By Chiamaka Ezeonwuka
With innovation as a core value for most organizations, it is important to note that a business cannot really innovate if it pays little or no attention to internal branding. Innovation can easily be defined as developing simpler ways to create value, it should also be directly expressed through a brand experience. A lot of people believe innovation is simply the application of new technology to achieve a business objective, this is grossly untrue as it is more broadly about developing new ideas to meet existing or unforeseen needs in a more efficient and valuable way.
This article seeks to create a direct relationship between innovation and internal branding as a practice. Our understanding is that when internal branding is done right, it creates the appropriate environment for innovation to occur effortlessly and organically. A company’s employees can either make or mar the effectiveness of a brand or business. It is therefore imperative that internal branding plays a vital role in the implementation of an organisation’s business strategy. Corroborating this view, Maclaverty et al emphasizes that an organization’s powerful channel of delivering on a brand experience, is the intermediation of its employees. According to them “ internal branding in recent times has seen a growing number of organizations which now view the marketer’s job inside the work premises, to be just as important as the external through a set of strategic processes that align and empower employees to deliver the appropriate customer experience, in a consistent fashion”. Successful brands like Starbucks, Zappos and IBM, have long realized that a brand message targeted at the consumer without taking into consideration, the comprehension of such a message by the average employee is no longer sustainable, no matter how emotional this message might be.
A valid question can be asked” Why is internal branding even important?” It is important because we as humans live in a continuously evolving world of work, where more would be required from what is contained in our job description. Where there is a disconnect between the goals of the organization and that of the employee, there would always be problems in the organisation. The simple truth is that people want to work in places where what they do, resonates with what they believe in. If innovation is at the forefront of an organization’s positioning strategy, beliefs and culture, then that message should be clearly communicated to the employees and ingrained in them. If innovation is to be a culture, it should not be seen as the job function of a particular unit in the organization or as a buzz word framed among a few others in the reception; it should be seen as the responsibility and character of every member of staff. A case in point, Virgin Atlantic capitalizes on effective internal branding, to encourage a culture that is innovation driven, thus making them a leader in innovation, amongst the airlines around the world. They achieve this by encouraging every member of staff to develop ideas, letting them know that their ideas are crucial to the business, and employee feedback is also taken into consideration when making critical decisions in the organization. This practice helps the employee see the success of the organization as his/her success and not just a place where he resumes every day to get a pay cheque.
When internal branding is done right, it builds employee loyalty and commitment, it makes it easy to attract and retain talent and ensures a consistent firm-wide experience which in turn means that you do not have to spend as much on advertising. When employees can relate with the passion and story of a firm, they inadvertently become ambassadors by living the brand wherever they go, this is a much potent form of communication. The advantages of internal branding have a direct customer benefit as satisfied employees would also go the extra mile in making the customers happy.
Sadly, many Nigerian organizations have not embraced the idea of internal branding, as their primary concern is building their external brand and portray a certain image to their investors and stakeholders alike. A simple survey done on Nigerian organizations across various sectors recalled that the employees could hardly remember the values of their organizations. Upon further questions, most employees confessed that they only took up theirs employment because of the remuneration and job satisfaction was the least of their expectations. This isn’t surprising at all, especially as most organizations only create core values as templates, have no proper appraisal / hiring strategies which link the personality of the brand to the personalities of employees and most importantly do not create an environment where the employees see themselves as co-custodians of the brand and business.What most organizations forget is that this external “image” can be easily destroyed if the internal brand is not adequately aligned. There really isn’t any logic in promoting a perfect image in the media when you know that the internal experience is terrible. This will only irritate the customer and create a fraudulent perception for the brand. Let us take British Airways for example, the brand leverages on the power of a holistic employee engagement approach, to achieve high performing standards. Every employee in British Airways is seen as a brand manager and a core embodiment of the brand. Also, Southwest Airlines encourages good friendships in the workplace, so much so that the boundaries between work and life are broken. By doing so, the employees think of the organization as an extension of their own families, and like any family, would protect the interests of the organization.
Another saddening reality among most Nigerian organizations is how employers adopt the “them and us” approach, where the employees should be seen but not heard. Employees are usually kept in the dark about the company’s business strategy and direction and then line managers are relied on to filter this information to their respective teams as they deem fit. The problem with this approach is that as these messages are filtered down the ladder, they lose the original essence and in most cases are altered to mean something entirely different, this then creates conflicting impressions for the external audience.
We believe that internal branding is an untapped consumer touch point for many organizations. Significant potentials lie within this “purple hole” to improve employees’ favourable disposition towards the organization’s brand, maximize performance in the workplace, and increase productivity in a sustainable manner. Internal branding which is a whole lot less expensive than external branding could serve as a major point of differentiation for Nigerian organizations, it should also be the starting point or any organization willing to innovate in these curious times.
This article endorses the following organizations for building strong internal brands and ensuring a consistent DNA across their employees.
British American Tobacco Nigeria – FMCG, Noah’s Ark – Creative Services, Unilever Nigeria – FMCG, Akintola Williams Deloitte – Consulting, Microsoft Nigeria – Technology, Google Nigeria – Technology, Lafarge – FMCG, Standard Chartered – Financial Services, Konga – Ecommerce, Sahara – Oil & Gas, ARM – Financial Services.
Chiamaka Ezeonwuka is a graduate of mass communication, and holds a Masters degree in international human resources. Chiamaka has just concluded the intensive Integrated Brand Experience Program at Orange Academy; Africa’s first practical school of brand advertising. In her spare time, she loves to read and write, and has a blog www.dinmacaruso.blogspot.com.ng.
Article perfected by :Mobolaji Caxton-Martins (Brand & Innovation Management Specialist)
Mobolaji Caxton-Martins is a brand and innovation management professional and a facilitator of brand storytelling and innovation at Orange Academy; Africa’s first practical school of brand advertising. He has enjoyed a rapid and aligned career in branding, advertising and consulting.
His footprints can be trailed to such brands as etisalat, Unilever Lifebuoy, Samsung Mobile, Skye bank, Moneygram International, Wema Bank, Keystone Bank, Haier Thermocool, Airtel, FBNQuest and most recently Templars. He has an undying commitment to sustainable innovation for Africa leveraging the millennia generation and its occupation revolution. He enjoys listening to afrobeat music, playing table-tennis and wine tasting.