Internal Branding: Your Brand’s Foundation

Discover the four pillars for building a solid foundation for your brand.

Internal Branding: What is it?

The invisible, yet essential part of any brand is what I call your “internal brand”. While you might have heard of “Brand Purpose”, “Mission”, etc, your internal brand encompasses but is bigger than either of these things. 

Your internal brand is the overarching vision of who you are, why you exist, what you do, and how you do it. Determining these 4 elements provide the foundation and frame for your brand to grow.

Like the blueprint and elevation drawings of a house, a well-developed internal brand gives you both a vision for what you want your brand to look like from the outside, and a guide to help you get there.

Why is having an internal brand important?

Just like an elevation drawing for a house, the internal brand enables you to have internal team alignment—and crystal clarity on your business’ mission and plan for getting there.

And like the structure of a house, it serves as the framework to build a strong and cohesive visual brand identity, where every element of the visual identity reflects some element of your internal brand and mission.

And without this, it’s as if you’re building a house by haphazardly putting bricks here, a window there, without having a plan for creating a structure that fulfills its purpose. And in doing so you risk losing out on having a clear purpose for your business and a way to communicate this, which in turn means losing customers and sales, and ultimately could make or break the success of your brand, which in turn can easily turn to the failure of your business.

How to develop your internal brand: Who, Why, What, and How

The ultimate dream-team: I’m going to show you how these four pillars work together to create a solid foundation for your internal brand. Let’s take them in turn.

Who: What is your brand/business (hi)story?

Who are you? What is the history of your business? Your heritage?

As humans we love stories. When we were children our parents told them to us at bedtime; as adults the stories we hear and tell are different—but if your business has a story, tell it! 

And trust me: every business has a story, but you might not see it because either you’re so familiar with it so it looks boring or you’re looking at it from the inside of the bottle so you don’t understand how it’s being told.

Why: Why did you start your business?

Was there a single event that impelled you to open up shop? Are you carrying on a tradition handed on by parents, grandparents? Do you have a dramatic, earth-changing passion that you’re carrying out, or are your goals less grand? Perhaps you want to build a living for yourself, be part of a local economy?

Whatever your reasons for owning a business, write them down—post them on your wall, remind yourself of them every day, and share them with your customers.

What: How does your business transform people’s lives?

If your business is not in the business of transforming your customer’s lives, you won’t be in business for long. I’m not even talking about lofty, massive transformation—but rather the simple fact of your customer’s day being better for your product or service in it.

Face it: if this weren’t the case, they wouldn’t buy your product. How many people go to the store and say, “hmmmm….what coffee should I buy that will ruin my morning tomorrow?”

So what transformation does your business provide? How will your customers’ lives be better after engaging with you?

How: Finally, how are you going to bring about this transformation?

Notice that it’s the last (and in some ways least important) pillar I mention, even though it’s the one that will have the most effect on your day-to-day operations. 

By this I mean: let’s say you’re a coffee shop and you’re therefore in the business of bringing joy to people’s mornings. Well, you can do this by having a sit-down place where your customers come to drink their coffee and read the morning paper; or you can have a coffee shop that caters to business-people on the go; or you can sell packaged coffee for those who like their first quiet cup in the comfort of their homes. OR, you could start an online coffee store, and increase your reach and market positioning to get your coffee beans into the hands of your customers and fans wherever they may be, and no longer be limited by your finite location.

Each of these four options is compatible with the others; but choosing to focus on one over another could definitely impact your branding and marketing decisions, your brand culture, and the ambience of your coffee shop.

So this 4th pillar is where you can really get creative about how you can carry out and fulfill the goals and values you’ve set forth in the previous 3 pillars.

Are you still unconvinced?

Imagine this: you set out to build a house, and decide you want it to be a Federal-style one-family home. So you look at some pictures and see what they generally look like, and then hire a contractor, give him vague directions, and start buying different building materials that look like the ones you’ve seen on these pictures. Why do you do this? Well, the expense and extra time of hiring an architect seems unnecessary and expensive. You know what the houses look like, the general contractor knows how to build, so what could go wrong? 

Well, unfortunately, lots.

2 months later, and what happens? First of all, you are all completely frustrated, because what they’re building is not matching the reality of what you saw. You had a different idea than the contractor, whose vision differed from the workmen who were actually completing the work. And further, it’s likely that there will be some serious safety issues, and weak points in the structure because you were not using a tested plan. 

Finally, you throw your hands up and go back to the drawing board (literally)—this time recognizing that that architect that seemed expensive and unnecessary in the beginning now looks not only attractive but essential.

That’s the type of risk we’re talking about if you avoid this first invisible step of internal branding. Could you get it right accidentally and have a cohesive message that appeals to your target market? Definitely. But unless you have it codified and thought-through, you’ll be limited in your ability to grow because it remains in some sense in your head, unable to be shared with employees, or even your customers.

Imagine, however, having a plan for growing your brand

On the contrary, imagine if you know you want to build a house, and you go about it the smart way from the beginning. You hire an architect who is familiar with the different building styles, he learns about your household’s needs and desires for what you want in a home, and only from there does he begin to create a plan for a home that will be exactly what you envisioned. 

And further, because he drafts plans and elevation drawings in advance, he can show you possibilities that you never even imagined, and perhaps you can realize before spending a lot of time and money on construction, that something you thought you wanted wouldn’t actually work for your overall goals.

This is the situation we want for your brand. This is why when we work with you there’s an extensive process of strategically discovering about your business, your brand goals and values—because we know there’s a lot more to having a successful brand than just having a logo that looks good and has pretty colors. Just like there’s a lot more to having a successful business than a good product or service. People have to know about it, and part of having a strong brand is knowing your product and your audience so well that you know not only what they want but how to communicate it with them.

And this starts with knowing your brand pillars. Once you have the pillars in place, you’re in a strong position to build out the rest of your brand: discovering and learning from your ideal customers, positioning yourself in your industry landscape, designing a strong external brand, or visual identity, and finally, spreading the good news that you’ve created and inviting people to join your story and make it part of theirs!