Consumers are no longer buying brands. They buy from companies with real people and a collective ethos behind them. We can broadly sum this up as the culture of the company, or 'internal brand'.
This means creating authentic brands, and products must go beyond creating engaging content, viral social media ads, and beautifully designed packaging. It needs designing from the inside-out at the same time as from the outside-in.
Sadly, this inside-out part of the brand-building equation is often not seen as being part of the overall marketing strategy. What's worse, is that it is often left out of strategy altogether! Culture is often not seen as something to be designed or strategically managed by anyone at all!
When a culture (internal brand) is not designed or managed (like a consumer brand), a marketer's ability to build great brands is significantly limited.
Let me draw you a picture...
Now, let's explore each side of this simple equation in a little more depth.
External Customers – AKA the 'target market' or 'target consumer'. This is the focus of the traditional marketing plan. Everyone knows you cannot have a business without customers. They buy your products, and a strong brand with a loyal customer base will build your brand and take it further than you ever could alone.
As marketers, everything we create, do and communicate with the customer is carefully planned and executed to achieve a desired emotional connection and response.
Internal Customers - AKA a company's employees. They are the ones doing the work of developing the external brand and are a company's most valuable asset. Whether you like it or not, the collective ethos and culture of everyone in the company affect the development of the brand over the long term.
Without an internal marketing plan which sets out to create a desired internal culture which complements the external branding activities, a culture will start to grow organically. This can be both positive or negative, but the fact is, it is not controlled. With an internal marketing plan' target employees' are selected with the overall brand purpose in mind, and an internal marketing plan helps to nurture the people and culture in order to achieve a desired emotional connection and action (and retention!).
Brand – A brand is the sum of everything associated with it and how it drives an emotional response. It is much more than the logo, products, pricing strategy, distribution channels, and promotion. Your brand is a sum of how it makes your customers feel when they engage it, AND how your employees feel when they associate with your company.
The Culture link with brands
There is a strong link between our external brand and the internal brand or culture. The internal culture of an organisation is where the external brand is born and then nurtured. The employees within are the ones engaging and spreading the message with the target consumer. They feed and bounce of each other. The values and purpose of each need to be in sync to create brands with authenticity.
Our external customers should want to associate and do business with everyone in our internal customer (employee) base, even if they would never meet! Why? Because, a conflict in the internal and external world of a brand means there is a conflict in the two brand values, weakening the overall authenticity.
Consumers are smart. They see through all the fancy-schmancy marketing BS and want brands that are true in their values and purpose. You simply cannot build a strong, authentic brand if you only focus on one side of the equation.
The best brands of the future will be developed by having marketers working closely with the senior leadership or HR to develop an inside out, marketing plan consistent with the outside in marketing plan.
Remember, a brand is a sum of ALL the parts. Make sure all parts have been designed with the thoughtfulness and purpose, including the company's culture.