In an email dialogue with Tom at Sandbox Wisdom, we were debating the use of the term "internal branding." Tom posits that internal and external branding is one and the same thing:
The best seem to just "get it." They know that every employee impacts—in some way—how the world encounters their company's promise and personality. And so, they're obsessed with the details. They know that every action helps build or weaken their brand. They're intuitively aware that their company's brand is the strategic differentiation of their promise and personality, AND the inspired actions of a team of people to make it happen. It's the actions of their entire team, which informs choices by customers, employees, investors, et al.
So let me ask again: why the brand distinction? I'm really not sure, so I say . . . "Internal Branding" be damned. Distinctions like that tend to confuse, more than clarify. Divide, rather than unite. Plus, there's really no such thing as an "internal" brand anyway. Just as there's no such thing as "nature" separate from "man." We—you, me, the air, water, trees, et al.—are an inseparable whole. Sure, creating the distinction allows us to better categorize and understand it, but it also allows us to exploit it for our own gain.
I'm so glad for Tom's comment because I hadn't really looked at it this way before. I'm a big proponent of the ecology of business -- the interconnectedness of things -- so I really don't like arbitrary distinctions. They do tend to divide related ideas into distinct little boxes. Easier for us to manage (which is why we like our little boxes) but hide the big picture. Conversely, as Chris Lawer and I debated a few weeks ago about the semantics of customer-centricity vs. buyer-centricity: "Since words are abbreviations for concepts, new concepts require the use of new or different word choices."
So I do believe that the term 'internal branding' has its place. Successful companies don’t need internal branding because they’re already living the brand. The challenge comes when we’re dealing with a company that doesn’t start out with this holistic mindset. They’re not born with a well-defined promise of value… so in a corporate mid-life crisis we (marketers, agencies, brand consultants) must work backwards from identifying customer needs to defining the best brand promise that the company has the capabilities to focus on. The next step is integrating/aligning internally before communicating externally. In this scenario, we need to do ‘internal branding’ (ie… create a new culture/mindset aligned with the newly defined brand promise) before creating a new ad campaign. So…. What do we call that process? Is internal branding the best description? I'm certainly open to ideas.
On a tangental note: I’ve had a strong desire to eliminate the word ‘brand’ altogether because it’s so ambiguous. It’s become the big buzzword but there’s no consensus on the definition. For example, it really bugs me when a design firm says they do branding. No, they do logo design. That’s not branding. But… that’s another rant for another day.