By Rosemary Plorin
If you’ve ever put your house on the market, you know a thing or two about staging a home. Before you invite prospective homebuyers across your threshold and show them around your — or perhaps, soon to be their — domain, you need to make sure every square inch is in tip-top shape. No stains on the carpet, no scratches on the walls, no strange odors wafting up from the basement — heck, no dust in the corners, even.
Branding a business, nonprofit or government entity isn’t all that different from selling a house. Audiences don’t actually get to peek into your organization’s closets or sift through the dirty laundry, to be sure. But, if they’re paying attention, they’re likely to get a pretty clear picture of what your organization stands for. That, in turn, provides them with a frame of reference — a benchmark by which they can compare your organization’s public face with its actual actions and outcomes.
Image Follows Culture
The key is to align your internal culture with your external brand — or, more accurately, design an external brand that reflect your internal culture. If you want to be authentic with your organization, customers, and prospects, this requires a hard look at how you’ve been running the place up to this point — prior to the start of your public-facing campaign. And of course, it requires “walking the talk” and living the brand on a consistent basis moving forward.
Here’s how to create an internal culture that’s worthy of your public brand — and how to get your team on board without making perfect the enemy of the good.
Invest in Good Governance
Like most organizational initiatives, effective branding demands support and buy-in from leadership — otherwise, it won’t get out of the gate. This isn’t news.
What may be news: effective branding also demands leadership that leads by example. Executives who merely pay lip service to a revamped communication strategy or public-facing brand can fool their teams and the public for only so long. Leadership needs to walk the talk, and boards that care about their organizations’ futures need to hold them accountable. No matter how well they’re performing on other fronts, leaders who refuse to buy into a consensus branding and communications shift are a liability to their organizations.
Put Core Values in Writing
It’s easier to follow instructions, and to hold folks accountable for following instructions, when they’re in writing. Before launching your new branding and communications strategy, put your organization’s best minds together (with or without the assistance of a communications agency) and devise a core set of values and principles that guide your organization’s activities.
Even if you’ve never taken the time to do this, you can probably think of some choice inclusions right off the bat. Concepts like “integrity,” “inclusivity,” “accountability,” “teamwork” — among other corporate buzzwords — will likely come to mind. Start the effort out on the right foot and ask your employees to share their thoughts as well – through facilitated discussions or a simple-online survey.
As you refine and perfect the words and phrases that reflect who you are and how you operate as an organization, be sure to hardwire these concepts into your day to day operations and processes. Remember, they form the core of your brand now.
Communicate Transparently (Whenever Possible)
I admit: transparency may not be appropriate in all places and at all times. A period of crisis may require a tightly controlled communication strategy, and detailed financial discussions are rarely appropriate for all-inclusive groups.
But transparency is crucial to a healthy organizational culture. Study after study shows that employees who feel informed about their employer’s’ goals are more engaged, positive and loyal. Rank-and-file employees want to understand their organization’s “big picture” and deserve to know about management decisions that affect their work and well-being.
The beauty of transparency is that it’s undisputably a two-way street. When transparency is the norm, it’s much less problematic to hold employees accountable for opacity — even when the lines between “transparent” and “opaque” aren’t bright and clear.
Hold Employees Accountable for Cultural Expectations
Transparency isn’t the only measure on which your tightly run ship of an organization can hold employees accountable. Your core cultural values — the concepts you’ve drilled into your internal communications from interview to orientation and evaluation — should all be non-negotiable.
Recognize and reward employees for living your culture, and make it clear that employees who choose not to embrace your values are likely not on a long career path with your organization.
Test Brand Elements & Communications Strategies Internally
It’s never a good idea to roll out a new public-facing brand or communications strategy without extensive testing. Fortunately, your internal housekeeping efforts can be a great opportunity to dive into the brand-building process and test any strategies about which you may not feel certain.
For structural elements of your brand and communications architecture, such as website layout and marketing automation tools, A/B testing can be a great way to try new ideas in parallel. This kind of research allows marketers to see what design schemes, words, offers, etc. appeal most or best elicit the desired behavior you want from your target audiences.
If you don’t have the time or material resources for a full-on A/B testing campaign, simply asking employees for honest feedback is a solid fallback. There’s nothing like a bracing round of candid criticism to dispel preconceived notions about how your brand should look, feel and operate. Of course, there’s no guarantee that your employees will respond like your clients and prospects, so this internal work isn’t a full substitute for traditional market-testing. But it can go a long way toward identify a marketing misfire before you fully load your cannons.
Are you prepping for a public communications campaign by getting your own house in order?