April 9, 2013
Activating your brand internally
by John Marshall
How Starbucks, Walmart and IBM launch brands internally and what you can learn from them
Last year, for well over 100 brands, it was time for a new brand positioning and marketing message. In fact, rebranding or repositioning is happening with increasing frequency, as changes in the media landscape and message-weary audiences are making it harder for the same message to break through.
But a growing number of companies are now viewing the marketer’s job inside the building to be as important as the one outside. For if you think skepticism about a new campaign is high externally, the data inside is just as tough. Our data indicates that fewer than 50% of employees believe in their company’s brand idea, and even less are actually equipped to deliver to on it. The old model of focusing primarily on the external message and media at best leaves the team disconnected, and at worst dismissive or cynical.
Yet mastering the internal mechanics – driving training, incentives, change management – is a job few CMOs are prepared for or have big teams purposed against. But the examples of brand positioning that have really worked in the last five years – the Starbucks, IBMs and others – have been spearheaded by leaders doing exactly this, driving significant and long-term efforts to pivot internally, and eschewing the conventional wisdom for a new approach.
You don’t just “start with the customer” anymore.
It may sound like heresy, but a brand positioning that best motivates the team, that they can deliver, is the only one that will really work. Many advertising campaigns carry emotional punch but are hard to translate and hard for the average employee to relate to. The marketing team uses nuanced language and clever messaging, but the tens of thousands inside the building need memorable and actionable guides, a playbook for what daily activities are valuable and rewarded. They need the mantra of three to four powerful pillars that everyone knows and repeats on a daily basis, that can guide service delivery, product development. Walmart uses three very simple brand pillars, Starbucks six “differentiators” that made up a very directive internal playbook for change.
Starting inside also means bringing into the process a diverse set of stakeholders beyond brand strategists and agencies. For example, a major airline involved a group of “connectors” and “influencers” sourced from baggage handlers, mechanics, and flight attendants. A financial services company deeply immersed its bankers, even HR execs, audit and risk experts, to define and refine what the brand really means. When the brand positioning was rolled out internally, it was these teams that led the process, in their words, to their coworkers.
The marketers aren’t necessarily the main spokespeople.
Increasingly, CMOs are not the ones rolling out the idea internally. In major brand launches we have helped with this year, it has often been the CEO as a lead player. When done well, brand launches are integrated into company vision and values, with personal leader commitments and tangible changes to the employee experience announced from the top. To make this happen, CMOs are selling the brand repositioning as a powerful tool their business partners can use to spur higher performance in their teams. They are bringing not just campaign ideas but employee tools, training and motivational ideas to these partners. They are crafting the brand language with heavy doses of other leaders’ language, so it feels like an accelerant versus a campaign, spending countless hours shaping it together. For instance, a major financial services firm spent six months working and reworking the brand idea and its implications with hundreds of leaders in different business units, collaboratively refining to get to the most powerful driver of internal behavior before launching externally. They also worked with HR to embed the idea in people development planning and company values. You know you’re successful when the audit department wants to help spearhead the rollout and volunteers to audit whether the company is complying.
It’s not the usual tactics.
Beyond the quick town hall and anthem video of yesteryear, leaders are now initiating bold internal efforts, planned well in advance, that pack an emotional punch. The degree of effort is getting significantly higher, and lead times to launch internally are often greater than six months. One major services company is investing over a hundred thousand hours in deep manager and employee training, with scenarios and role playing scenarios, exercises, interactive tools, all designed to deeply embed how the positioning affects daily work.
But beyond the time and effort, the same creative energy applied to the external campaign is increasingly finding its way inside the building. Starbucks created a major facility and exhibit to physically immerse managers and employees in the brand experience. A multi-billion-dollar services company has rolled out a new ritual where every leader publicly signed a pledge as to what the brand means to them, which subsequently is cascading to every employee. One of our clients staged their internal launch from multiple client locations. Another crowd-sourced and enabled voting on employee stories in YouTube fashion; a third created a viral video. To truly take advantage of the moment, several companies are significantly upping the ante in the investment and creativity of tactics required to really engage people from within.
It doesn’t have to be a secret.
Your employees are connected. They tweet, post, comment and spread the word. Embrace this reality. The new approach is to actually sign them up as a channel: Give them a preview of your ads and messages; provide them with the social media tools to share. Create unique content that they can distribute on their own. Everyone spreads the message today, so why not get them truly ready. Free up your team to blog, and don’t just allow them–prepare and encourage them.
These counterintuitive approaches are driving success for a group of enlightened marketers, who now view the brand relaunch as the big internal motivator, the catalyst that reframes employees’ view of the company, energizes them on a new mission, and deeply engages them in a new approach.
Article originally published in Forbes on April 9, 2013.