Branding. It is the term that we use to describe the way a company affirms its identity (and the identity of its products and services) within the perceptions of customers and clients. Therefore it is a way to distinguish the own identity related to other competitors present on the market. A company that does not have a well defined branding within the perceptions of consumers is running the risk to jeopardize its identity within the marketplace and, as a consequence, its existence. But how can a company affirm its own brand? How can a company positively distinguish its identity within the perceptions of consumers?

Outside branding dynamics

During the last few years we have witnessed some very interesting operational and strategic dynamics related to this topic. Specifically, it is more and more common the practice to go well beyond simple slogans and articulate a more integrated way to communicate towards the outside of the company in order to affirm the company’s identity. One of the reference books on the topic has become “The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR” by Al and Laura Rise; the authors point out convincingly that slogans are by now outdated tools to affirm brands: nowadays it is necessary to articulate the real essence of the products and services that the company offers in a more complete and systematic fashion (through Public Relations - PR - tools). Consumers, while making their buying choices, are no longer simply thinking “What do I expect from this product or service?” but they are beginning to ask themselves “Why should I expect such characteristics? Whom and what is behind this product giving me confidence that the promise quality is going to be delivered?”. These are a couple of concrete examples showing these dynamics: 1) the market for biological products is growing fast; 2) big multinational corporations (for example Nike) have taken and are taking focused actions to clear their names from past wrongdoings involving labor practices. Affirming its brand within the market has become ever more important and ever more complex. For these reasons branding is increasing its operational and strategic leverage.

Inside branding dynamics

The current dynamics relevant to branding towards the outside, the market, have brought me to think about the increasing relevance of a different kind of branding. A branding that has not been fully developed yet as a concept and that I name “inside branding” meaning the sense of identity that the company is able to develop, define and spread among its organization. As in marketing and outside branding, once simple slogans were effective for a company to mark the own identity with its people: “all things considered we are the most important company in the area”; “we are the worldwide leaders in the XY field” and so forth. Nowadays this is no longer sufficient (please try to take your own survey among friends and colleagues to verify the validity of this statement). Often we hear skeptical statements as “do you still believe in this company?” “well, let’s try to believe in it again...”. A paycheck you can depend upon is essential, at the same time no longer it is enough to stimulate a strong sense of belonging within an organization, a sense of energy and creativity that are needed by companies more than ever (this even without coming to question the dependability factor of that paycheck...). Having to face uncertainties, changes, problems and opportunities of the present and future, how can a company affirm a strong sense of identity within its workforce? I am talking about a real identity, not a superficial or cynical one, an identity truly able to engage people a sense of belonging, a sense of real commitment and team work across the organization.

Inside branding: operational values and behaviors based. Facts speak louder than words (much louder!)

As for the outside branding, the inside one is ever more important and more complex to develop. It is essential to transition from simple slogans to internal public relations based upon substance and facts. I am not talking about the public relations relevant to Christmas dinners or summer picnics (by now taken for granted and become routine); I am talking about ways to communicate consistently (with facts more than words) what is the real essence of the company, which are the values that truly characterize the activities of the company (and we need to be able to count these values simply on the fingers of one hand). Therefore I come to associate the concept of inside branding to the ability to identify and spread the real operational values of the company. For operational values I don’t mean the ones that are commonly used for fancy catalogues or company websites; I mean the actual values that are practiced on a daily basis at all levels of the organization, the values that are the foundation of decisions made and behaviors displayed among colleagues and with clients. Following this course of action we develop a concrete inside branding because based upon facts and reality not simply slogans or opinions. This is a way to make an inside branding campaign appeal to all the people within the organization. It is very important to note that when a company makes the conscious decision to create and strengthen its inside branding, it should always start by ‘holding up a mirror’ and recognize (by looking at behaviors) the actual values practiced. The reasoning is that if the company is not achieving the expected results in operational or strategic terms, it means that the wrong set of values and therefore behaviors are in place. Once that we know where we actually are at, we can come to recognize and define values and behaviors that we need in order to achieve results. This is not an easy process; it requires method to be implemented, real knowledge of the own assets and leadership with a vision. At the same time it is a powerful (and proven) tool to engage management, workers and employees to display the behaviors that are most needed for organizational success. By implementing this process the inside branding is affirmed because it goes well beyond a periodic public relations event, it becomes part of the life and identity of the company and its people.

Stay tuned to to learn more about this way to develop a sound inside branding and keep in mind that once the inside branding is truly solid also the outside branding will come out more natural, dynamic, fresh and spontaneous. And this is truly what makes a real positive difference within the perception of customers and clients!