It’s not uncommon for companies to live in disconnect from their brands internally; it’s actually more common than is favorable. Though the marketing and leadership teams may understand their company’s brand, it is more likely that the vast majority of employees will be confused about what that is.
In its essence, branding is about consistently sending the right signals to all parties involved, employees included. Ideally, employees should be an extension of the brand from the inside of the company to the outside world.
When that is not the case, i.e., when employees feel disconnected from the brand or are unclear on the company’s purpose, values and identity, a company suffers from brand schizophrenia. This is when the brand function is grossly diluted, and confusion governs employee understanding of their employer’s brand.
When employees feel confused and disconnected from their company’s brand, their performance is greatly affected. Issues like frustration, inconsistency and lack of trust arise, and this disrupts their work quality.
Another important impact is lack of focus. A clear identity and harmonious culture are ones that are united under one purpose, and thus strategic goals. When these factors are not clear to employees, their efforts, focus and time are dispersed. They may be working hard but are not necessarily focusing their efforts on the right things or doing things the right way.
Brand schizophrenia is characterized by contradictory signals, mainly between the external brand and the internal one. Here are some examples:
• The “Staff Only Area” disconnect: Employee experiences are equally important as customer experiences. Their environments need to be coherent, so if the “Staff Only” areas look nothing like the customer waiting area, it’s a sign of disconnect. These kinds of contradictions are tangible and can be sensed easily.
• Contradicting purposes: If a brand promises customers happiness for example, and does not infuse happiness among employees, a clear divide occurs and gives way to contradiction and disconnection.
• Claimed vs. real culture: Within the company’s performance management program, what behaviors and achievements are the company rewarding? Do they echo the brand values? Do they deliver on the brand promise? Is the brand promising customers safety for example and rewarding employees only on revenues?
Consistency is the key to remedying brand schizophrenia. The external and internal brands need to be coherent and harmonious, though not necessarily exactly the same. The brand needs to be embedded in the corporate culture, and this happens on two levels:
1. Changing the mindset: Companies need to address employees as internal customers. Just like they exert effort in making people outside the company believe in the brand, they need to make employees understand the brand purpose and feel like they belong to a company that walks the talk, inside out.
2. Living the brand: Companies need to make their brands salient, real and well communicated internally. The brand character and promise should be reflected across all employee touchpoints. This also needs to be cascaded across policies, business practices, behaviors and internal communications.
Any time is a good time for a company to kickoff such an endeavor, but there are certain occasions that can expedite the process and make it more effective:
- Mergers or acquisitions: During a major change like this, employees expect a major change in their brand as it fuses with another one.
- New leadership: With new management, employees are more receptive to a brand change experience than at a business-as-usual time.
- Following a major success: If a company makes a big win of some kind, a brand shift can be positioned as an echo of this win and is more susceptible to employees.
Whether a company deliberately works on an internal brand or not, there is an internal brand that is felt and lived by employees. It can manifest organically by what employees observe from management, from their environment and from the work processes, or it can be deliberately orchestrated to benefit the company on all fronts.