Branding: working from the inside out

Getting employees on board though ‘internal branding’ reaps business rewards

McCabes Pharmacy: creating a brand identity ‘builds loyalty and reassurance with our customers’. Photograph: Alan Betson

McCabes Pharmacy: creating a brand identity ‘builds loyalty and reassurance with our customers’. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Most people think of marketing as a process focused externally on consumers – trying to increase sales and customer numbers.

However, there is another important “market”: your employees, or your “internal brand”. These people are the catalyst that can make the brand come alive for your customers. Unfortunately, all too often, organisations do not understand this concept of “internal branding”.

Some of the most successful global companies understand that if employees are aligned with the brand strategy, including the brand promise, they will deliver a consistent expression of that brand to their customers. Heavily brand reliant organisations, such as Virgin and Apple, are notable examples. They are dedicated to helping their staff understand the power of the brand. In turn, they have reaped the benefits of this consistent brand expression delivered at every touchpoint.

If employees are not living the brand promise constantly and consistently, the growth and success of the organisation will be fundamentally impeded.

In a service business, it is ultimately people who make the difference. Your employees create and deliver your organisation’s unique brand experience. It is the employees who form the unbreakable relationships between the organisation and its customers.

Internal branding should be an organisation-wide endeavour. It must start with a brand promise, together with a set of tools to help employees learn to live the brand. These brand tools should be easily actionable, customer focused and based on reality.

It should be guided by the overall brand strategy, which is ultimately based on three key elements – brand promise, organisation culture and business strategy.

Done correctly, internal brand processes can align and empower employees to deliver the appropriate customer experience consistently. There are a few practical steps a company can take to create the platform for the employee to understand the brand:

1) Internal brand knowledge: Make sure employees understand the organisation’s brand values. These should be communicated clearly and will build their brand awareness while also creating a value message for them.

2) Brand ideas, tools and communication: Structure the brand idea and create brand guidelines, then communicate this throughout the organisation through an understanding of what the goal and mission of the organisation is and how this can be transmitted to the customer.

3) Bring the brand to life: Develop brand workshops and training sessions which will bring the brand to life within the organisation. Part of this process will be focused on the creation of brand champions and ambassadors.

Brand-led organisations such as Virgin focus on this internal brand process by placing huge importance on it throughout the Virgin Group. According to Richard Branson, “If you look after your staff, they’ll look after your customers. It’s that simple.”

Brand personality plays a vital role in retail branding. It creates relatability between a consumer and a brand. The personality of the brand can be communicated in a positive way by employees. That makes it interesting, memorable and desirable.

A brand without a personality has difficulty gaining awareness and developing a relationship with customers.

Internal branding in action: Irish pharmacy sector

The Irish pharmacy market is one of the most competitive in Europe. There are approximately 1,906 pharmacies in the Republic of which about 910 are independently owned.

Brand identities in community pharmacies are often focused around the owner-pharmacist and the pharmacy staff themselves. This approach has a unique competitive advantage and cannot easily be copied by supermarkets or other retail competitors.

Strong brand identities focused on the local community resonate with customers in this market segment. Paul Candon, chief executive of Dublin-based McCabes Pharmacy, says the company invests in its people on an ongoing basis, focusing on the service they provide.

“Together with our suppliers, we work hard to ensure all employees have excellent product knowledge, as our customers and patients come to us for advice and need to trust the advice and service they are given, especially when it comes to health matters.”

That focus on creating a brand identity “builds loyalty and reassurance with our customers and patients and in the long run ensures that we have a sustainable business”.

Pharmacy staff are important for building and maintaining brand-customer relationships, so managing employee behaviour and applying internal brand management processes becomes a critical success factor for the pharmacy retail sector. Customers are the ultimate decision makers when it comes to the perception of brand quality. A strong retail brand is more than just a sleek logo design.

Powerful brands are built from the inside out. To create a strong brand in the marketplace, employees and management need to know the brand vision and care about its realisation.

A clear internal brand process will provide guidance and motivation to create a forward moving brand that will not confuse or undercut the customer promise.

Creating a strong internal brand involves three stages: learning it, believing it and living it. In retailing, customer loyalty is everything. In a very crowded pharmacy market, the process of internal branding is crucial as it creates the platform for loyalty and retention, which should be a critical element of the overall brand strategy.

Alan Morgan, is course director in marketing at Dublin Business School, and editor in chief of the DBS Business Review

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