9th May 2022
3 Min Read

In favour of the internal brand

Russell Norton
Russell Norton
Creative Content & Storytelling

Whatever happened to the internal brand?

Megabrands fiercely protect how they show up in the world through stringent guidelines, diligent approval processes, close relationships with creative agencies and immersion sessions for anyone responsible for producing communications – and rightly so. Brand is everything, right?

How people perceive a brand is so much more than a logo, email footer or PowerPoint slide. It’s a clever combination of branding – the actions you take to build up your image – and brand identity – the collection of elements that create that brand image, such as tone of voice, messaging and visual assets. The best brands blend both to stand out.

When it’s time for a refresh, the consumer brand is usually top of the list, but there’s also the investor brand and employer brand to consider. What’s often missed is how your external brand adapts and flexes to suit your internal audience’s needs. Forget that, and the end result can be guidelines that put internal communicators in a tight squeeze.

Let’s look at some examples.

Copy

Your new tone of voice guidelines say you should keep copy to a maximum of six to eight words, using a URL to direct people to the rest of the information.

You’re communicating to an audience of warehouse colleagues with no access to digital company channels. You’ve got a new benefits package to launch – you’re going to need a few more than eight words!

Colour

Your new colour palette demands a strict three-colour theme, with the predominant colour matching that of your logo.

You’re communicating to a branch network of people surrounded by customer-facing communications, all matching the new colour guidelines. You’ve released a brochure about your new strategy, but the in-store team can’t tell the difference between communications aimed at colleagues and communications aimed at customers – after all, they’re exactly the same colour. Now your strategy brochures are on display for anyone to pick up and read. Yikes.

Photography

Your photo guidance says that pictures of people shouldn’t feel staged and they shouldn’t be looking directly into the camera.

You were last given a photography budget six years ago and you work with selfies or smart-phone shots taken by your team. Your people work in offices, vehicles, client sites and at home – so you do your best by cropping imagery into collages, but they’re all definitely looking direct into the camera lens!

We over-emphasise, but hopefully you get our point. Here’s what the professionals think.

Does an internal brand really matter?

Your brand needs to flex to a whole host of different internal needs

Chris Hudson, senior creative

"An internal brand should be very different – while you want your employees to live and breathe your brand, you also want them to be aware of what’s intended for them and what’s meant for the outside world.

External and internal brands should intrinsically connect, but your internal brand needs significantly more flexibility to cater to the tremendous range of uses it’s likely to be applied to.

After all, it’s going to show up on recognition cards and redundancy letters. On your toilet doors and the signs on the floors. From your biggest annual report to your smallest pin badge. So it needs to appeal to boomers AND the next intake of generation alpha.

While external brand guidelines demand consistent application, your internal brand guidelines need to be nimble enough to cope with the growing responsibilities of your internal team.

Having the flexibility for internal use can help make that distinction and get important messages across without losing the overall identity. We promise."

Brand is what your customers say it is; that includes your internal customers (your employees)

Craig Bentley, head of creative consultancy

"Brand is how people identify, know and remember you. It’s not what you say it is, it’s what your customers say it is – and that includes internal customers (your employees).

Your employees have the potential to be some of your biggest brand advocates, so why would you change branding for them and mix up the message?

The best new brand identities consider the internal practicalities as well as the external marketing needs. Employees are a key audience and the overarching brand guidelines should consider their needs.

If your end goal is consistency and recognition across all your channels – and why wouldn’t it be – then brand guidelines must cater for internal day-to-day use as well as high-impact external messages."

***

When applied correctly and governed with the same rigour as an external brand, investing in an internal brand reaps rewards. You:

  • develop trust, by using a tone of voice and imagery authentic to your people
  • empower creativity, by defining the parameters of where the external brand guidelines can and can’t be pushed
  • create distinction, by having a look and feel that’s deliberately aimed at colleagues, so they can be confident that the message they’re reading is definitively for them
  • save effort and budget, by not having to devise new visual identities for an internal campaign every time one comes along
  • add a human touch, by showing that your people are the driving force at the heart of your organisation.

So, if you’re a branding agency briefed with devising your client’s shiny new brand, please don’t forget that there’s a huge audience and some vital stakeholders within the ‘four walls’ of the organisation that’s commissioned you. The internal communications team and the employees of that organisation want to feel represented in authentic way by your new brand, and it only takes simple touches to achieve that.

A secondary colour palette here, an accent font there. A fresh and representative shoot for the internal photo library perhaps (with one planned every year for the coming years). An icon style. A style guide that shows the brand’s personality and voice with its employees. These are the ingredients that can take a new brand from an ok update to a rigorous refresh.

If your internal brand has reached a dead end, and you’re inundated with mismatched logos and outdated campaigns, we can help.

Our creative consultants review your entire internal communications landscape to spot the good, the bad and the downright ugly. From there, we can advise where to take your internal brand – working with your brand team to develop a suite of guidance that keeps them happy and gives you the creative permission to do something a little more remarkable.

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