A year ago, I asked readers of this column, “Does the employee experience reflect your brand?” 

I noted that every year companies invest thousands, if not millions, of dollars in developing great branding (aka advertising), but seldom do they invest in the internal brand. 

Moreover, the creation of remarkable guest experiences has practically become a religion in every industry. The thing that makes each of our brand experiences unique is our team members—they are the faces of our organizations and can set us apart from the competition.

As I write this, it has been estimated that over 650,000 casino gaming and resort team members have been impacted by the closure of property after property across the nation due to the coronavirus pandemic. It is a shocking time for us all, but how we engage with our team members will determine if and how they return to their posts.

So, I ask you, “What makes you get out of bed on a Monday morning? What makes your team members do the same?” If it’s a paycheck, it is time to reassess your brand’s role in the life of team members.

For most workplaces, the combination of bulletin boards, newsletters, benefit posters and the occasional town hall meeting is believed to be the recipe for an internal brand; but a successfully developed, deployed and reinforced internal branding process can move you from a collection of employees to an army of brand ambassadors.

Internal branding is the process of connecting your team members to the external brand by reinforcing what it means and how they affect it. This process will have a significant impact because, at its core, internal branding is about the company and its workplace culture—what it values and what it does not. 

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF INTERNAL BRANDING

When team members are not a part of our brands, our work as marketers only gets harder. Studies have shown that brand messages can reach 561 percent further when shared by employees than when via the brand channels, but a Gallup study showed only 27 percent of employees believed in their employers’ brands. Imagine if just 1 percent more of your team believed and shared your brand messages. What if you could get that to 30 percent or more?

Your goal in developing your internal brand is to transform team members into willing and enthusiastic brand ambassadors that will contribute to your brand’s success. Here are some steps to take:

  • Define the mission and values. As always, we start with the overall business strategy and documentation. More than likely, you already have bold mission and values statements. Even more likely is that they were created some time ago and, like most of us, need a little update or tweaking to fit current circumstances and business. 

    Defining your mission and what makes you different in a way that can be communicated clearly is critical. The key is to be definite rather than nebulous. Clarity will provide a sense of purpose to team members and shift mindsets from “I’m doing my job” to “I’m a part of and contributing to the vision.”
     
  • Get senior level buy-in. It has been my experience that cultural shifts require top-down reinforcement. Not to be confused with approval at a meeting to move forward or for budget approvals, I am talking about your most senior and influential leaders being a part of each step and living the shifts. 

    Note the emphasis on “influential.” While a CEO at a team member meeting makes everyone pay attention, unless they are working shoulder-to-shoulder with team members, their words can fade away. Often, our local property managers have more sway (no offense to CEOs). What I’m saying is, find the most influential people to be a part of the process—not just the approval, not just the launch, but the entire process.
     
  • Perform audits. It is essential to give team members a voice and to understand their journey. Ask for feedback and thoughts throughout the process (particularly in the journey-mapping step) to create a sense of brand community. 
     
  • Create a team member journey map. Journey maps are visualizations of the process a person goes through to accomplish a goal. We’ve become very familiar with customer journey mapping and its use in creating targeted experiences for guests. The same process can and should be used in understanding the team member experience and its impact on the brand experience. 

    If a customer journey map is the customer story from awareness through consideration and engagement, so too is the team member journey map. This visualization of the process of applying for a job through a separation should identify both pain points and star experiences. In our projects, we have considered the journey in general terms of stages—application, onboarding, ongoing employment, and separation and steps (within the stages). 

    The process of developing the journey map can be a long one as we start to uncover numerous forms and procedures that we force on ourselves and others, but more often than not, they reveal brand dead zones that we’ve let grow. This process is something both human resources and individual departments should work through.
     
  • Give the internal brand an identity. As mentioned in an earlier column, the same level of attention and thought that is given to your external brand should be given to the internal. While it may seem acceptable to let a coordinator use the capabilities of PowerPoint to create internal communications, it illuminates a different level of importance. It is essential that internal and external branding connects to each other. When the core of the brand flows through both designs, team members will quickly see the connection. Additionally, it will provide a clear vision to everyone.
     
  • Provide a real launch. Launch engagingly. KPMG’s 2014 Purpose Program was overwhelmingly successful. Employees created an astounding 42,000 posters with a testimonial of their role in the company’s vision. The company recorded one of its most profitable years.

    A good friend of mine always reminds us that “we’re in the entertainment business.” It seems fitting that as we consider how we launch the internal brand, we mirror the efforts we use to introduce something to our guests. Let’s entertain and create experiences that stick to the heart, if not the mind. Use a multi-pronged approach to ensure every internal touchpoint has been enhanced. Use parties, workshops and town halls in a staggered communications plan. The more accessible the launch, the more team members it will touch.
     
  • Communicate and reinforce the internal brand. Creating an emotional connection between team members and the brand is not achieved through posters and memos. You must continue to reinforce the vision for the brand in everything you do. Consider reskinning your intranet pages, perhaps including the internal brand statement on the home page or maybe on every screen team members regularly access. Keep in mind that you’re trying to inspire and not torture. So, be creative about how your statements pop up in daily life and encourage two-way conversations. 

    Most importantly, maintain continual reinforcement. Big launches followed by silence are a recipe for failure and lapses in motivation. Recognize team members breathing life into the brand, for thinking big or showing their passion.

    So, if our team members define our guest experiences, what defines the team member experience? Why will team members choose you over another employer? Internal branding can be the answer to these questions, now in the time of COVID-19 and beyond.