The internal brand identifies what is important to an organization and why it exists. At RedKnight we talk about the internal brand as being made up of the vision, mission, values and company belief systems.
The external brand ultimately is how your customer perceives your company. It is influenced heavily by the company’s marketing message and the avenues it uses to spread the message. However, because experience impacts our perceptions more strongly and memorably than just words, the customer experience has an even stronger influence on the external brand.
The customer experience is directly influenced by the culture inside an organization. In many companies, the culture grows organically based on the people who are hired. However, smart companies cultivate the culture using their internal brand because they understand that the company culture is the link between the internal and external brand.
A company who leveraged this linkage well is Ford. For over 20 years I drove a Ford product. And I listened to the many demeaning comments about Ford. The two most memorable were:
I was fortunate because my Ford odyssey began at about the time that Ford was working on changing their reputation. This was the early eighties when they launched their “Quality is Job #1” promotion. Ford understood that for this to work, they needed to build quality appreciation into the corporate culture. And that is where they started. Around 2 years before they launched their national marketing campaign, they launched it internally. Only after they had made headway and quality was being incorporated into the product did they start working on their external brand.
I’d love to say that this was a remarkable success and that now Ford is known internationally for the quality of their vehicles. However, you would know I was lying. It was, however, a success for a few years. How I loved driving the Fords I bought during this period. They were some of the best cars I ever drove. The fact that I now drive a Subaru should let you know how frustrated I became with some future Ford models.
The problem is, the culture and internal brand must be constantly reinforced or it will erode over time. Ford did not see the Quality is Job #1 change as a permanent part of its internal brand. Or if they did, they stopped reinforcing it. As quality at Ford stopped being a priority it showed in the vehicles they shipped. One of my last Ford vehicles had around 10 recalls in the first year I owned it.
The culture of an organization is influenced by those things that employees are told are important. It’s influenced even more strongly by those things that are rewarded. The flip side of this coin is the impact of those things that go unpunished.
For example, if the internal brand says that quality is important and at the same time employees are rewarded for cutting corners to save time or deliver more quickly, which will win? When you have opposing ideas or dynamics, the one that is rewarded will always win.
The culture of your organization is rooted in your internal brand. It will then strongly influence your customers’ perception of your external brand because your company’s culture is the link between your internal and external brand. What can you do today to strengthen that link?