Nick Miller

3 Ways to Maintain a Strong Internal Brand

Many brands struggle with creating a clear and overarching internal brand that will be welcomed and accepted by every individual or department. This is, in part, because every brand has a subsidiary or individual that wants to feel unique and recognized as such. When they feel this way, it sometimes makes them go outside the guidelines that outline what they should and shouldn’t do to remain consistent with the internal brand. This can prove to be problematic because you open yourself to additional requests or potential loopholes that other individuals or departments will look to exploit and, in turn, de-rail the entire brand. Here are three different approaches for maintaining a strong internal brand:

1. Let the internal brand be your North Star: Meaning that it should serve as a guide to everything that you communicate, produce, stand for and go to market with as a brand. The easiest way to be true to your North Star is to avoid letting the process of breaking down the internal brand ever begin. What that means is, when the requests begin to pour in to provide a mini-brand or a brand-within-a-brand that assists in differentiating one department or individual from the others, you point them back to the internal brand and the guidelines that are in place and make sure the design stays within those guardrails.

2. Meet them in the middle: Just because someone in X department wants their own mini-brand or someone in Y department wants their own specific newsletter, doesn’t mean you have to go all in on the request and give them exactly what they’re asking for. A way to help bridge that gap is to get more information on the types of things they are looking for and where this will be applied and think of ways to satisfy their needs, while also remaining consistent with the internal brand. This can be through a variety of things such as a personalized channel, color palette, theme or icon that will differentiate them naturally from the others, while still satisfying their needs.

3. Give them what they want: Sometimes a case can be made for Human Resources or the volunteer program or some other group having their own look within the internal brand. In this case, have a designer familiar with the internal brand create that look in a way that supports the brand rather than breaking away into entirely new territory.

Depending on the culture of your company and other factors, you will have to make a choice on how far the internal brand can bend. However, remember the end goal is to maintain the integrity of the internal brand and have it guide everything that you do to avoid showing multiple iterations that will make it feel fragmented. If you don’t, you run the risk of your internal brand feeling disjointed and incomplete.

Interested in improving your internal brand? Tribe can help.

The Internal Brand Includes Employee Email Signature

There are some aspects of business that can be improved by personal flare, but email signatures are not one of them. From neon colors to inspirational quotes, some employees can really cross a line when given too much freedom with their business signature. Each mandated email signature should include uniformity in logo, color, font, point size and format of information.

Companies who haven’t created or don’t enforce a branded company signature should reconsider, given the following benefits:

  1. Consistency in the internal brand will reflect on the external brand. It is hard to ask an employee to represent the brand well externally, when the brand is not established or enforced internally. Implementing a unified email signature helps train employees to be mindful with brand representation, which will be reflected in external business as well.
  1. Email signatures can help solidify employee roles within the company. Having to write an official title down for an email signature can help define a position or department within the organization. It can also reduce the chance of an employee misusing or embellishing their title.
  1. Employees feel more comfortable communicating with associates when they understand who they are. For companies with a few thousand employees, sometimes workers can feel intimidated when sending or receiving information from associates they don’t know in different departments. Emails signatures can help bridge that gap in making sure employees are aware of exactly who they are communicating with.
  1. Perhaps most importantly, it makes doing business internally and externally much easier. Having something as simple as a phone number at the end of an email makes it easier to reach one another so the business can run smoothly and more efficiently.

Need help creating internal brand standards for your company? Tribe can help.


Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Should Your Internal Brand Guidelines Be a Mirror Image of the External Brand?

There’s a wide range in how various brands answer this question. A few companies Tribe works with use the exact same brand guidelines internally and externally. Once in a while we’ll work with a company that has a very different look internally than externally.

Our guidance is to see the internal brand as an in-the-family version of the external brand. While the external brand is how we represent the brand to consumers and the rest of the world, the internal brand is like having a conversation with your family members. It’s how we speak to each other, human to human, inside the company.

The external brand and the internal brand are two sides of the same coin. When a company makes a brand promise, the people inside the company are the ones charged with keeping that promise. Whether the brand promise is about delivering speed or quality or courtesy or anything else, the employees need to be steeped in communications that prepare them to deliver on that. In the same sense, the way those internal communications look and feel should reflect the external brand.

