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Internal vs External Branding

Updated: Apr 16, 2020

Understanding the difference between Consumer Facing Branding & Corporate Culture.

Internal and External Branding are fundamentally two very different activities that focus on two separate audiences. External Branding is the communication between your brand and your customer. It's the kind of branding that comes to mind when you think of branding.

Less discussed, but equally important, Internal Branding is the cornerstone of your company culture. It is the conversation between your company and its employees and shareholders.

Problems can arise when the difference between the two types of branding is not understood at a management level. External branding gets hijacked by internal emotions such as manager preference or shareholders feeling of brand ownership. Classic examples include: "But I made that myself." or "But we've had it for a long time and we like it."

Neither of which are winning arguments when it comes to your customer.

It's not about you.

Ouch! Nobody likes to hear it, but ultimately it's the cold hard truth. Your customer doesn't care if you like your brand. They care if they like it. If you let the external brand be about your consumer experience instead of your personal preference, you're going to build something that resonates, connects and inspires. Those are the brands which withstand the test of time.

But I'm an expert. I know my product.

Absolutely. Nobody is questioning the importance of a passionate CEO who knows his product or service like the back of their hand. You might make the best jelly doughnut in the world with generations of secrets and time-tested recipes. You might also not be a brand expert who knows the best way to sell that jelly. Hiring experts who are as passionate about your brand as you are about your product is a winning team.

Why can't I be both?

The simple answer is, sometimes you can. Sometimes a brand is dreamed up by the CEO's spouse and it actually is a winner. But it's rarer than steak sushi. Branding built internally and based on company culture is almost never a successful consumer-facing brand. The comfort of believing that a unified vision is what defines the brand, can often lead to a blind spot for external branding. Mature and new companies alike often discover that the way they see their company internally, within their teams, leadership structure and shareholders, is not always how their customers see them.

The Classic Comfort Zone

If your brand has been around for several years or decades without any change you might be equating your brand with classics like Coca Cola. After all, what a brand! Right? If you take a closer look, the cola giant has in fact evolved over the years and created hundreds of new brands as well. Perhaps even more important to note is the way their internal culture has changed.

The logo of a company that has been trading for 20 years is less important to employees than having a supportive manager, smart uniforms and team building activities. Similarly, the brand language used by a growing new business might have made sense and unified the team before launch (where it was more important make employees feel involved in the brand), but does not actually connect with their real world target audience.

This mismatch can have a big effect on how well a brand connects with consumers and as such, its ability to generate revenue. It is often a difficult topic to address, as both employees and shareholders feel a connection to the unified branding that they have perhaps helped to build, and can be wary of change.

Two Vital Truths:

1. External Branding is a conversation with consumers, and if consumers don’t connect to the branding it will result in less interaction, and less sales.

2. Updating your External Branding does not mean losing your internal company culture, it means better defining it.

What good Internal Branding does

  • Develops a consistency that drives teams to meet common goals consistently and to a high standard.

  • Builds a culture that gives employees a sense of belonging, and tells them that they are valued.

  • Makes core values a central part of daily tasks, to deliver on the external Brand Promise.

  • Shows shareholders how the company's productivity is being maintained.

What good External Branding does

  • Defines your position in the market, and determines who your target audience is.

  • Uncovers how your target audience sees your company, and gives you direction.

  • Gives a specific promise to your consumers of what you can give them, to what standard, and how.

  • Creates a recognisable identity that connects to your target audience.

So how can you revitalise your External Branding, whilst maintaining the internal aspects that drive the day to day operations and create great products and services?

The Evolution of your External Branding

The first step of optimising the way your company connects to the rest of the world, is to understand that your External Branding should not be a result of what shareholders or employees think the brand should be, but rather how it fits in the market. It is equally important to understand that market forces push every industry to evolve and change over time, and the behaviour of consumers and buyers change with them.

Because of this, branding itself has evolved into an ongoing process rather than a single project. If you offered a great service 2 years ago, that shouldn’t be any different today, but how your brand connects to the market and compares to your competitors is always shifting.

To keep on top of a moving market and an evolving target audience, you need to revisit these key branding activities on a reasonably regular basis:

  1. Keeping an eye on the competition. Analyse the way your competitors innovate, and how they adapt the way they communicate their values to consumers.

  2. Understanding you Target Audience. Find out how consumers are changing their own expectations of the way brands speak to them and what their needs and interests are. Analyse their interactions with your industry and investigate how they feel about your brand in particular.

  3. Staying relevant. Update your Brand voice and presentation to the expectations of your audience and in a way that feels unique when compared to your competitors.

The voice you use, and the specific visual assets (your corporate identity, diagrams, images, document formatting etc) need to speak the same language as your target audience, and differentiate you from your competitors. When the needs of your target audience evolve and their interests change, your voice and presentation need to adapt. As your competitors also evolve, you also need to ensure that you continue to differentiate yourself.

Separating your Internal Branding

The next step is create a separate internal branding that better communicates the relationship between the company and its employees and shareholders. It should support the External Branding, but its focus is the internal activities that create a culture that motivates teams to meet the expectations of the Brand Promise. It should:

  1. Support your External Brand. Define the core values that let employees know what they are working towards, and how they have a role in delivering a product or service that has real-world value.

  2. Define Employee Value. Employee’s should understand their positions and the value of their tasks in meeting the Brand Promise, so that they have purpose and understand what is expected of them.

  3. Set expectations. State how the company will support employees to help them deliver on the Brand Promise.

  4. Communicate. Create a singular voice and specific messages and visual assets that communicates with a personality that builds loyalty, stability and consistency.

By better defining you internal branding, you create a culture where employees actively create the value that you promise to your consumers. It does not get in the way of External Branding activities (that are defined completely by the demands of the market and target audience), but instead builds an efficient and productive workforce.

Treating your internal and external branding as the two separate sets of activities they are, allows you to grow stronger on both fronts, and better compete in an ever-evolving market.

Need help un-blurring the lines between your internal and external branding? Ready to embrace change and update your external brand?

M A K E R S provide both internal and external brand services. We can align your consumer-facing brand structure to your customer's needs and we can beef up that corporate culture to make your employees feel valued and get excited about their workplace.

Get in touch today for a free consult.

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