Internal branding: why the CMO’s job starts at home

Effective internal communications and strong brand identity contribute to staff’s perception of an organisation ⁠– both while they are working there and after they’ve left

Web Images April 2022

According to Gallup’s most recent State of the Global Workplace report, only 10% of the UK’s employees are engaged. The workplace consultancy found that, across Europe in 2023, 72% of the workforce was quiet quitting, 15% were loud quitting and 56% felt it was a good time to find a new job. There is work to be done in changing how employees feel about their workplaces, and it might well be the CMO’s job to do this.

Too often, the role of the chief marketing officer is understood as purely outward-facing. In reality, the first market that the CMO needs to conquer is the one closest to home, by creating a strong internal brand. 

Companies with powerful external brands ⁠– think Google, Lego, Netflix, or Nike ⁠– all benefit from having innovative and interesting products. But a lot of their success also comes from having huge workforce buy-in. 

These companies have clear vision and mission statements, which are often summarised in eminently quotable slogans or mottos. Netflix’s tagline “Watch what you want, when you want”, for example, echoes its commitment to flexibility and choice. For workers, this means flexible working policies and unlimited employee holiday allowance. Nike, meanwhile, is very particular about the language it uses to describe its staff. The sportswear giant says it employs “team-mates” and talks about the entire organisation as if it were always working towards one collective goal. 

Creating and communicating a strong employer brand can not only boost engagement among your staff, but also turn them into brand ambassadors. If workers feel truly inspired by the company mission and vision, this can even continue once they leave the business and do wonders for future recruitment. Here are some of the best ways to get started. 

Celebrate successes and offer opportunities for growth

Yael Alaton, a partner at the brand-design agency Pearlfisher, says highlighting employee successes should be a priority for CMOs.

“You’ve got to make sure that people don’t feel generic,” she explains. “Companies need to recognise individual, personal contributions.” Achievements by those throughout all levels of the business ought to be celebrated, be that through mentions in the company newsletter, recognition on internal messaging services or shout outs at town halls or all-company gatherings.

CMOs should think of their own people as their biggest advocates

Staff want to feel that their own goals and ambitions matter to the company, Alaton adds. “People want to know that their work could lead to something else,” she says. “They want to know it is meaningful and they’re not just doing it because they got told to. Maybe it can lead to a promotion or progression at the company they are at, or at the very least, they need to feel like they have learned something from what they are doing that they can take forward with them to another job.” 

Make the most of your visual branding 

A compelling logo design and branded merchandise should not be considered as assets solely for external marketing. Smart applications of company branding internally can help employees feel a sense of belonging. Far from being a trivial add-on, according to Zoe Vafadari, chief brand and corporate affairs officer at private healthcare provider Bupa, company clothes or equipment can actually boost staff morale.

Wearing branded apparel during team-bonding activities, such as away days or volunteering projects, she says, can help to engender community spirit, while boosting visibility externally too. “CMOs should think of their own people as their biggest advocates,” says Vafadari. “You want staff to wear the brand like a badge of honour. If they’re proud of the company, having this sort of stuff would give them an opportunity to show it.” 

And physical branding can go beyond clothing and cups. An organisation’s office space offers the perfect opportunity to make employees feel at home through logo placement, use of company colours or other features such as greenery or art. When a company has several offices in different locations, office design can help make staff feel like part of a wider community.

In the hybrid working era, however, many companies are using co-working spaces. These arrangements often come with restrictions on workplace design and logo placement, because an office may be shared between several different firms. Where physical brand assets are not possible, Alaton suggests, CMOs may want to look into digital alternatives. This could involve bespoke internal communications software or an intranet environment, group message boards, a social media campaign, or a company podcast. The guiding principle, she says, should be to “create a space where staff can express and experience a sense of unity and connectivity.” 

Listen to staff feedback and act on it

Key to a strong internal brand is ensuring that staff feel listened to. CMOs should work closely with their counterparts in HR, therefore, in order to understand and address any shortcomings, whether that’s to do with the products or services a company is offering or its day-to-day operations.

As important as customer satisfaction, Vafadari points out, is whether or not staff feel equipped and supported to do their job. “A big part of internal branding is making sure that employees feel like they can take ownership of a situation,” she says. “At Bupa we would encourage staff to share their ideas, if they have any on how to do things differently.” 

Where staff feel like they are involved in decision-making, whether through polls, surveys or regular town hall-style meetings, Vafadari says they are more likely to become company champions. CMOs and CHROs can coordinate such initiatives between them, with the former taking a lead on communicating the findings to the rest of the company.

The business benefits of a strong internal brand

There is more to internal branding than simply keeping staff happy. According to Lauren Maynard, chief growth officer at management consultancy FutureBrand, CMOs that look inwards first can actually drive efficiencies across a business. 

You want staff to wear the brand like a badge of honour

If staff have a “connected understanding of a business and its culture”, she argues, this is likely to lead to “consistency and creative quality” among different departments and job functions, as well creating ready-made ambassadors for projects they believe in. A strong internal brand perception is effectively “free advertising”, she quips.

Having simple, centralised messages and values that employees can refer back to is useful, Maynard adds, because then everyone is clear on what is expected of them. This could take the form of an employee handbook or publicly available mission statement ⁠– but both should be subject and open to change, depending on internal feedback.

Ultimately, for Maynard, it is the job of CMOs or leaders in similar roles to come up with the “rallying cry” that has cut-through for the entirety of an organisation. The most successful businesses have been built on employee engagement. Just as CMOs need to understand and adjust to the evolving expectations of consumers, they must also do the same for their colleagues.

4 steps CMOs can take towards building a strong internal brand

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