Edición 57, Marketing

Internal Branding: Developing Brand Ambassadors

By: Enrique Murillo

Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México

Internal Branding is an aspect of brand management that is particularly important for service companies. It may be defined as the transfer of knowledge and passion for the corporate brand from the leaders to all levels of the organization.

Especially critical are the contact employees who, for better or worse, act as the representatives of the brand for the customers. This is one of the more difficult strategic challenges for any service company: to turn its employees into true brand ambassadors.

Internal Branding is a process carried out by all service organizations with a strong internal culture, though perhaps they may not call it that. When it works well, employees develop skills and attitudes that drive them to embody the brand promise when performing service tasks for customers. It is easy to see the importance of this for service-intensive companies, such as airlines, hotels, restaurants, banks, insurance companies, etc. However, many service companies have a low success rate in fulfilling their brand promise. A recent study by the Gallupconsultancy asked a representative sample of U.S. employees if they knew what their organization represented and what made it different from other organizations. Only 42% of respondents were fully in agreement. And to the question if they worked for an organization that always keeps the promises it makes to its customers, the percentage of respondents who fully agreed was only 27%.

Managers of Internal Branding

By its very nature, Internal Branding has to do with employees and with the brand promise. But it would be a mistake to assign its management only to Human Resources or only to Marketing. In fact, close cooperation between both departments is required to develop true brand ambassadors.

Human Resources has the skills and technical tools to carry out the selection, induction, training and performance evaluation of employees. On the other hand, Marketing has the competence and tools for designing the value proposition, the brand promise, and its positioning. Likewise, Marketing defines the customer experience and service behaviors that build it, and carries out the systematic measurement of customer satisfaction. All of this is done with the aim of gradually building brand equity.

Internal Branding is usually delivered through the selection, induction and training programs. In fact, one of the training objectives is to transmit to the employees knowledge about the corporate brand, the brand promise and the role of the employee in its delivery, breaking down said delivery to the visible behaviors that customers have come to expect from the brand. For example, a loyal customer of Starbucks expects the barista to greet him/her by name, and a customer of Italiannis expects that the waiters will sing in chorus on the day of his/her birthday.

As a complement to training, an effective Internal Branding is also created when managers and supervisors remind their employees of the content of the brand promise, providing them with practical examples and anecdotes that ground and materialize its delivery.

While all of the above may seem the sole responsibility of Human Resources, it would be a mistake if Marketing were not involved, or if it only participated in creating the content of the training, and then turned all its attention to the outside of the organization “where the sales are.” For a Marketing executive who is truly persuaded by the value and proposition of the corporate brand, spreading his/her enthusiasm to all the employees is a direct way to build brand equity, and thereby encourage brand preference among consumers.

An illustrative example of the mechanisms of Internal Branding is the company Uber, which in Mexico City has built, in fairly short time, a good reputation for fulfilling its brand promise. Uber has deployed two tools to make each driver act as a brand ambassador. First, there is a rigorous selection, training and certification of the drivers. Training is provided through short videos that drivers can watch and review on their phone.The videos highlight the brand promise of Uber – which is well known by its customers – and explain in great detail the visible behaviors that drivers must display to deliver the promise, such as offering bottled water to the customer. The second tool is the evaluation of the service received, which the customer can provide quickly and easily through the Uber application. For the drivers, the evaluation average is key, because if it drops under a challenging 4.7 star threshold (out of a possible 5) they are penalized. The combination of a brand promise that is well described, plus selection, training, and rapid feedback has allowed Uber to quickly earn a remarkable brand loyalty.

Internal Branding in Franchises 

The success of a franchise is mainly based on a brand promise that is consistently delivered. Therefore, the principles and practices of Internal Branding are also important for franchise organizations,with the advantage that on these, the internal visibility of the brand is usually higher than on a conventional organization.

In a franchise, those responsible for delivering the brand promise in each establishment are the franchisees, who receive the technical support and brand leadership of the franchisor. Recent research has shown that the constant dissemination of brand knowledge by the franchisor positively influences the satisfaction of the franchisees, their perceptions of role clarity, and their commitment to the brand – all of which helps to turn them into brand champions.

Internal Branding is particularly important for young franchises that are still building their brand differentiation in saturated markets, such as hotels and restaurants. Consistency in the visible behaviors of employees can only be achieved through a planned and systematic effort, which will bear fruit in a gradual manner. Only in this way will the recurring customer find the same service in all branches and develop a loyalty to the brand.

Systematic Measurement of Internal Branding

Given its importance, it makes good sense to perform a rigorous measurement of the effectiveness of the Internal Branding process through a formal study or diagnostic. These studies are based on surveys of employees, supervisors and managers. In these surveys they are asked to indicate their degree of agreement or disagreement with a series of statements about the brand. A typical question of the employee questionnaire would be, I know how I should behave to ensure that our brand has a positive image with our customers, while a typical question for supervisors would be I frequently give my employees practical examples of behaviors that reflect our brand promise.

Nowadays, thanks to professional platforms for online surveys (such as Qualtrics or QuestionPro), surveys can be answered efficiently using a PC or a smartphone. This solves two major problems: first, the geographical dispersion of many companies, and second, the high cost of deploying and capturing paper and pencil surveys.

For a company with multiple branches, such as a hotel chain, the survey might reveal significant differences in the brand awareness of employees in two different cities, which is already an important finding that can generate corrective actions. But the main contribution of the study is to determine, through a sample of the entire chain, the systemic impact of the variables that management can change on the desired objectives of Internal Branding. Among the variables that management can change are brand training and the brand leadership exhibited by managers and supervisors. Also, through proper selection, the congruence between the personal values of the employees and the brand’s values can be increased. These variables will in turn have an impact on the desired objectives of Internal Branding, such as the brand awareness of employees, the commitment to the brand, and the display of behaviors that deliver the promise.

The core of the diagnostic study is the econometric model that measures the systemic relationship between all the variables. To correctly measure the impacts, it is necessary to formulate structural equation models, and estimate them using the statistical techniques required by the type of sample utilized.In this way, recent investigations have achieved very interesting results. For example, the congruence perceived by the employee between his/her personal values and the values of the brand has a positive impact on the employee’s motivation to display behaviors that benefit the brand.This has practical implications for refining the selection process.

In summary, a well-executed Internal Branding diagnostic study achieves substantial and practical benefits for the organization, such as: identifying gaps in the selection and/or training process; identifying brand promises that are insufficiently specified, communicated or grounded; demonstrating to managers and supervisors the impact they can have on employees through their brand leadership; demonstrating to employees how their service behaviors generate brand perceptions among customers; and triggering a fruitful dialogue about the corporate brand between the CEO, Marketing and Human Resources.

Notes

ı O’Boyle, E. & Adkins, A. (2015) “Super Bowl Ads Don’t Make a Brand” Gallup Business Journal. http://www.gallup.com/businessjournal/181358/super-bowl-ads-don-brand.aspx

http://www.choferes-uber.com/capacita/

3 King, C., Grace, D., & Weaven, S. (2013) “Developing Brand Champions: A Franchisee Perspective.” Journal of Marketing Management, 29: 1308-1336

4 ibid.

5 Among the main estimation techniques are Partial Least Squares, Covariance- based Structural Equation Models and Hierarchical Linear Models (PLS, CB-SEM and HLM respectively)

6 Xiong, L. & King, C. (2015) “Motivational drivers that fuel employees to champion the hospitality brand.” International Journal of Hospitality Management, 44: 58-69.

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