So when we’re building an employee brand, we start with the existing brand standards. But then we might add a few elements to make it convey a little more familiarity, in the sense that we’re talking amongst ourselves in the family rather than to the outside world. We might introduce a brighter, friendlier color palette. We might recommend including an additional font that’s more casual. We will lobby for photography of employees, so that the internal communications reflect the faces not just of leadership but also of people working in various parts of the organization. (We don’t ever advocate using stock photography to represent real employees.)

The tone of voice and choice of language might also be different for the internal brand. Of course, the vocabulary you use with consumers or clients regarding your products and services, the industry and your business should be mirrored internally. But when you’re speaking to employees, it’s more like sitting across the kitchen table than it might be for the rest of the world. The internal tone of voice might be a bit more casual, maybe even include a little more humor.

One important point that marketing folks sometimes don’t get at first is that an internal brand needs more range than the external brand. That’s an issue of context. Think about seeing a TV spot, magazine ad or online advertising for your company. It will be seen in the context of lots of other brands.

But imagine walking by the digital signage in your company. Although there may be a few dozen different slides, they’re all representing one brand. Without giving art directors some range in the brand design, those slides will all look very much the same — and won’t be very engaging.

Another example might be the employee magazine. If every article looks exactly like the others, it becomes a sales brochure. To keep employees’ attention from article to article, and to signal readers that the content is editorial rather than advertising, the brand has to allow for slightly different treatments of photography, illustration, fonts, color and maybe even icons.

That’s not to say we recommend that anything goes for the internal brand. Quite the opposite. We believe in setting internal brand standards, but having those standards include a range of options — all of which are on brand.

Interested in establishing internal brand standards? Tribe can help.

Stephen Burns

What makes a company’s communications authentic?

This week, I heard an interesting discussion concerning authenticity in social media. Mark Schaefer, in his podcast “Marketplace Companion“, took a look at how companies carry themselves on social media, what appeals to viewers and customers as far as a company’s “character,” and if it was even possible to be “strategically authentic.”

This authenticity is key to connecting with customers, Schaefer asserts, and creating a celebrated brand. They described social media as a company’s public resumé, something that will stay visible as public record, track your behavior and exist as something you’ll always be measured against. With your brand in the public eye, everything you say, every conversation you have reflects on you. And, as Schaefer says, “You’re never off.”

It’s one thing to create a more personified company brand to consumers, it’s another entirely to create one that is internally-facing.  You can create a social media brand for your company, but consumers only see that side of things and it’s easier to control. Employees, on the other hand, see all sides of the company and understand all the dimensions of the business. Transparency is key, and inauthenticity is easier to spot.

What is the difference between transparency and authenticity? Schaefer describes transparency as your “words and actions being congruent with how things actually are.” That’s not entirely dissimilar from authenticity. The distinguishing factor, though is being intellectually honest versus simply disclosing everything.

How do you create an authentic company “persona”? Think about the public resumé precedent Schaefer sets. Having a smaller audience within a company, this record is going to be even longer, so consistency is key. To create a trusted internal brand, you have to pick a voice and a cadence and stick with it. That means maintaining thorough communications throughout company changes, but it also means keeping up with correspondence during down times.

It’s important to consider the source. In order to be authentic, your company communications need to come straight from the horse’s mouth. If your HR team is handling all internal communications, at times it will seem inauthentic. Let HR communicate HR issues, let the finance team relay financial news, encourage marketing to speak about their latest initiatives, and perhaps most importantly, let the executive team speak about company news and issues. If you have an executive blog, don’t allow someone who has never even met the CEO create his voice. Employees pick up on this kind of stuff fast, and once you lose their trust, it’s incredibly hard to re-gain.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

When’s the last time you had a conversation with your marketing department?

When internal communications and marketing people work together, it can be a beautiful thing. At Tribe, one of the soapboxes we stand on most often is that of educating employees on the brand and its promise to customers. It’s very difficult for employees to create the desired customer experience if they don’t even know what that is.

