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A Look at Branding from Both Sides of the Glass

While external branding gets most of the money and attention, internal branding is really what it’s all about

Every customer experience is a series of touch points. A brand promises a specific experience at each touch point that customers have with a product, service, or message that a business delivers. A touch point occurs every time you come into contact with what a business offers. At each touch point the brand can comfort or irritate, assure or frighten, satisfy or disappoint.

Consumers see this every day. They view brands through the touch points they experience. The foods they select. The restaurants and hotels they choose. The airlines they use. The places they visit. The products they rely on. Brands assure them that a product or service they select will be functionally reliable to get the job done, as well as deliver an emotionally satisfying experience.

At each touch point, customers test the authenticity of the brand promise. Every time you touch a brand, you ask, “Am I getting what it promised?” And if you experience disappointment, you may wonder, “What other brands may be available that may deliver the same thing?” As UPS tells its employees, “Living out the brand doesn’t come solely from mission statements. Or product differentiation. Or lower prices. Or snappy logos. It flows from the intersection of culture and people. It flows from the living, breathing brand.”

An Emotional Connection

At their heart, brands touch the soul, excite the mind, satisfy the need and motivate the action.

Emotion is at the core of a brand’s power when a brand represents what the customer aspires to be and can be by connecting with the products, services and experience the brand represents. Advertisers paint pictures of what it can mean to experience the product or service the brand delivers. They connect with your aspiration of what your life can be if you follow the impulse to choose and buy. They show happy, fulfilled people using a product or service. Spokespersons who positively describe an experience. Words and images that connect what the brand can deliver with what you picture for yourself. Whether that’s sitting in the driver’s seat of a car, dining at a restaurant, taking a vacation, or using a type of medication. Marc Gobe, the author of Emotional Branding, suggests that such branding “focuses on the most compelling aspect of the human character: the desire to transcend material satisfaction and experience emotional fulfillment.” The brand achieves such an emotional connection when “it can tap into aspirational drives which underlie human motivation.”

Smart brands base this emotional connection on what consumers look for: a personal impact. They paint the picture of a lifestyle. They enable a customer to consider more than just the relevance of the product or service. They try to make customers revel in every difference. Especially if it makes sense to you, the customer – appeals to you, taps into you. As you consider any brand, you set the requirements a product or service must meet before you will take steps to seriously evaluate a purchase. You look closer only if it makes sense in terms of what you want and what you need. And if you’re satisfied, you may come back. As Hallmark tells it employees, “Brands succeed because they establish powerful emotional connections with consumers. In an intensely competitive marketplace that offers a wide array of choices, people buy brands.”

Emotional to Inspirational

Brands do not simply sell. They capture the essence of a mission. The power of a brand doesn’t stop with a specific choice or transaction. It doesn’t end with functional and emotional connections. The potential for a brand is that it can create a “halo effect” for the entire business – if it delivers more.

A brand is at its most powerful when it reaches beyond the product to represent an idea emerging from the soul of the business. When purpose reaches beyond the sale to advance the relationship – to engage you, first on a functional level for being reliable, and then on an emotional level that will touch your feelings. Real brand power occurs when the brand reaches you inspirationally; when you connect with the “big idea” the business and brand stand for. When the brand reveals what happens inside the core of a business, giving you a glimpse of what makes a business tick. What the business believes in. Its values. Its heritage. Its icons. And a bit of its soul.

Why else would Apple, so brilliantly, make you believe you participate in a cause, not simply that you buy a product? Or Disney make you feel, as parents, that a childhood without a visit to the Magic Kingdom will not be complete? A brand can connect a customer to what a business is all about – its character, personality and values. To be remembered, a brand can give a face to a business. And to be revered, a brand can create a sense of comfort, a degree of security, a spirit of hope. It can symbolize the larger meaning of what a business stands for – the idea, experience, or relationship.

The Stakes Are High

The power of a brand isn’t just in what people experience. It’s in the simplicity with which it can frame how people work through issues.

So what is your business facing? No matter the issue, looking at what you must confront through the lens of your brand can simplify the steps you take to address the challenge. That’s because approaching an issue through your brand forces you to consider the commercial realities of your business, as well as simplifies what you consider. Brands are all about choice. Working through your issues – as you keep in mind the choices people will ultimately make – can save you a lot of unnecessary steps that lead nowhere. Branding can keep a business focused on what really matters: how to emotionally connect with the people who determine the business’ destiny.

Little did our mothers know, when they pointed out the name brands on the grocery shelves, how we would ultimately use such lessons from our young lives in our older life. Few other lessons compare to the lessons of brand.

Today, the stakes are too high for any business to leave brand delivery to chance – especially businesses that find themselves fighting for market share, introducing new products or service, trying to turn a business around, or pursuing a merger or acquisition. They must exceed customer expectations on the outside. And that means they must look on the inside, at the experience they create to motivate employees to deliver the brand.

Branding From the Inside

Every business has a brand as a place to work, just as it has a brand as a place to buy. Perhaps it has a reputation for fun. Or job security. Or career development. Or hard work. The business could be known for grooming future CEOs. Or for offering excellent pay. Or likable co-workers. Maybe its good working conditions create the buzz. All of these attributes add up to what you, as an employee, expect to experience – the same way the attributes of a customer brand add up to those expectations.

As GE’s Linda Boff remarks, “Without an employer brand, some organizations could succeed. But great brands and great organizations can’t succeed without great employer brands.” And Eric Jackson, VP of Worldwide Corporate Communications for FedEx, observes, “When done right, and consistently delivered, an employer brand elicits an emotional response from customers that’s very powerful. For us, this emotional response feeds our employees’ desire to do whatever it takes to satisfy our customers.”

Just as you do on the outside, on the inside you experience a touch point each time you access something the business offers, hear a message the business sends, use a product or service the business delivers. And at each touch point you ask yourself, as an employee, “Am I receiving all that the brand promised?” If disappointed, you may wonder, “What other brands may be available to deliver the same thing?”

Sound familiar? Just as on the outside, the brand of a business promises what you should experience on the inside. You expect working at Southwest to be fun because the brand says so. You expect Nike to empower its employees to “Just do it!” because the brand is so encouraging. You expect Disney to be a “magic kingdom” because Mickey says so.

And, just as on the outside, more and more people look for businesses they can believe in so they can proudly tell others they work there. People respond to values and traditions. No surprise, then, that stories about “company legends” pass from person to person inside many businesses as if to preserve the humanity of the legend – and what the brand stands for. Imagine how it must feel to employees to read these words from BMW: “If you love mobility in all of its many guises and want to get ahead, then the BMW Group is just the place for you.” Or these from Dell: “Winning is in our DNA. What we learn as consumers can directly affect what we create in a business for employees.”

Everything you learn as a consumer on the outside can teach you what employees on the inside will expect and the choices they will make. Any employee who has an emotional connection with a business will be more willing to understand what the business is about, believe in what the business is trying to do and do what it takes to help the business advance.

Mark Schumann is a Principal and Communication Consultant for Towers Perrin, and the Managing Principal of the firm’s Houston office. He is the co-author of Brand from the Inside with Libby Sartain, and is currently working on a second book with Ms.Sartain, Brand for Talent.

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