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Part Four:
Do you focus on
internal marketing?

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This is Part 4 of a series in which I share some of the ways I evaluate a company's marketing efforts. The series is based on seven questions:

  1. Are your marketing efforts focused on the right results?
  2. Are you clear about what you want customers to do?
  3. Are you clear about the rich story you want customers to understand?
  4. Are your marketing efforts integrated over the entire lifecycle of a customer's relationship with your company?
  5. Are you focused on internal marketing within the company?
  6. Does management allow its marketing professionals to succeed?
  7. Does your marketing department "get it done?"

Today we're going to focus on Question 5, "Are you focused on internal marketing within your company?"

Marketing professionals are, of course, taught to "focus on the customer," and, therefore, most marketing departments have 100% of their gaze directed outside the company, as they try to persuade customers to buy.

But what influences those customers' purchase decisions? Just the work product of the marketing department? Of course not. If you could "reverse engineer" a customer's brand impressions to determine its influences, you would see that, in most cases, traditional marketing communications play a relatively small role in creating customer love.

In my book Brand Harmony (and also in last week's issue) I discuss a principle that most people profess to agree with, but fewer organizations put into practice: Marketing isn't what marketing people say it is. Marketing is what customers say it is. And as far as customers are concerned, everything is marketing, because every point of contact with your company is an opportunity to evaluate you.

If every point of contact your company has with customers is a marketing contact, it's pretty easy to see that everyone in your company, well beyond the marketing department, affects your marketing.

Actually, can you name even one person in your company -- even people who never talk to customers -- who doesn't have some effect on the customer experience, even if it is an indirect effect?

The experience your customers have with your company is driven by the actions of everyone who works for your company, whether you are a company of 5 people, 50, 500, 5000 or 50,000.

Companies who practice great marketing recognize that their most valuable marketing media are the people who work for the company. So... do you think these great companies only focus their marketing on customers outside the company? No! They are also focused on internal marketing within their own company.

But... most companies don't practice great marketing. Walk into any office, factory, restaurant or retail store and ask people who work there, "What is your company's brand promise? Why should customers care about what you do?" In most cases, you will get blank stares, or you might get slapped. A few people might laugh and say, "I wish I knew."

What about your company? If I walked the halls and asked those questions, what kinds of responses would I hear? How much better would your business be performing if everyone in your company were able to give me a clear, compelling, enthusiastic answer?

Your external, marketplace-facing brand can never be better than your internal brand.This is one of the most important variables in evaluating a company's marketing strength (or weakness). Your external, marketplace-facing brand can never be better than your internal brand, because it is the people inside your company who create the customer experiences that make possible your external brand. If you want to do great marketing, focus on internal marketing within your company.

"A shared belief of
who we intend to be"

The best measure of a strong internal brand is if everyone in your company has a "shared belief of who we intend to be." This is what you want to aim for, because it will unify your team in creating an overall experience of Brand Harmony for your customers.

My observation: Most people agree with this premise, but most have a really hard time living up to it. Why is internal marketing so hard to do successfully?

Well, one thing is for sure: It's not the fault of the "audience." Employees, of all job levels, are eager to learn what it takes to "Be the Brand," and, once engaged in the process, most will act effectively to reinforce your brand story. If a company isn't doing great internal marketing, there is always a management-centered reason.

Maybe management doesn't think internal marketing is worth funding. Maybe they think they've got it all covered in the training budget. (They don't.) Maybe they support internal marketing, but think of it only as something for the front-lines, and not for themselves. Maybe they're still stuck in the dark ages of advertising, where they think great marketing is a function of brute force.

The keys to great internal marketing

Yastrow & Company does a lot of work helping companies improve their internal marketing, so I've had a chance to see things that work, and things that don't. Here are a few principles that correlate with success:

  • The company knows "who we intend to be."
    • Pretty obvious, but often missed. One CEO asked me to come in and "teach his people how to Be the Brand." The problem: Nobody knew what brand they should be.
  • The brand, and the idea of "who we intend to be," are woven into the fabric of the company's culture.
    • If your brand is something that is only talked about in terms of advertising, and finds itself listed on a few bullet points in somebody's PowerPoint presentation, you won't be doing great internal marketing.
    • One of many litmus tests: Is the brand discussed in an interview to hire an hourly employee?
  • The marketing department is focused on it.
    • If your marketing department thinks this is not their issue, preferring HR or training to worry about internal marketing, don't expect success. Expect most of the marketing budget to be spent externally.
  • Internal marketing is based on Brand Harmony, not on brute force.
    • Your employees are too savvy for you to "advertise" to them. They are also too savvy for button campaigns and tendentious monologues from the CEO.
    • Just like your customers, your internal marketing needs to be based on Brand Harmony, integrating all touchpoints your employees have with the company has with you into one clear, compelling story.
  • Employees participate in articulating their personal roles.
    • "Be the Brand" cannot be a command from above. It needs to be what my associate, Caroline Ceisel, calls an "empowering imperative." It is an invitation and encouragement, not an order from your boss.
    • Companies who practice great internal marketing stick the didactic, pedagogic, junior high-ish training model in the freezer, out of the way, and create a highly participative, genuinely interactive program that engages employees in dialogue about what they need to do to Be the Brand.

Here are few examples of companies that do great internal marketing:

Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants has, for years, focused on ensuring that its employees understand what it means to deliver a Kimpton Brand experience. One of the many things that astounded me through my work with Kimpton (2005 - 2007), was the similarity in what I heard from the company's top executives and from front-line employees working in the hotels. At all levels, and at all locations, Kimpton team members had clear, shared beliefs about Kimpton, and what Kimpton is trying to become.

Building on their strength, we collaborated with them on a program called, "The Kimpton Moment," which helped employees build relationships with guests. (For more on the Kimpton moment, see my book We: The Ideal Customer Relationship, especially Chapter 5)

Apple (oh no, here comes another story praising Apple) has a strong focus on internal marketing, especially with employees in their Apple stores. A friend who used to work in an Apple store told me stories about how Apple helped him understand how to build the brand story into his interactions with customers. Each employee attends a two-day training and carries a Credo Card behind their name tag with short tips on how to be the Apple brand. Apple understands the importance of having every customer interaction blend to tell their brand story.

The Geniuses and Creatives at an Apple Store spend at least a week in off-site training. While they learn a lot of technical product knowledge, the bulk of the training is spent on how to interact with customers and properly represent the Apple brand. If someone resists the brand training, his manager can let him go.

For more thoughts on internal marketing, see Chapter 6 in my book Brand Harmony, which is called "Be the Brand," and Chapter 5 in my book We: The Ideal Customer Relationship, which is called "We Among Many."

But most importantly, ensure that your marketing focus includes engaging the people within your own company. It is one the highest-impact actions you can take to improve the effectiveness of your company's marketing.

Steve Yastrow
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Part One: How do you know if your company is doing good marketing? Focus your marketing efforts and be clear about what you want customers to do.

Part Two: How do you know if your company is doing good marketing? Create a rich brand story, and your customers will help tell it for you.

Part Three: Most Companies Stop Marketing: Finding new customers should only be a small part of your marketing strategy.

Part Four: Do you focus on internal marketing? Your external brand can only be as strong as your internal brand.

Part Five: Does management allow its marketing professionals to succeed? Watch out for these pitfalls in micro-management.

Steve's posts on internal marketing: Read these insightful posts from

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