Recently, we discovered a gold mine of potential employee engagement when we met with a client’s marketing VP.  They had edited videos from their latest consumer research and had captured some incredibly moving comments from real customers. These people spoke on camera about what a difference the brand had made in their lives and about the positive relationships they had with the store employees. I’ve got to say, some of them were real tear jerkers.

If those videos don’t get you fired up about working for this particular brand, I don’t know what would. It’s excellent content for their new intranet, and will also be great for recruiting and on-boarding new employees.

Hearing about the brand from the customer’s point of view is more powerful than any messaging we can manufacture. Of course, there were also people with strong negative feelings about the brand. Video of those customers will be useful for training, and for prompting discussions about how those situations might have been handled differently for a more positive customer experience.

The internal and external brands are actually two halves of the whole. Each one is impacted by the other in an endless chicken and egg relationship. When the marketing department and internal communications teams have strong relationships across the two silos and take the time to share what they’re working on, everyone benefits. Including both the customers and the employees.



Elements of a Strong Internal Brand

While companies pour funds, work hours and research into making their external brand a recognizable piece of the lives of consumers, they sometimes neglect to dedicate that same amount of attention to their internal brand. It makes sense the people you’re seeking out to purchase your product be educated on how it will benefit them or their business, but all of the costs associated with this can go to waste if it isn’t supported by employees who feel just as ingrained in the brand as the consumers they interact with.

A good way to build your internal brand is by aligning your commitments. If you’re a hotel chain that promises the best overnight stay to your guests, then that same message should be presented to employees. They should understand what the goals of the company are, and then be encouraged to adopt these goals for themselves. They’re many different moving parts in big organizations, and properly aligning and communicating customer promises will go a long way in helping your operation run smoothly.

As important as it is that company goals are cascaded down to every member of your team, it’s also important to have an outlet for employees to send messages back up the ladder. Every day your frontline workers are face to face with customer experiences that provide unique insights. Giving them a way to share these experiences can lead to new approaches or processes that not only help employees perform better in their roles, but also help your company grow.

One of the key elements a strong internal brand offers a company is consistency. Consistent messaging from corporate to the front lines, as well as consistent messaging from everyone in the company to the customers they serve. When everyone is on the same page, it not only makes for happy customers, it makes for happy and dedicated employees.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

What do you do with the old values when you want to introduce new ones?

Companies are not static. They are dynamic entities, and so it makes sense for desired employee behavior to change over time. To alter behavior, it helps to give employees the reference points of values to guide their actions and decisions day to day. There might be a need for a new set of values internally.

So what do you do with the old values? Although there’s nothing wrong with replacing the existing values with new ones, many companies hesitate to do it. At Tribe, our recommendation would generally be to do just that, primarily in order to avoid employee confusion and/or overload of messages.

However, companies often prefer to keep the existing values and call the new values something else. For instance, you might call the new values a set of principles or tenets or beliefs. We worked with one client to launch principles when the values being introduced were specific to one department of a large brand. Calling them the IT Principles helped distinguish them from the overarching and long-established values of the brand itself. We’ve also worked with clients to name these service values something that is indigenous to their specific brand. I’m making this up, but an example might be for a basketball company to call their service values their game plan.

Sometimes the new values are directed at improving the customer experience. In that case, the solution might be to frame them with that sort of language. The new values might comprise the Guest Service Promise or the Customer Experience Goals.

What you call them is not as important as what you do with them. If you introduce these new values and never say another word about them, there was probably no need to bother naming them in the first place. In an ideal world, you would provide sustaining communications to support these values; create engagement opportunities to bring them to life for employees; and then integrate them throughout your organization, from hiring to performance reviews to training.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

For Retention, Loving the Work Itself Trumps Anything Else in the EVP

The Employee Value Proposition is a logical focus of retention strategies. At Tribe, we counsel clients to include not only the basics benefits, but also what we call Shiny Hooks. These are unusual benefits that capture the imagination and improve the quality of life for employees, such as allowing dogs in the office, offering on-site childcare or providing year-long sabbaticals after so many years of service.

But there’s no substitute for employees being truly engaged in the actual work they do. All the perks in the world can’t equal the power of being excited to get to the office in the morning, eager to dive into work that matters. That’s easy for an organization working to cure cancer or end world hunger, but what about those run-of-the-mill companies just selling an everyday product or service?

