning. Brown bag lunches. The list goes on and on. But the main take-away is that operationalization can’t be a one and done workshop or activity. It must be part of an ongoing conversation that builds on the level of knowledge and understanding that employees already have regarding the brand. Make sure each operationalization touchpoint provides:
Connect the dots between what the brand promises to the outside world (in advertising, etc.) and what it means to deliver on those promises from the inside out. For example, the hotel brand mentioned above that had the writing contest, also made sure its employees understood how the brand pillars and personality translated to them. The brand leaders knew they couldn’t just tell employees to be spirited, which was one of the brand’s pillars. They had to specifically give them behaviors that meant spirited: We never let a guest’s mood get us down and remain upbeat no matter what; We have an inner drive that motivates us and keeps us on our feet; We have a hard time sitting down, and if we do, it’s always on the edge of our seats. The employees had to be directed in order to bring the brand to life.
2. Reality Check.
Ask employees to consider if the brand can support its promise. Compare the brand promise with the actual experience customers have with each touchpoint and align actions against gaps.
How will the organization look once the brand is fully integrated into all processes, such as product and service development? Ensure employees understand long-term goals.
If the brand is going to be used as a basis for daily decision-making (and of course, it should be), then it’s critical to give team members tools that allow them to determine if their actions are “on brand” or not.
Once you’ve both internalized and operationalized your brand, you’ll find many positive outcomes such as strategic goal alignment, workforce motivation, leadership voice, retention rate increase, and more. Done well, your brand will become a magnet both internal and external people flock to.
Most importantly, when you strengthen your reputation with internal stakeholders, you’ll strengthen your reputation with external ones too. In fact, the stronger your organization’s relationships are, the higher its value will be. That’s why the goal of any brand initiative is to build organizational cohesion that is focused on, and accountable to, a set of brand attributes.
Isn’t brand internalization and brand operationalization great?