Budgeting for a successful brand launch is a major component in the introduction planning process. Diving a bit deeper, let’s look at arguably the most critical planning area (and perhaps the one most commonly overlooked)—internal employee engagement and how to introduce, educate and equip employees throughout the organization to consistently deliver on a brand promise.
Remember that B2B companies are inherently people companies. A common misconception is that business brands do not need to be as emotionally engaging and connected to the human spirit as consumer brands. Purchase decisions in a B2B environment have traditionally long-term implications. Whereas consumer brands largely rely on impulse decisions, the B2B sales cycle is potentially as long as the lasting effects of the purchase itself. Trust is critical. And trust is something that can only stem from the human connection. In B2B, people do business with people. Your people are therefore capable of being the greatest representatives for—or detractors of—your brand.
Our job as branding specialists is to connect with the hearts and minds of employees in order to make them champions for the brand and effective extensions of your value proposition.
And so we arrive at the BrandingBusiness approach for internal brand introduction and alignment. Though all organizations are unique and our strategy is always customized to address specific needs, we recommend following a consistent cadence of HEAR, BELIEVE, and LIVE.
HEAR – Engaging employees early and making them part of the process.
Employee communications related to a corporate rebranding begin well before the brand launch. In fact, they should begin in the very early stages of brand development. Our research-driven approach typically involves surveying and speaking with employees at all levels in order to understand current perceptions and strengths as well as desired attributes. All of these inputs (in addition to external research streams) help form the foundation for brand positioning. An added benefit to surveying your employee base early on is the sense of involvement and awareness they gain in the branding initiative. Emphasizing the importance of their input and thanking them for taking part is one of the first communications in a series that takes them on a journey through the process of developing and launching the new brand.
This is the primary function of the HEAR stage—letting employees know about the initiative and connecting with them along the path to completion in order to keep them informed and begin the education process. As the brand’s launch approaches (and elements of the verbal and visual brand are completed), BrandingBusiness takes advantage of the time available to share elements of the new brand and how they came about. An email sharing core strengths and brand pillars. A poster showcasing the new corporate purpose and what it means. These bit-sized communications allow the brand to be digested and understood gradually.
Because what you want to avoid is a massive shock-and-awe moment at a singular launch event where you expect employees to take in everything at one time. By the time the brand is unveiled in its entirety and all of the pieces are brought together, we want employees to have heard a great deal about the new brand they’re expected to represent. Acceptance and understanding will come much more easily if the HEAR stage is executed effectively.
BELIEVE – Inspiring employees with a shared future vision.
Now, I don’t say the above to discount the importance of the brand launch event itself. In fact, it’s arguably the most important part of the BELIEVE stage. The brand launch event should be seen and used as the pivotal moment in time when the past is past and the future is now. It’s the time when all of the communications up to that point are unified into a splendid new reality.
A brand launch should be part unveiling and part celebration. At this point in time, employees see the future of the organization and begin to understand their role in it. They see the brand coming to life and believe in its power to shift perceptions. Pride is a significant byproduct of a successful brand launch—pride in the company they work for and where it can take them. We want employees to be empowered and even inspired to share the brand with loved ones. This is why we always recommend providing employees with something physical to take with them (whether it be some form of brand book, branded wearable, etc.) so that they can physically hold and embody the brand.
There is a common desire to conduct too much formal brand training during a brand launch event. As I said before, the event itself should be more about celebrating the future together. Training comes in the days and weeks immediately following. Brand training can take a number of forms depending on the size and complexity of your organization. Training is also typically customized based on the needs of individual functions and departments, led by a combination of internal leadership and agency support staff (lending a sense of outside credibility).
The most critical question you can answer when training employees about the new brand is “What does this mean to me?” Make it real. Make it relevant.
LIVE – Empowering employees by giving them the tools they need.
An internal brand launch always precedes its external counterpart. Before going to market, it’s critical employees are able to accurately communicate the new brand promise and the rationale behind the brand work completed. The LIVE stage is where the rubber meets the road. The brand is launching externally and employees are asked to incorporate the brand into all they do, bringing it to life for the outside world to experience.
The LIVE stage is all about operationalizing the brand. Tools are distributed and put into action. All touchpoints are considered and refreshed. Everything from the brand’s website to employee email signatures are activated with the new verbal and visual branding. The auditing, planning and materials development that began months in advance of this moment are beginning to pay dividends. If all of that pre-planning has been done properly, the tools provided to employees allow them to be more productive and more effective than ever before.
In addition to sales, marketing, and account management, one of the functions most affected by the new brand should be human resources. HR serves a primary role in connecting employees to the brand promise and the greater purpose of the organization. And this is true at the time of launch and well into the future, as the programs they implement serve to continually remind and reinforce what has been established. Once again these programs vary widely but could include peer-to-peer recognition, performance management, team building, etc. (Not to mention the important role the brand plays when it comes to recruiting and onboarding.)
Making the brand part of the employee experience is as important as the customer experience.
REPEAT – Continually reminding employees of the brand’s value.
Once these three stages are complete and the brand is launched, it’s important to remember that employee engagement and adoption is far from over. Continual communication is the only way to sustain the level of clarity and enthusiasm required to keep those brand champions singing from the same song book (at the top of their lungs).