TOP Talk

Internal Branding: The Secret To Nailing Your Corporate Brand Strategy

Design colors and iPad

When it comes to corporate branding, why is it that some companies get it so right while others struggle? I recently asked that question of Jonathan Cleveland, founder and principal of Cleveland Design, a top branding and design firm that works with major global organizations.

Cleveland’s perspective is that nailing an effective corporate brand strategy begins at home–in other words, by organizations creating an army of informed brand ambassadors among their employees.

“Every employee – on the front line or in the back room – has the power to influence brand perception,” says Cleveland. “Even if they are not directly engaging with customers, they are interacting with and influencing the attitudes of co-workers who are. The potential for each employee to affect a positive interaction with your brand is just too powerful to ignore.”

The Cleveland Design team refers to this as “internal branding” – the practice of bringing a brand to life inside an organization. In fact, Cleveland points to studies that show when internal branding is practiced and embraced by employees:

  • they feel more connected to the company
  • they are more loyal
  • morale is higher
  • customers are happier

So not only does internal branding help a company retain valuable personnel, it reaps the added benefit of supporting an organization’s revenue generation through customers that drive repeat business and positive word of mouth.

When I asked Cleveland which organizations are doing internal branding well, he pointed to one of their clients, a major financial services organization. This widely recognized organization has created a “culture of brand,” which includes an internal brand center tasked with reviewing major internal marketing pieces. But knowing the brand center can’t be eyes and ears on everything this global organization creates, they’ve also built a widely-used library of document templates available to everyone in the organization. This library also defines approval processes to further aid internal clarity. And of course, brand training is a regular part of this company’s employee curriculum.

Here are four best practices Cleveland shared from organizations that understand how to implement effective internal brand alignment:  

1. Create the right brand guideline tools and make them widely available.

Organizations should create and share a brand tool kit with all employees as part of an internal microsite. This toolkit might include PowerPoint and Word document templates, approved fonts, guidelines for the corporate voice in written materials, a color palette, examples of approved photos and illustrations, and more.

2. Institute brand training as part of the employee onboarding process.

Smart organizations understand they need resources to help employees learn and understand the brand from the get-go. This will ensure they’re inspired not only to use the brand successfully and creatively but to live it – which projects to the outside world.

3. Brand education needs to go beyond just the marketing department.

With a well-stocked toolbox and the training to support it, anyone in the organization can talk about, write about, and demonstrate the values of the brand through all aspects of their work – whether it’s the sales team, HR, customer support or anything in-between. It’s not just about using the right logo and the official colors or banning all gratuitous animation effects. It’s about recognizing the values, the position, and the voice and tone of a company. What does that voice say? What does it look like? How does it behave?

4. Internal brand alignment isn’t a one-and-done proposition.

Smart brands conduct ongoing half-day brand workshops for employees that continue to reinforce the brand promise and how to use the brand externally.

It takes an investment on the part of an organization to develop the necessary structure to ensure effective internal brand alignment. But as Cleveland points out, the internal and external rewards will more than justify the upfront effort. 

Kathy Wilson

About Kathy Wilson

What motivates me? Identifying and showcasing the unique and authentic elements of a company’s story – those “aha!” storylines that set a great company apart from the merely good ones. Then developing a strategy that leverages a variety of storytelling channels, whether it’s traditional media, social campaigns or visuals, to bring that company’s value proposition to life.