Inside and Out – 9 Tips for Your Next Internal Branding Project

Sam Wilkes, Creative Director & Elizabeth Obee, Growth & Development Director

Sam Wilkes, Creative Director & Elizabeth Obee, Growth & Development Director

Going through a rebranding process can be transformational. A rebrand can reposition a product to give it the competitive edge, revive an old brand for a contemporary audience, or set a brand up for growth in new markets.

But it’s not often that we talk about the transformational power of an internal rebrand.

What do we mean by “internal branding”?

Internal branding is all about how your employees experience your business, rather than your consumers. It encompasses your values, purpose and what you stand for as a business, your corporate identity, internal language, and how you communicate with employees. Think of it as not what you sell, but how you sell it.

There are lots of reasons why you might choose to go through an internal rebrand exercise – from fundamental change within your business, for example a merger or a significant shift in services, to introducing new ways of working, or simply just wanting to keep things fresh.

And whether it’s rebranding a team, a department, or your entire organization, we have some tried and tested advice on the best ways to approach it, how the power of design is crucial to the process, and the benefits and impact that an internal rebrand can have on your business.

9 tips for a successful internal rebrand

1) Treat your business like a product

Internal rebrands are really no different to consumer-facing rebrands. A great brand is one that connects with consumers on an emotional level, so treat your internal brand in the same way. Your goal here should be building a strong emotional connection between your business and your employees.

2) Listen

Encourage your employees to participate in the process. Give everyone a voice and they’ll feel valued, and they’ll also be more invested in the success of your business. Understand what challenges your employees face, find out what makes them tick, and listen to their ideas and what motivates them. Sometimes the smallest insight can inspire the most impactful change.

3) Get a fresh perspective

Your brand design agency is your secret weapon here. As an external partner and experts in brand strategy, they can bring an objective yet informed point of view to the table. They are perfectly placed to run stakeholder engagement sessions, participate in Town Hall-style company briefings, and facilitate open and honest feedback activities to draw out the insights that will shape your brand.

4) Keep it simple

A complex mission statement will never fire hearts and minds, but it will be the foundation of your brand. The more complicated you make it, the quicker people will switch off, so it’s important that you get it right. Keep it short, succinct and memorable to get your employees on side.

5) Design at the heart

It goes without saying that creativity and design thinking should be at the heart of any branding project. We may be biased here, but it’s often the most fun part of the process, too.

Collaborate with your design agency on your brand strategy, focus your messaging, and then bring your company vision to life in a consistent 360 way. This could be through any combination of things – a bold new logo, an inspiring manifesto, a distinctive tone of voice, covetable swag (never underestimate the power of a beautiful notebook or a fun tote bag). There are all sorts of creative touchpoints that you can create together to communicate your brand in an engaging way.

6) Create an environment people want to work in

Don’t forget about physical spaces. How does your brand translate into the environment you work in? People should feel proud of their workplace, so whether it’s an office, distillery or a factory, consider the best ways to bring your brand to life in these spaces.

This doesn’t always have to be a large-scale operation. For example, when our clients at Diageo moved into a new office in New York, we designed and installed a series of murals throughout the building to communicate Diageo’s purpose and values as a business, showcase their brands, and tap into local culture. The result works in harmony with other elements of the office space, sharing Diageo’s vision in a creative and inspiring way that continues to connect with people working there today.

7) Build an army

The outcome of an internal rebrand should be to turn your employees into ambassadors, so you need to empower them with something they can unite on and get behind.

Nike does this in its own unique way. A number of senior executives now hold the additional title of ‘Corporate Storyteller’, and they deliberately avoid stories of financial successes. Instead, they share parables of “just doing it,” reflecting Nike’s iconic tagline and consumer-facing expression of the company’s mission statement. One tale, for example, recalls how legendary coach and Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman created the prototype of the brand’s famous Waffle Sole by pouring rubber into his family’s waffle iron. By creating internal brand ambassadors who share stories in this way, Nike keeps the spirit of innovation and creativity alive amongst all of its employees.

8) Be authentic

Caution: do not over-promise and under-deliver. It may sound obvious, but if you say you that stand for something, make sure you live up to it. Otherwise it’s just meaningless words and you run the risk of demotivating your employees. In extreme cases, it can even impact on the consumer-facing side of your business.

You may have read the open letter from UK-based disruptive craft beer brand BrewDog’s employees, which includes the killer line, “Growth, at all costs, has always been perceived as the number one focus for the company […] Being treated like a human being was sadly not always a given for those working at BrewDog.”

After the amount of mainstream press coverage this received, everything the brand now does will be scrutinized. Has BrewDog caused irreversible damage to its external brand by the harm it has caused to its internal brand?

9) Keep listening

Once you’ve launched your rebrand, don’t stop there. Get feedback from people on the ground, continue to communicate and empower you ambassadors, and make sure you are delivering against the objectives you set right at the beginning of the process.

After BP repositioned from oil to energy company, it launched an internal campaign to communicate its new vision and brand to employees. A follow-up survey showed that 76% felt favourably toward the new brand, 80% were aware of the brand values that constituted the new brand messages, and 90% thought the company was going in the right direction (source: Harvard Business Review). This is a great example of a business that continues to listen and learn from its employees.

Time for a refresh?

So if you’re thinking about completely overhauling your business and redefining your purpose and values, or if your objective is to galvanise a team or department through a smaller rebranding exercise (or anything in between), our advice is this: use creative thinking and harness the power of design to connect with people, and you’ll arrive at a more engaging, inspiring and empowering experience for your employees.

Happy employees = better employees, and who doesn’t want that?

Sam Wilkes, Creative Director & Elizabeth Obee, Growth & Development Director