Monday, October 5, 2009

Internal Branding Challenges and How to Overcome Them

Quite often, and even as recently as last week, I get asked the question, "What challenges do you anticipate within the company when launching an internal branding effort and what strategies have you used in the past to overcome similar ones?" Well I decided to write them down and share them with you. Here are Inward's "Top Ten Internal Branding Challenges and Pitfalls."

There will be many pitfalls and challenges that most companies will have to overcome to have a successful implementation. Here are some of the challenges we have had to address over the last 11 years that get in the way of a successful internal brand program.

  1. Challenge: Overpromising through external brand advertising without preparing employees to deliver on the customer expectations as a result of lackluster communications, training, recognition/commitment and rewards systems.

    Solution: Companies have to address this challenge by implementing effective communications and training programs that orientate and prepare employees before the external campaigns are launched and incentivize and teach them what is expected in their behavior.

  2. Challenge: Failing to integrate brand-building initiatives with other internal efforts. Often internal branding is an afterthought and part of the external marketing program.

    Solution: Internal branding needs to be integrated with other corporate-wide HR, process redesign and strategic planning initiatives by demonstrating how individual brand behavior and values can contribute to the success of corporate wide strategic initiatives and not just the advertising alone.

  3. Challenge: Over-relying on external communications to build the brand-driven organization. When the organization employs multiple thousands of people it is easy to communicate the message to employees through mass advertising.

    Solution: Internal branding is a process-driven approach that incorporates training, peer-to-peer recognition, alignment of appraisal/assessments, as well as rewards. Internal branding cannot be delegated to pass through advertising alone.

  4. Challenge: Over-relying on internal communications that is the same for everyone, everywhere to motivate employees.

    Solution: Here, too, the company must recognize that an integrated communications program and experiential communications and dialogue are necessary to inspire people to change their behaviors. It often requires different messages, different media directed to different audiences, while keeping the original intent the same. It is not about one off communications. It is about process and integration of tactics with common design/themed elements that build on one another over time.

  5. Challenge: Not enlisting support from senior management, operations, manufacturing, sales & marketing and HR to overcome cross organizational barriers.

    Solution: In order to have an effective internal branding program, senior management, marketing and HR have to be "attached by the hip" and partner with marketing/communications. They will need to reconsider changing their business processes for appraisals, feedback and incentive compensations so that they are aligned with the brand values.

  6. Challenge: Not backing up internal branding with sufficient planning and resources.

    Solution: Often we see that internal branding is thought of as a tactic rather than a process. Therefore, insufficient resources and money are not budgeted to maintain a sustained program over time. We recommend allocating a third of resources and budgets to planning, a third to tactical rollout and a third to maintaining the program for at least three years.

  7. Challenge: Going overboard so that employees perceive the internal branding initiative as corporate brainwashing, over the top, flamboyant, costly tactics/events can also counter the brand's message.

    Solution: Here, too, there has to be the right combination of tactics, messaging and symbolism to gather the attention of the rank-and-file so they can realize that the initiative is for real and not just another "one off" that people will forget about in a month or so. You need a proper balance of message and tactics.

  8. Challenge: Over-depending on IT to disseminate brand knowledge sharing.

    Solution: The new buzz phrases are webinars, Web 2.0, social networking, blogging, Twitter, Facebook, etc. The list goes on. All can be facilitated by IT, which is wonderful. However, technology innovations and applications still need content that can be leveraged. And messages and creativity need to have the desired impact based on clear objectives and goals.

  9. Challenge: Not changing employee performance measures to be aligned with brand behavior.

    Solution: It is not enough to realign all of the other components of an effective internal branding program and not realign employee feedback/appraisals and incentives, too. At the end of the day people are motivated by an inspiring message and incentives/rewards that demonstrates that the company is serious.

  10. Challenge: Changing behavior is a slow proposition and does not happen overnight.

    Solution: Clear expectations of results, as well as patience and sufficient delivery timelines are important requirements so that management understands expectations, deliverables and changing behavior over time. A great mentor of mine once reminded me, "Sometimes you have to go slow before you can go fast".

So if you are planning an enterprise internal branding effort or change communications program to engage employees to change their behavior, heed our advice. Or just call us. We specialize in marketing strategy development, change management, internal branding, change communications, market research and all forms of qualitative research. After 11 years in business there is no challenge we have never seen. Let us help you overcome the challenges. If you would like to learn more about this topic visit our all new web site at

If you would like to share your internal branding challenges, add your thoughts to our community dialogue on our web site, drop me a line or call.

Happy Fall!

-Allan Steinmetz