Ask a marketer, what comes to mind when you think of branding? I bet you’ll think of phrases like “logo design,” “website building” and “advertising campaigns.” Indeed, marketers typically invest most of their time in the outward-facing elements of their brand.
However, there is another, often overlooked aspect of branding that marketers don’t think about enough. It’s called internal evangelism, and without it, your company is more likely to underperform.
Building Your Brand Externally Is Great, But It’s Not Enough
Outward-facing branding efforts (which I’ll refer to as external promotion from now on) are most effective when they connect an audience with values and vision: values that customers want to align themselves with and a vision for what customers aspire to be (or for what they aspire the world to be like).
Whether you’re talking to businesses or consumers, selling commodities or luxuries, companies are most successful at marketing when their external promotion clearly communicates values and a vision that resonates with their audience. However, even the most thoughtful and impactful external promotion efforts won’t have a lasting impact unless the company’s actions reinforce that vision and those values.
A company that doesn’t embody any particular values or vision is nothing but a hollow shell. Customers will see through that. And what’s worse is a company that behaves in a way that’s contrary to its values and vision. These businesses are at risk of being seen as hypocrites or even untrustworthy and malicious.
This is where internal evangelism comes in.
What Is Internal Evangelism?
Internal evangelism is the process of selling your employees and partners on your values and your vision. It’s more than hanging a plaque on the wall or putting something up on the website. Internal evangelism is an ongoing, intentional investment in building a culture based on the same values and vision that are used in your external marketing efforts to customers.
Maybe internal evangelism sounds like a nice-to-have or something fun to do once profits are well in place. But it actually has major ramifications for both revenue and profit that young and old companies need to be aware of.
First, companies that don’t practice internal evangelism are simply less inspiring places to work. It’s not that these companies don’t survive — it’s just that uninspired employees will only create uninspiring results. In these situations, branding efforts (and by extension, the marketing team) have failed to deliver their full value.
Secondly, when the vision and values aren’t championed internally, that’s eventually going to come across (for the worse) in the decisions your employees make and the way they interact with customers. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. It could be the way an email is worded, how a complaint is handled or the tone of a social media post. But when customers see that your behavior is inconsistent with the values and vision you espouse externally, they’ll punish you by taking their business elsewhere.
A Tale Of Success, A Tale Of Caution
Zappos and Wells Fargo are great examples. Zappos has built its external brand around service, customer delight and making it easy to buy. Those are good attributes, but they probably aren’t that much different from what similar companies aspire to accomplish. But Zappos succeeds because it’s built a culture around those same values. Zappos employees aren’t just trained in those values, they’re also given discretion on how to best put them into practice. All that leads to great experiences, fueling growth in the process.
Wells Fargo is an unfortunate example of what happens when a brand makes promises externally but promotes different values internally. For years, Wells Fargo built its brand on trust, heritage and the merits of working together. Unfortunately, employees didn’t get the memo. After being caught red-handed for flagrant loan abuses, Wells Fargo is in full-on apology mode. And they’re having to rebuild their brand from ground zero (while paying a $1 billion fine to boot).
Internal Evangelism Is More Important Than Ever
Aligning internal and external branding has always been important. But today, the risks of not investing in internal evangelism are greater than ever.
Consumers have more knowledge than ever about what companies actually do in the real world. An isolated incident could quickly turn into a very public PR disaster with just a Facebook video or Twitter screenshot. Secondly, consumer attitudes have shifted. It’s no longer enough for companies to say that they care about society. Consumers (especially millennials) now demand that companies actively take a role in creating social good. That means taking real action, not just looking good in your advertising.
And finally, recent misuses of personal data have caused consumers to be increasingly skeptical of a business’s motivations. Companies know more about us than they ever have before, so they must earn our trust.
If internal evangelism is such a crucial component of branding, why don’t more companies do it well?
First, it’s difficult. You can’t just tell employees about your vision and values once and expect the culture to change. It takes real investment from the CEO and company leadership. At my own company, we’re in the process of rebuilding our vision and values ourselves. We could have taken the quick and easy approach of letting a few people create something in isolation. But we knew the result wouldn’t stick. Instead, we went through a series of company-wide meetings, employee surveys, customer interviews and leadership discussions to give direction to the exercise. Having such broach participation has helped everyone involved feel a sense of ownership in the process.
It’s also easy to put off. Since it’s hard to measure the benefits of internal evangelism (or the risks of not doing it), companies can be fooled into thinking that they can get away without it. However, when something’s difficult, it just means there’s another opportunity for your business to stand out by doing something that your competitors aren’t capable of.
What approach will your business take?
This post was originally published in Forbes.