A Simplified Approach to Brand Terminology
What is in a term used to discuss various topics or ideas? When talking about the various aspects of branding, apparently, quite a lot. Finding, learning and using the “correct” brand terminology is causing a great deal of confusion for marketers. Why are the specific terms so important? Isn’t it more important that we just get on with it?
Let’s just simplify the terminology being used by advertising agencies, brand consultants, brand designers and market researchers around the topic of brand. In efforts to differentiate themselves, these experts have exacerbated the problem by coining their own terminology for what are essentially the same brand elements, techniques and processes that everyone else is offering. Add to the mix that most marketers today did not learn about brands in their business school marketing courses, and you have the potential for – and the reality of – a lot of confusion.
One of the areas that seems to be attracting a lot of attention and misunderstanding among practicing marketers right now are the terms brand, internal brand, internal branding and employee/employer brand. The question comes up in almost every brand conversation I have, “What is the difference between an internal and an external brand? What is an employee brand and do I have to have one? And what do you mean by internal branding?” Here are the simplified – but hopefully not simplistic – answers.
A brand is a long-term relationship you have with your customers, based on consistent delivery of an expected benefit. Brand is often described as a promise that is made and kept with your customers, but I prefer to avoid putting brand on a transaction basis. I prefer to think of brand as a relationship – something that is built up, developed between two people or organizations and that lasts a long time.
There really isn’t anything new in this definition. This is pretty much the same definition that brand experts have been using for the past few years. It does always surprise me when a business tells me they don’t have a brand and they don’t need one. If you are in business, you have a brand. If you have not been actively managing your brand (a situation I describe as “benign neglect”) it may not be a strong brand and it may not be what you would like it to be. But, rest assured, you have a brand. All you have to do is ask your customers and they will tell you all about your brand. You may discover that your brand is a corporate asset you should be aggressively managing for business results, just like any other asset your corporation owns.
An employee brand, on the other hand, is the brand you use to attract and retain employees. An employee brand may be different from the external brand it is related to – but not too different or it will not be credible. For example, it would be impossible for Virgin Airlines or Southwest Airlines to have an employee brand that is staid, conservative and rigid. Likewise, it would not be credible for a very conservative brand to attract employees using an employee brand that is overtly young and hip. While your employee brand must be related to your customer- or market-facing brand, it will definitely deliver different emotional and functional benefits. The benefits associated with an employee brand might be stability, fair compensation, good benefits, and training, where your market-facing brand benefits would relate to functional and emotional promises inherent in the brand relationship.
As to whether you have to have an employee brand or not, again, don’t worry – you have one. If you have employees in your business and hire employees, you have an employee brand. You may not be managing it – and it may not be exactly what you want, but if you ask your employees and your prospective hires, they will tell you about your employee brand. They may also tell you about the employee brands of those companies against whom you compete for labor – so it probably a good idea to explore.
Now, let me stress that there is no such thing as an “internal brand” – the internal brand is exactly the same as your external brand. In fact, to reduce the confusion, we can drop the internal and external designations and just refer to your brand. Internal branding, on the other hand, is the process of aligning people, functions and operations to consistently deliver the brand promise – building that brand relationship with the customer over time.
Brand and internal branding are the responsibility of the entire organization – everyone contributes in some way to creating and enhancing the organization’s ability to deliver on its promises. The employee brand, on the other hand, tends to be the purview of the human resources, organizational development and internal communications folks.