Branding from the inside out

What’s the single biggest mistake that most marketers make when it comes to delivering a brand experience? Communicating your brand to customers only. Are you guilty? Or are you really building an experience from the ground up?

To answer this question, consider this scenario. Pretend you’re walking down the street and you happen upon two bricklayers, each working on a different project. Both are working hard, are talented in their craft, and intent on their work.

You stop and ask the first bricklayer what he is doing. He replies, “I’m building a brick wall. It’s going to be sturdy and strong, and it’s going to look great among all the other architectural features.”

Impressed with his answer, you pose the same question to the second bricklayer, who responds, “Why, I’m building the most beautiful cathedral in the world! It’s going to be a special place where hundreds of people will come from miles around to worship!”

Which bricklayer do you think understood the real reason he came to work every day? Which of the two projects was forged by leadership that shared its vision and “reason for being”?

Many brands today work hard at articulating their key point of differentiation and what makes them special and unique. They understand key perceptions of their brand and do a decent job infusing their position within the four walls of their marketing efforts.

But few truly understand how to “sell” their brands to the most important customers of all: their own staff and employees. According to Libby Sartain, author of Brand for Talent, “If you don’t bring a brand to life on the inside, then it won’t survive on the outside.”

To create a brand that resonates, one that expands beyond a vehicle that simply sells products, you must turn everyone in your company into a brand advocate. From your president to your marketing director to your call center representatives to the person packing and shipping the boxes, all employees should understand your brand promise.

The greatest way to communicate your brand to the outside consumer is to convert your entire staff into loyal ambassadors. Tell them not only what they’re selling, but why it matters.

In Martin Lindstrom’s evaluation of consumer behavior, Buyology, he states, “85% of everything we do in a given day is unconscious.” This revealing statistic supports the idea that we need to remind employees all day long what their brand believes in so that it becomes a part of their subconscious.

Communicating the brand becomes an involuntary response, a sense memory. They just do it!

These magical moments

All of us have experienced that “magical moment” that only a great brand can deliver. It’s that point in the purchase process that stuck with us because the brand went above and beyond our expectations, answering needs we may not have even realized we had!

Many of these magical moments happen because an employee took the time to make a difference. In our direct world, customers rarely experience human interaction beyond the call center. But when they do, it can make or break your brand. These great moments do not happen by accident. They are managed with tenacity.

If everyone at your company believes in the brand, that passion will transfer to customers. They’ll feel it, see it and experience it. Your staff will, too. If people feel that they’re part of the decision-making process, they’ll be more invested in the company’s success.

To successfully manage the brand experience, you must begin with your “internal customer.” These four steps outline a process that should be considered in your annual planning.

  1. Identify your brand

    First and foremost, you must have an ownable, differentiated brand, one that you understand from top to bottom. Clearly articulate your brand promise, answering three vital questions:

    • Who are we?
    • What do we do?
    • Why does it matter?

    Keep your brand simple, with a clear, succinct brand promise. Give your brand a visual identity, one that’s instantly identifiable by your customers.

    Always understand the problem you are solving and the emotional “take-away” customers receive when doing business with you. Are you saving time? Are you offering security, desirability, fun? It’s important for employees to understand what they are really selling.

  2. The brand reveal

    With your brand identified and your position in the marketplace solidified, it’s time to share it with the rest of the company. Explain not only what the brand position is, but also why it benefits customers.

    Make the reveal memorable and, if possible, interactive. Give your employees a visual reference in the form of a brand manual. Incorporate role-playing exercises. Make your employees realize that they are part of the process — and have fun with it!

  3. Get on the brandwagon

    Everyone at your company is a brand ambassador. Empower your employees to live the brand, to make suggestions to deliver on the brand promise. Reward them for showing acts of being “on brand” with recognition programs that reward positive performance aligned with the brand.

    Use visual reminders throughout your office or facility — banners in common places, screensavers, voice messages, employee manuals — to reinforce the brand position. If they see it every day, living it will be that much easier.

    Encourage everyone to think, “Will what I’m about to do prove our brand promise?” Arm every department, every division, with the complete brand story so they can incorporate it into their own communications, as well as come up with other ways to convey the brand.

  4. Nurture the brand

    Managing the brand is not a static process. It must be fostered to thrive. It must evolve. It’s an organic, active, ongoing process.

Assemble a customer experience team charged with creating a cross-channel, cross-departmental customer experience that is aligned with your brand promise. Then, revisit the brand once a year and ask, “How are we doing?”

Evaluate the brand’s performance from the customer’s point of view. What are customers learning? Are they seeing it? Promote and celebrate the brand’s success internally.

The success of a brand starts from within. For multichannel marketers that don’t have retail stores in every city, it’s even more critical — especially for those employees “behind the scenes.”

Direct merchants must do it better and do it with tenacity. Develop a strategic plan that will get you there.

Getting internal customers connected is the hardest part of the branding process. The best brands understand this.

Scott Bedbury, former head of marketing for Starbucks, said, “We built the Starbucks brand with people, not consumers. Some of the most important brand development decisions had to do with human resources.”

Lois Brayfield ( is president of J. Schmid & Associates, a catalog consultancy based in Mission, KS.

Next Page: Branding, One at a Time


ONE COMPANY THAT TRULY LIVES AND BREATHES THE CONCEPT OF BRANDING from the inside out is Uno Alla Volta. The company name means “one at a time” in Italian, and the name itself is representative of the brand. Uno Alla Volta sells jewelry, decor and unique gifts handcrafted by skilled artisans, each made “one at a time,” adding to each gift’s uniqueness. The merchant acts as a guide, helping its customers on the journey to discovery.

CEO Terri Alpert encourages all employees to participate in communicating the Uno Alla Volta brand to customers. Alpert recently received an e-mail from the receiving manager, sharing a quote that reflects the catalog’s brand essence.

“When you buy something made by a person, there is something special there, and you do feel it. The consciousness with which a thing is made is often more important than the thing itself.” — J. Donald Walters

When the receiving manager saw this quote, she immediately recognized it as relevant and pertinent to the brand. She suggested that Uno Alla Volta find some way to use it. Alpert agreed and forwarded the quote to the branding team. She wanted to find a place to repeat and display it throughout the company.

In another instance, an assistant in the merchandise department wanted help determining how to describe the scent of a new soap so that it best reflected the Uno Alla Volta brand. She placed the soap in three places in the office and encouraged everyone to use the product and share their thoughts. A perfect example of getting everyone on board!

The company wants employees to be part of the experience, and part of the team. It reinforces the brand on automated phone messages, with handwritten notes included with each gift, customer “love letters” and other methods to maintain a human connection with their customers. Uno Alla Volta truly understands the value of its brand, and the importance of employees delivering it.— LB