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We recently found ourselves in the following conversation:

Client: We need to engage employees in our company’s new mission. We need your help with the execution of the communications campaign. We already have the positioning and messaging. The CEO wrote it.

DB: Oh, that’s great. What kind of research was conducted in developing the new position?

Client: Well, none. But the CEO thinks it’s the direction the company needs to take.

DB: Hmm. Have you tested how the new mission has been received by employees?  

Client: No.

DB: Ok. How about communications channels? Do you know how employees like to receive information?

Client: We did a media survey five years ago.

DB: Would you be open to having us conduct some internal research for this campaign?

Client: Do you really think that’s needed?

This is not an entirely unusual conversation. On more than a few occasions we have had to convince clients of the critical role that research plays in the success of an internal branding campaign (or any branding campaign for that matter). To take employees on any kind of journey, you first need to know where they are coming from.

This was never more apparent than when we helped a recently IPO-ed cybersecurity company find differentiation in an increasingly crowded competitive space. Traditionally the firm was considered a software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider, but its leadership was convinced that repositioning itself as a lean platform offer was key to increasing its valuation among investors. It came to us for help telling this new platform story, which included getting employees on board with an internal campaign.

When we conducted research — interviewing employees, conducting a survey, running workshops, and testing leadership’s suggested platform messaging — we found a disconnect. The company’s talent had long been considered its most valuable asset. But employees felt their contribution was being discounted with the new platform go-to-market strategy. What’s more, they didn’t think the company could credibly call itself a platform — at least yet.

This posed a problem, because a B2B brand’s most valuable marketing assets are its employees. Their enthusiastic buy-in is key to the success of any brand. They’re the ones on the front lines, developing solutions, interacting with stakeholders, and executing marketing strategies. Our research showed that in order to sway employees with an internal branding campaign, we’d need to develop a positioning that recognized them — and that they could fully believe in.

Our solution was to position the company as a smart cybersecurity network: of analysts and developers, of clients and partners, of insights and technologies. This recognized the value of the firm’s human capital, but also that it worked in tandem with best-in-class technology to create exponentially better security than an SaaS or platform alone. It was a story that emphasized technology and automation — important to investors — but also the critical importance of best-in-class analysts, researchers, and technologists.

Our research helped us develop a positioning that was compelling to investors, but that also captured buy-in from employees. By giving them a role early on in the process — through workshops, interviews, and a survey — they felt that their contribution was valued, that they had a role in building the new brand rather than having it forced on them by management. It also gave employees a chance to express themselves, which was cathartic and insightful.

The lesson from this experience is clear: you should never assume that what resonates with leadership will resonate with employees. One effective and efficient approach is an online survey that gauges employees’ perceptions, tests messaging and identifies the most effective communications channels. Keep the survey short and encourage participation by sending out a company-wide email asking employees to fill out the survey. Use posters,  announcements on on-site screens, and emails to direct employees to the survey. You can even offer incentives to survey respondents.

Focus groups are another effective method to gain insights into the mindset of employees. Keep these groups small and informal and be sure they represent a cross section of departments, seniority levels, and geographies. To get the insights you want, participating employees must feel comfortable and engaged.

Our experience has been that employees are usually more than willing to share their perceptions. The key is to acquire these insights before you start planning the communications campaign. Upfront research can significantly enhance your ability to deliver an internal campaign that truly engages employees.

To learn more about brand refresh and rebranding, contact us.

About the author

Seth Margolis

Seth Margolis is a Senior Strategy Director who has spearheaded branding efforts for financial services, professional services and technology companies, as well as for not-for-profit organizations.

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