BtoB

Internal branding becoming a hot topic for b-to-b

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Be sure to get support from top management before embarking upon an internal branding project. This tip was the one most frequently offered at the Advanced Learning Institute's (ALI) Internal Branding 2005 conference held last month in Chicago.

Obtaining upper management support can be difficult, said Aneysha Pearce, conference chairwoman and senior engagement manager at Prophet, a management consultancy headquartered in San Francisco. "[Executives] must understand why it is a business necessity that everyone is an ambassador for the brand," she said.

Much of the difficulty comes from the fact that the concept and practice of internal branding are often misunderstood, Pearce said, adding that the variety of methods for implementation are difficult to differentiate and can contribute to the confusion.

Joe LePla, co-founder of Parker LePla, an integrated branding and communications consultancy, defined internal branding as "the delivery mechanism for your external brand."

"It's not just about design and logos, you need alignment," said Jamie Gier, a member of the IDX Systems CareCast team. IDX Systems, a provider of software, services and technologies for health care provider organizations, thought internal branding was so important that it hired Parker LePla to perform a brand audit in 2001. The audit involved an alignment of employee opinions with company goals.

Using the Parker LePla Brand Equity Pyramid exercise, employees evaluated IDX's qualities on a numeric scale. As a result, IDX introduced a new positioning statement, and the CareCast team now has improved its brand equity score by 0.25 points.

"[Internal branding] is the hottest topic in marketing today in part because, with all the downsizing, labor conflicts and outsourcing going on, it is critically important to bring employees in and get them involved so that they understand how they can influence the company and b uild relationships with customers," said Don Schultz, a faculty member of the Forum for People Performance Management and Measurement at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. "Marketing is not something that is done by a department but by the whole organization; everyone contributes in one way or another."

ALI's annual two-day conference, which featured speakers from companies such as Ameritrade, Best Buy and Independence Air, was geared toward b-to-c companies. However, internal branding is much the same for b-to-b companies, experts said, adding that its key concepts - consistency, trustworthiness, unity and ability to admit fallibility - apply whether a business' customers are individuals or other businesses.

Relationships robust

Indeed, internal branding is very important for b-to-b companies, perhaps even more so than for b-to-c because of the extent of the relationship. "Personal affiliations in b-to-b are more robust and last longer," Schultz said.

"B-to-b companies are more sales- and market-driven than b-to-c companies," said Allan Steinmetz, founder and CEO of Inward Strategic Consulting, a firm specializing in both internal and external branding strategies. "In b-to-c, there is more focus on employees."

It is important to remember, however, that there is more to a company than its employees, Schultz said. "Say 'stakeholders' instead of 'employees,' because anyone who has a relationship with the organization must be involved in [the process of internal branding]," he said. "You must bring the entire organization together and focus on common goals; what the company is trying to achieve."

The last day of the conference featured half-day workshops with topics such as how to evaluate a company's need for internal branding and how to maximize the effectiveness of the campaign.

"This was a great conference-it always is," LePla said. Dick Armstrong, human resources manager at Bechtel, an engineering, cons truction and project management company, said he gathered "lots of ideas, tools and techniques from this conference."

This year's conference attendance was "very comparable" to last year's, said Megan Kelly, ALI's conference director. The institute does not release exact attendance numbers. The annual conference is held in Chicago in August, but the dates for 2006 have not yet been set, Kelly said.

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