If you’ve been watching any news outlet for the last few months, you can most certainly appreciate the need for companies to have two things in place: a crisis communications plan and a solid internal culture.

The next 12 months will most assuredly be the Year of the Internal Brand. The connected world we live in demands that what traditionally has lived in the back of the house should also feel at home in the spotlight.

As companies, we spend a great deal of time developing our external brands. We research. We test taglines. Sometimes, we even test creative. It’s not unusual for major brands to spend more money than we’ll ever see in our total marketing budgets to develop the right shade of blue for their logo. The fact is you can spend a ton of money developing your external brand and the supporting marketing, but in today’s connected world, the reflection of what’s going on inside your company is what ends up being your brand story.

What you do is only a part of your story… why you do it and how you do it is just as important.

Ensuring your employees are as connected to your brand as the advertising team requires that they understand the intended and true meaning of the tagline and messages. It means your employees feel connected and understand their part as brand ambassadors.

So, how do you master/launch internal branding initiative?

  • Define your vision. I’ve mentioned it before in this very publication… embarking on a plan without stepping back to define a strategy is a fool’s journey. Having a defined direction and vision will give your employees a sense of purpose that can take them from simply seeing their job as a way to earn a paycheck to contributing to something much bigger.
  • Get employees involved. Your internal brand is about the employees and not your slogan. It is defined by the people who encounter customers day in and day out, at the beginning of their shifts and at the end of a long day.
  • Start by asking employees to answer this question: What does my job mean to me? Prepare to be inundated and enlightened. Do your employees believe in the promise your advertising is making? Get feedback from employees on their perception of the brand promise you are currently communicating. What are customers saying? What are they saying to customers? Use surveys, focus groups and open forums—as many channels that can ensure everyone has the chance to voice their opinions.
  • Give your internal brand an identity that mirrors the external brand.  A memorable brand identity is a valuable asset for a company. It makes perfect sense that the internal brand is just as valuable (if not more). An internal brand given the same attention will “stick” to your employees and give the work they do meaning. You should be working closely with your human resources team to unearth the common values and ensure your internal and external brands are in sync.
  • Ensure back of house systems are delivering on the brand promise. Let’s say your brand is all about fun and entertainment. Your zingy tagline drives this home with every bit of communication. Your internal brand is likewise about fun and entertainment. However, nothing about the employment experience is reflective of that fun. Someone once told me that nothing kills a bad product like great advertising. The same holds true when it comes to the back of house and your internal brand. All of the creative signs and meetings will do no good if your employees can’t access the materials they need to do their jobs easily or if their resources are constantly breaking down.
  • Launch and embed your internal brand.  At this point, you’ve researched, you’ve created, you’ve analyzed and you’ve repaired broken systems. Creating a brand doesn’t happen with the stroke of a pen (or e-mail as it were). Brands become memorable because consumers develop emotional connections. Creating an emotional connection between employees and brands takes the same amount of effort.

To ensure a brand continues to underpin every step employees take in performing their jobs, you must consider a proper launch—a multi-pronged plan to introduce and explain the internal branding and how it applies to the employees and every touchpoint. Consider town halls and events where employee can experience the meaning behind the brand. Consider updating touchpoints along the “employee journey”—intranet, paychecks, back of house signage, log-in screens, etc. This isn’t about simply informing. It’s about immersing each employee in this brand in a way that makes your brand something to talk about.

  • Reinforce the internal brand. A common failure in internal branding efforts is the lull that comes after the launch. To truly transform the internal culture requires continual attention and reinforcement. Examples of employees living the brand should be spotlighted. You can also create incentives or promotions centered on employees exhibiting the brand values.
  • Hire with your internal brand in mind. Unemployment is not what it used to be. Some of us work in markets where the talent pool might be a little on the shallow end. But if you want to drive a consistent brand message, you must hire for the skills and attitude that will represent your brand. Review your job descriptions and the unwritten qualities that your hiring managers look for. Work together to develop an approach that will get you the person that will live your brand.
  • Lead with the brand. Recently I heard a statement from a company touting how they distribute portions of the employee manual from time to time as a refresher for everyone. I’ll admit I rolled my eyes because the question was the latest hot topic in the news. They missed the point that how executives behave and the examples they set say more than any part of the employee manual. Bottom line is that your leadership needs to set the example if your internal branding efforts are to make any sort of positive impact.

If you still think developing an internal brand isn’t worth the time, effort and expense, consider that your employees are meeting and greeting your customers in a variety of ways, in a variety of styles and through a variety of channels. They are the faces and voices of your brand. Effective internal branding can bring huge benefits to your bottom line. Companies whose employees understand and are committed to the brand perform better and have higher customer satisfaction and ultimately higher shareholder value.