Branding: From the Inside Out

Sage advice is to never be the smartest person in the room. I am proud of the fact that my closest circle of friends validates that saying all the time. Except for some Saturday nights when I’m not sure there is a smartest one in the room, but that’s beside the point. What also makes this a fantastic group is their variety of backgrounds, with the associated diversity in experiences and opinions. Whenever some of us walk into a room, it’s like the opening line to a joke.

I mention this group because a recent conversation amongst them jogged my thinking towards an intersection between the worlds of public relations, communications, management, and organizational leadership. The overarching topic was ethics and the distinction between the organization as a whole and the individuals within the organization. I chimed in that the public perception of the organization as a whole is the essence of branding. And when you discuss how employees view or feel about the effectiveness of the organization and/or its leadership, that’s internal branding.

Many in the general public believe “branding” is simply logos and color schemes. For those more embedded in the work of communications, “branding” goes much further. It includes the perception of how an organization interacts with the public, its choices in partners, its repeated actions, its track record of quality standards; essentially its reputation. Building this level of branding is a long-term (even on-going) process. And once the “brand” is established in the outside world, changing it can be like changing course in an aircraft carrier.

One of the best, but often overlooked, tools in creating and maintaining your desired external branding is the power of the employee. How employees feel and what they believe about the organization in general and especially leadership is “internal branding” and it will permeate beyond the walls of any building.

If you have employees frustrated by bureaucratic hoops necessary to do their job or a lack of support from management or disregard for providing necessary resources or unreasonable demands, many cannot help but be less than positive ambassadors of the business to the outside world. “If they treat me like this, do they care about customers?”

To the flip-side, Richard Branson offers the following: “If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your clients.” Supported, engaged, respected employees become walking testimonials of the organization with more credibility than any multi-media campaign.

So how do you work on internal branding? This is where I get to plug the value of communications. Facilitating quality internal interactions between employees and leadership is crucial to developing your internal brand. And those interactions need to go in both directions. Uncovering employee concerns,  relaying those concerns to those with the power to address them, and then communicating solutions and responses is an important cycle. Similarly, deciphering leadership goals and objectives, translating them to a more practical language, and then sharing that information with employees helps to validate and involve them in the mission of the organization.

When considering your organization’s brand, realize that it is more than physical packaging, trademarks or mascots. It emanates from the inside out. An organization with a false façade is not prepared for long-term success.

Posted in Communication, Leadership, PR.

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