Internal branding: Often overlooked, rarely surpassed

How do you strengthen a brand with and through your own employees? Dr. Lucia Malär, lecturer in digital marketing at the University of Bern and member of the Board of Directors of Republica, and Bala Trachsel, CEO and Founder of Republica, talk in an interview about internal branding and how companies can take advantage of it.

Internal Branding
Bala Trachsel (left) and Dr. Lucia Malär talk in an interview about the importance and potential of internal branding.

m&k: Lucia Malär, what exactly is internal branding about?

Lucia Malär: Internal branding is a term that is often misused and very often confused with employer branding. Employer branding is about building a brand for existing and potential employees, while internal branding is about employees. Employer branding is primarily used to position a company as an attractive employer in order to acquire new employees or retain its own talent. Internal branding, on the other hand, ensures that the company's brand promise and brand values are conveyed to the outside world by its employees and are honored. Employer branding is therefore more the domain of HR, internal branding of marketing.


How do companies actually deliver on their brand promises via employees?

Malar: A strong brand always develops from the inside out. Therefore, a company needs a consistent brand strategy. Employees must know that this strategy exists, what its concrete contents are and what they mean for them personally. On this basis, the brand strategy can be lived and it is achieved that a uniform brand understanding exists and the employees act in the sense of the positioning.


Bala Trachsel, on brand strategy, Republica would come into play now, wouldn't it?

Bala Trachsel: Exactly. We support companies with effective brand strategies and subsequently also with the conception and implementation of internal branding. However, before the brand values are anchored in the behavior, structures and processes of the employees, we often have to do a lot of convincing in this area. This is because clients are often unable to appreciate how important internal branding really is and that it can be established with just a few simple, conceptually anchored measures.


Are there any classic "mistakes" that customers make with regard to internal branding?

Malar: As Bala said - the importance of internal branding is simply still often underestimated. So the biggest mistake is that no internal branding is done at all. Many companies focus everything - especially the financial resources - on external communication and forget that the employees are the central point with which the message is ideally carried to the outside. This is often seen in rebrandings, for example.

Trachsel: This is an important point. A new logo is not enough - together with a visual overhaul, positioning and identity must also be adapted. For example, if a company wants to be perceived as "more innovative," it's not enough to change the logo. At the same time, it must also communicate to employees where it wants to go with the new brand. Each individual employee must know how to adapt his or her behavior in everyday life so that the brand becomes more innovative.


The human being is therefore the decisive factor.

Malar: Exactly. If we take a closer look at which touchpoints a customer has with a brand, the most frequent touchpoints - especially in service companies - are linked to people. So, for example, a sales partner or a salesperson. That's why employees' knowledge of the brand values and brand promise is so eminently important. Employees can be as motivated as they want to be: If they don't know what the brand stands for and what it promises, they have no chance of behaving in the spirit of the brand and carrying the brand properly to the outside world.


And with what concrete measures can this be achieved?

Trachsel: There are numerous communication tools that can be used for internal brand management. An internal communication platform or a social network such as Slack is often recommended, with which the employees are regularly and consistently kept up to date and - this is very important - can also actively contribute. In addition, it is essential to keep the internal resources up to date when revising or creating a new brand strategy, for example by adapting the values, guiding principles, job profiles or employee qualifications.


Employee events would also be conceivable for this?

Trachsel: Yes, a lot can also happen at the event level. This is already possible at a very low-threshold level with a simple internal workshop or at the other end of the scale with more ambitious events with a personalized event cockpit, which enables the curation of different content and messages over a longer period of time.


What does good internal branding cost?

Malar: Not the world. The internal workshops mentioned are already a very good and also inexpensive means of sensitizing employees to the brand. And we are not talking here about so-called brand academies, such as those established by Mini, BMW and Lufthansa. This can be a simple room that is designed together with the employees in the spirit of the brand. In general, it can be worthwhile for companies to focus on the three components of knowledge, commitment and skills. Employees need to know why the brand is important and what it stands for. They must want to implement this knowledge and they must be able to implement it. If only a small budget is available, it is worthwhile to start with knowledge and then move on to commitment and skills. Step by step.

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