That’s where the company vision comes in. Any company can engage employees in their day-to-day work when company leadership communicates a powerful vision and the important roles individual employees play in achieving that vision.

Vision is different from a business goal. Objectives like “being more profitable each quarter than the one before” or “increasing our market share” are useful messages to communicate, but they don’t have the emotional power of a vision.

An inspiring vision is not achievable in one quarter or even one year. It generally involves some human benefit, some way that the company can improve lives.

Let’s say your company manufactures mattresses. Your vision might be to help more people get a good night’s sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation is a major issue for many people, impacting their work productivity, their family relationships, even their enjoyment of daily life. Better sleep improves lives in meaningful ways.

Every person in that mattress company can then play a role in improving lives. The research and development people are coming up with better products, the marketing people are helping more people find the right mattress, the people on the manufacturing line are building better lives one pillow-top after another.

This level of engagement, however, depends on management making two things a priority: developing a clear vision and communicating that vision. Not just once or twice, but through a comprehensive communication program involving multiple channels and long-range sustaining strategies.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The Economics of Happiness in Internal Brands

What if you measured the happiness of your internal brand? Now that economists and psychologists have been using metrics to compare average happiness between countries, it would follow that we could use those same metrics to measure the happiness inside companies. Even without going that far, the existing research can raise interesting questions for those of us concerned with employee engagement, retention, performance and morale.

Carol Graham is one of the leading researchers in the new science of happiness. Her two books,”Happiness Around the World,” and “The Pursuit of Happiness: An Economy of Well-Being,” explore both the potential and the challenges of this research.

Why are so many poor people happy and rich people unhappy? Graham’s research reveals the paradox of happy peasants and miserable millionaires and she offers possible reasons why that occurs. Of course, innate differences in individual happiness levels could have something to do with this. So for those of us interested in corporate culture, we might ask ourselves if, at any given company, some employees will be happy no matter what, and others will always be complaining curmudgeons.

Misery seems to love company as well. Poor people are happier if the people around them are poor. Obese people are happier if they are surrounded by others with weight issues. Do people miserable in their jobs feel a higher sense of well-being if all their co-workers are miserable too? Or does this explain why working long hours to meet a tough deadline tends to pull people together?

Uncertainty is very bad for happiness. Graham’s research indicates that people are actually more likely to report happiness in an environment of negative certainty than when they’re dealing with uncertainty.

This finding is possibly the most important in terms of the internal brand. Employees as a group tend to dislike change and to get nervous when they don’t know what’s going on. When the company doesn’t do a good job of sharing information about the change, employees will often jump to their own conclusions which can be more dire than the reality.

This is why effective communications are so important in change management. When employees are made aware of an upcoming change and are given the information necessary to understand what it means, both for the company and for them as individuals, the foundation is laid for a successful change.

And possibly that could even increase the happiness levels of the internal brand.

Increasing Productivity through Internal Branding

Start with your internal brand.

First comes the messaging. This is an integral part of building a strong internal brand. You need to clearly define your company values and solidify what key messages you want to promote. This will help your company establish common goals, brand ambassadors and training programs.

You must establish a strong internal voice. Once you have a clear definition of your values that your employees can embody and embrace, you then need to establish what your employees are to do with it. That’s the meat and potatoes of internal branding, and it’s the solid foundation upon which all employee engagement programs should rest. But that’s just the psychological side of it.

Next comes the unification of the brand – visually. Developing the look and feel of your brand is just as integral to a company’s success as its core values. If you want to increase productivity, you need to create the visuals to support it. You’ve unified your minds, now it’s essential to unify how your brand will look.

Step One: Define your brand through messaging and values.

Step Two: Create a visual identity.

Step Three: Make a library of elements available company wide.

Step Four: Put them on your intranet or website.

Step Five: Sit back and watch the creativity unleash itself.

Creating items like logo libraries, font libraries, image libraries, color palettes, and document templates, and then making them readily available to all, will streamline employee productivity by providing easy access to the tools employees need to successfully communicate within the parameters of your internal brand standards.

Productivity increases when employees have a clear vision and understanding of the company they work for. It helps them build a level of confidence within their role and makes them more efficient as members of your organization.