Imagine you are shopping in a shoe store where the service is cold, distant and transactional. Then, imagine you go to a second shoe store, with similar product and decor, where the service is warm and helpful, and the employees seem genuinely interested in helping you.

How different is your impression of each store?

Now, turn the tables. Imagine the shoe store is your company, and consider how the employees in your company affect the experiences that your customers have with you.

This leads us to Fundamental Marketing Truth #7: Your external brand can never be stronger than your internal brand.

Note that we are not just talking about “good customer service.” Good customer service is, of course, a necessary thing. But it is possible to have good customer service and a weak internal brand; just because your employees are “nice” does not mean they are effectively communicating your brand story as they impact the customer experience.

To illustrate this, let’s have a look at Yastrow & Company’s Brand Harmony Results Model, which shows the connection between employees, customers and results:

View Larger Brand Harmony Results Model

As the model shows, the first input into driving your company’s results is your internal brand, which is represented by the beliefs your employees have about your company. In the model, your external brand is represented by the “Customer Beliefs” box, as described in Fundamental Marketing Truth #3. Your external brand can never be stronger than your internal brand.

So what makes a great internal brand?

I’ve worked with many companies on their internal brands, and here’s what I’ve seen: When employees in an organization have a shared belief of who we intend to be, a million and one things fall into place. Teamwork accelerates. Employees learn by watching what other employees do. Customer experiences improve. Customers love the company more. Customer loyalty improves. Customers refer more. Revenue and profits increase. Enterprise value swells.

The “shared beliefs” part of my definition of a strong internal brand is somewhat clear and obvious. The part that may have caught your attention is the “who we intend to be” phrase. When your employees understand where you are going as a company, and buy in to that vision as a group, magic happens.

Brand Habits — The Magic

When employees who have shared, strong, compelling impressions of who you intend to be as a company, their actions are affected in many positive ways. Most importantly, employees who buy in to your internal brand will engage in importantBrand Habits, or behaviors that drive the right customer experiences.

Although I have worked with companies for many years on developing strong brand habits, I am currently learning a ton about habits within companies as I’m reading Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit. Duhigg makes the connection between shared beliefs in an organization and effective group habits. He also describes the value of keystone habits, which are the few, central habits that, when followed, have a leveraged effect well beyond their direct application. (In this article, Duhigg describes how when Paul O’Neill became CEO of Alcoa, his relentless focus on a keystone habit of being safe in the workplace translated to significant increases in profits and stock price.)

Let your employees build your internal brand with you

Internal brands are important, yet delicate, things. They need to be cared for and nurtured by the people who own them.

Who owns your internal brand? Hopefully your employees feel that they own your internal brand. Here’s how to make sure they do:

  • Involve them in creating your internal brand. Share your overall customer-focused brand strategy with your employees, and engage them in deep conversations about what this means to them. Organize them into small groups to brainstorm what it is they want their fellow employees to believe; articulating what they want other people in the company to believe is an effective way to have them articulate what they themselves think they should believe. Give them ownership in the internal brand.
  • Involve them in defining your brand habits. As with the point above, you should involve your employees in defining the right brand habits for your company. I have seen, nearly without exception, that employees are eager to define the brand habits in a company, and they will be very effective in doing so. Give your employees the chance for authorship of your brand habits.
  • Make this a responsibility of your marketing department. Your internal brand is ultimately your most important brand, since it drives your external brand or brands. Support it with appropriate resources who have a focus, passion and expertise for branding and marketing.

I hope you have enjoyed our series on the seven Fundamental Truths of Marketing. Follow these fundamental truths, and your business results will improve. But be sure not to miss this last one, described above. Your internal brand is the input to your entire results-driving machine.

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