Internal Branding Campaigns: Why Success Starts With Research

To take employees on any kind of journey, you first need to know where they are coming from.
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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 global pharmaceutical company launch an internal safety division. Externally, the company wanted to change consumer perceptions about pharma companies and establish a thought-leadership position with key influencers. Internally, the goal was to rally all employees around the new department, so they felt a shared sense of purpose and understood that safety was critical to the success – even survival – of the company.

Research uncovered a lot of confusion around the role of safety in the corporation. This had led to negative perceptions. Many employees referred to safety as “the department of sales prevention.” This was a critical discovery and it informed the direction of the campaign we created. The mission of the new division had to be tied to the corporate brand in a clear and compelling way, but the internal campaign had to position the new division as an important value contributor during drug development and the marketing process – not a hindrance.

Research was also critical to gaining buy-in from employees. By giving them a role early on in the process – through a  survey – they felt as if they had a role in building something rather than having it force-fed from management. It also gave employees a chance to express themselves, which was cathartic and insightful.

The lesson from this experience is clear: build your engagement campaign around employee perceptions (or misperceptions) and motivations. As with any aspect of branding or communications, information is key. You need to do the research to find out what will resonate with employees. You can never assume that you know what employees are thinking. 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 or announcements on TV screens to direct employees to the survey. You can even offer an incentive 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 a branding campaign that truly engages employees.

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