Inward’s 18th Anniversary – 10 Commandments of Internal Branding, Culture, and Employee Engagement

Posted by Allan Steinmetz on 25 October 2016

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It was 18 years ago that we first started building our own brand identity. At the time, many companies were conducting large-scale process redesign and reengineering programs. Reportedly, close to 50% of those programs were failing, and 80% of the credit was given to reasons related to company culture clashes. Our thinking? What could we do to help organizations deal with enterprise change, culture realignment and internal branding?

What we came up with was remarkable. Instead of focusing on external audiences, we applied traditional advertising and communications planning methods to campaigns created for associates and employees. We offered organizations new, exciting and relevant ways to involve, inspire and empower their internal constituencies. By giving their employees a prominent voice, we showed them how to make the desired changes in their companies happen. Employee engagement not only accelerated internal acceptance but also saved a lot of money and angst. Being able to get the job done in a quarter of the time for half the amount of money charged by a traditional ad agency? Amazing!

Interestingly, there’s not much difference between a company’s employees and their target customer audience, especially in consumer segmentation. The same people who make Campbell’s® Soup are also buying it. The same people who work at Walmart, shop at Walmart. The key insight here? Many of the approaches used to motivate external audiences have the same effect on a company’s own people internally. When you look in the mirror do you see your company’s biggest advocate and customer? Or do you see someone with doubts who doesn’t have a voice? If you’re missing the spark necessary to move your company forward, it’s probably time to make some changes.

Let me offer you the 10 Commandments of Change Communications, guidelines I believe are essential for a company’s internal branding success.

1). Engage Your People

Employees and associates want to know they’re being heard. It’s important for them to feel their input and efforts are valued by your organization, regardless of how big or small contributions may be, and they want to be a part of the success, too.

2). Appreciate Effort

Show recognition to and for the people contributing to the success of your company. Whether the appreciation comes in the form of cash, promotions, awards or a simple certificate, showing gratitude by acknowledging such efforts goes a long way.

3). Message with Meaning

Keep it relevant and meaningful at all levels. It’s critical for core messaging to be aligned, but a one-message-fits-all approach just doesn’t work. Speak to all your constituencies – corporate, business units, field, etc. – in ways that are appropriate and effective in order to achieve your overall goals. Messaging is critical. Take time to make it brilliant. Once a messaging architecture is in place, train management on expressing it in simple and convincing ways – stay on point, repeat it frequently and build continuity. Make them believers, and they become your best brand advocates.

4). Open Communication

If you can hear a pin drop in a room packed with people, you’ve got a big problem. Creating a collaborative environment where people can tell stories, share ideas and be themselves is important. Be open to their humor, laughter and light-hearted conversations. You’ll be amazed by what your fellow employees have to offer.

5). Train. Coach. Repeat.

Like learning, internal branding should be viewed as a life-long process. Designed much like curriculum used in formal education, you’re not done with internal branding after just one exposure. It should be repeatable so that your people can train others, and for those to train even more people. The content and process should have well thought out learning foundations and principles that can be enhanced year after year. It shouldn’t be made up along the way. It needs to be formal. Training and coaching your people until they get it right is critical.

6). Align Communications

It’s difficult to keep core messaging aligned when multiple departments within your organization distribute communications. Avoid the release of conflicting messaging by making sure everyone, including public relations, advertising, human resources, sales, recruitment and talent branding, is aligned and shares the same goals. Communications should also have a common look/feel, tone and manner and personality. Just like competing messages can create confusion, so can different looks and personalities of the communications.

7). Internal Branding Non-Reinvention

If done correctly, the internal branding wheel won’t have to be reinvented each time the evaluation process rolls around. It should be designed to be repeatable, trainable and coachable. Tactics and messages can change with your overall goal, but the methods and processes used to design and manage your programs should be constant and able to withstand continuous enhancements.

8). Champion Your Brand Advocates

Use your best brand advocates to change the way you spread the news and facilitate informal communications within your organization. Allowing these ambassadors to make decisions within a framework of freedom gives them the platform to champion your cause and help convince others to embrace change. Train them. Nurture them. Support them. And, most importantly, acknowledge them publicly for doing a great job.

9). Lead the Way

When it’s time to change your company’s pace, put a real sponsor’s face on the effort. Choose an, an executive company leader, who should be up to date on the initiative at all times. In addition to being able to publicly endorse the plan, defend it when necessary and explain it to colleagues, he/she should also be willing and available to provide support for internal launches, presentations and social media efforts.

10). Embrace Social Media

An effective social media strategy doesn’t cost a fortune, and it’s very efficient for engaging your staff in communication. Don’t be afraid. You can set community standards and still provide a framework for freedom of expression without going overboard with rules or legal supervision. When positioned properly, the communities you establish will develop all of the content and bring communications to life in a whole new way.

As you can see, what we have been able to do over the past 18 years really has been remarkable. Many of you have been there to see it firsthand, and we are truly grateful for your business and referrals over the years. We are privileged to work for some of the most respected organizations during all these years like Walmart, McDonald’s, Prudential, Zurich Financial Insurance, JP Morgan, McKee Foods (Little Debbie’s), Aetna, Pitney Bowes, American Express, HP and Cardinal Health, just to mention a few. We are truly thankful and blessed.

For those who are new to us, I’d invite you to explore the “Thought Leadership” section on our website and calling us for an inquiry conversation. We are confident that once you learn more about our process, client list, thinking, and case studies, you will want to engage us to learn how much more remarkable your company can become.

All the best to you and future possibilities as we start our 18th year,

Allan Steinmetz, Founder & Chief Executive Officer