How to Build an Internal Brand Strategy

It’s easy to justify an external brand strategy. But an internal brand strategy? What exactly is it? And why should you invest valuable time and resources to create one?

The biggest reason is that an internal brand strategy builds a culture that inspires employees to deliver on your brand promise. The underlying benefit is that your employees understand the company’s goals and embrace them as their own.


4 Key Elements of an Internal Brand Strategy

To fulfill your brand promise, you need to align your internal brand strategy with your external brand strategy. Where do you start? With a good hard look at these key elements.

Vision. A company’s what, your vision is the compass that directs every action any stakeholder takes. Because your vision may change over time, plan to revisit it annually and redefine it as needed.

Mission. Your mission works hand in glove with your vision. It’s the map you follow to achieve your vision. Like your vision, it may change. When it does, adjust your messaging accordingly.

Values. Otherwise known as core beliefs, values help employees identify with your brand and make informed decisions. They provide a touchstone to explain the why behind your brand direction and the motivation behind your vision and mission. As your brand shifts, how you define or prioritize your values might need to shift, too.

Consistency. This is where the rubber hits the road. Make strong statements of your vision, mission and values, then back them up with consistent messaging across platforms and departments. Consistency is the key to happy customers, and happy customers are loyal customers.

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3 Companies With Strong Internal Brands

There’s a reason Apple, Starbucks and Target make most admired brand lists year after year. Not only are they true to their external brand strategy, they cultivate strong internal brands, too.

From the logo to the color palette, the voice to the point of view, every Apple brand experience is clean and beautifully designed. Every Starbucks experience feels warm and inviting. Every Target experience is creative and upbeat.

These brands also pay a lot of attention to how the brand experience translates into actions. Think about the Target shopping experience (surprises in every aisle) or how Starbucks creates a “third place” to grab a latte and hang out for a while.

Most companies develop an internal playbook using brand pillars or differentiators. Some, like Starbucks, create rooms or even whole facilities to physically immerse employees in their brand experience.


Why Rebrand and How to Sell It Internally

In a rebrand, an internal brand strategy becomes even more critical. Look at it this way: A brand is a living, breathing thing that evolves over time. At a minimum, a rebrand is a new brand positioning and marketing message. But sometimes it’s a wholesale change in the company’s image.

What drives a rebrand? The impetus could come from many factors, including:

·                Changes in the market or media landscape

·                Globalization and new locations

·                Mergers and acquisitions

·                Crisis incidents that affect image


Often, a rebrand stems from brand message fatigue that starts with customers and gathers steam with employees.Small Business Brain recently noted that many established brands do a major brand overhaul every seven to 10 years. According to Business Insider, Apple has rebranded three times and Starbucks has four times. 

What does it take to bring employees onboard with a rebrand? It starts at the top with leaders committed to investing in training and incentives for the long term. It’s about giving the people inside the building a simple mantra to guide everything from new product development to customer interactions.

And it often means going beyond brand strategists and agencies. One major airline, for instance, took an unconventional approach by tapping baggage handlers and flight attendants to inform their strategy — and lead the strategic rollout.

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How a Rebrand Shapes Internal Brand Strategy

Rebrands are not simple affairs and often present risks. Consider Uber whose logo redesign confused 44% of people polled about it.

The first step to ensuring a smooth-running rebrand is to toss old brand assets and ensure consistent use of the new ones.

Next, prioritize communication, looping in employees early and involving them in the process. Inform external audiences why you’re rebranding so customers know they can still find the products and services they count on.

Finally, make plans in case you need to pivot quickly. Case in point: After the film “Super Size Me” damaged McDonald’s brand image, they changed their menu and gave their interiors an earth-toned update.


What Elements Do You Need to Reinforce Your Internal Brand?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. What you’ll need depends on the size and scope of your rebrand. As a rule of thumb, use this checklist:


  • Statement of your vision, mission and values
  • Audience and competitor research
  • Project plan/timeline
  •  Brand guidelines (including updates to your logo, tagline, colors, typography and brand voice)
  • Well-defined content/messaging strategy
  • Social media tools


The last item on the list is all about leveraging your best evangelists: your employees. Remember, they’re connected. Give them the social media tools to help reinforce your rebrand with external audiences.

Keep in mind that six-month lead times for an internal brand strategy are not unusual. As with any major initiative, setting realistic milestones sets you up for success.


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