Branding From the Inside Out: Two Critical First Steps

Generally I advise clients to view their organizations, products and services from the “outside in.” In other words, they need to put themselves in the position of their desired audience and consider what is important to their audience, rather than what is important to them. Too often I’ll hear organizations talk about how they need to “communicate our value proposition.” The truth is, it’s not their value proposition that matters–it’s value in the minds of their target audiences that they should focus on.

But, the process is admittedly somewhat circular and, importantly, there is another key audience that businesses need to evaluate to improve their branding effectiveness–their employees.

I’ve been working with organizations recently on strengthening their employees as brand ambassadors. It can be a complex process as it involves considerations that encompass everything from hiring criteria, to training and communication, to employee satisfaction and, ultimately, to constructive feedback (positive and negative). But, it’s time well spent because employees have a significant impact on the perceptions of customers and other important audiences. Just think of how your own perspectives of businesses you interact with are impacted by your interactions with their employees, or the comments employees make to you in both professional and personal settings.

While the entire process of developing employees as effective brand ambassadors is a significant undertaking, I’ve found that there are two foundational steps that can help organizations get started on the right path toward this ultimate goal.

1) Developing and reaching consensus on your organization’s “elevator speech.” An elevator speech is a short statement of what your organization is all about, framed from the point-of-view (POV) of your external audience that can be delivered quickly and succinctly whenever anyone asks “what does your organization do?” Importantly, the statement should be based on a reflection of value from the target audience’s perspective–what’s important to them. (That’s the “outside in” approach I mentioned earlier.) Also, importantly, organizational leadership must reach consensus on this elevator pitch. That, alone, can take some time…

2) Once you’ve achieved consensus, the next step is to test the internal validity of your elevator pitch. In order for your pitch to resonate with the outside world it needs to be an accurate reflection not just of who you wish┬áto be, but who you really are. A good way to test the validity of your statement is by gathering input from your employees. But don’t just ask them. Consider, instead, the use of the type of projective techniques often applied in focus groups to get a good, qualitative indication of how employees would define your organization. Here’s how:

  • Gather a group, or several groups, of employees together in a conference-room type setting.
  • Provide them with a wide range of magazines to browse through.
  • Instruct them to tear out photos of either people, cars, houses or some other image (pick one image to have them focus on), that they feel best reflects the “personality” or “image” of your organization.
  • Once they’ve had a chance to do this, have them discuss why they selected the images they did.
  • Consider how closely their selections and descriptions reflect the consensus of your senior leaders around your desired image.
If your employees’ perspectives are closely aligned with your desired state, you’re ready to move on to the next step–evaluating external perceptions. If not, you have some internal work to do. But, you’ll be doing the work armed with clear direction and a good basis for making progress toward a shared vision that will, hopefully, resonate with your external audiences.


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