Brand building is no small task. Developing a brand is a meticulous process for all businesses. Most brand custodians decide to reposition or rebrand once in several years. For a delicately balanced process of brand development, tomes have been written about the importance of conducting qualitative research with target consumers, getting their input on current brand associations, potential for brand differentiation, and the level of brand resonance, among other topics. However, little has been written about the value of gaining the same inputs and perspectives from internal stakeholders – in particular, management and employees of the organisation – who should be integral to delivering the best brand experience to customers.
Obtaining qualitative input from internal audiences can be critical to reinventing a brand, whether it is done via one-on-one interviews, focus groups or some other research vehicle, for a number of reasons. Perhaps, one of the more obvious reasons is to gain a 360-degree view of the brand; that is, to understand more of the dimensions of the current brand, whether they are positive, negative or neutral. For example, a nationally ranked business school interested in improving their ranking recently began taking steps to reposition its brand. The process included conducting focus groups and one-on- one interviews with eight groups of internal and external stakeholders. A key reason why the organisation chose to include internal audiences in the research process was to allow for thoroughness and to understand the brand from a variety of angles. They needed to have full opinions and hear the good with the bad. They have aspirations to become a global 500 B-School.
A brand’s lineage – those attributes associated with its history, philosophy and the reason to exist – is one of its key dimensions, most likely instilled by the brand’s originators. Internal audiences can have invaluable insight into the brand’s history and probably understand that history’s importance better than most other audiences. If they can share their understanding of a brand’s heritage, it may help re-establish brand continuity, connecting the brand’s future positioning to its roots and the facets that made it successful and enduring in the first place. Balancing that heritage against new brand positioning opportunities gleaned from external audiences or other stakeholders is tricky, yet essential.
By doing research among internal audiences, we can determine where patterns, and diverging opinions, exist between internal and external audiences, which can help the marketing team formulate the brand hypothesis and identify subsequent research areas. When individuals from a variety of functional areas or product lines that have brand contact are included in the qualitative research, the employee audience diversity helps ensure that marketers have tapped a greater number of brand perspectives.
For the business school mentioned above, the most enlightening area of the research was the difference between the internal audiences; opinions of the brand and what the students said. There was a broad disparity between what an MBA means to these two audiences. In fact, different truisms about the brand can exist even within internal audiences.
Understanding current brand perceptions and how they got evolved can help marketing teams change future brand perceptions by ensuring that a more cohesive view of the brand emerges. When developing a completely new brand, internal audiences can provide valuable input to the corporate and brand vision, and the values with which the new brand should be aligned. If the brand is to remain true to its values and become a meaningful experience for the customer, it should be aligned with the company’s culture. If employees are going to be able to act as brand ambassadors – if they are to believe in what the brand stands for to communicate the brand experience – then it makes sense to get input from these internal audiences. Employees can be an important source of new ideas for initiatives that can strengthen the overall brand experience, especially if the effort to tap those ideas involves all areas of the company.
Another important reason for seeking internal opinion is perhaps more political, but still psychologically important: internal audiences will feel they have ownership in the resulting brand position. Not only does getting input from managers and other employees make brand buy-in easier, but marketers can more quickly identify internal brand champions who can help gain consensus on the brand position. Most brands we see today hardly take the internal perspective into account, including the marketing giants like Hindustan Unilever or Pepsi.
(The writer is CEO & MD, CustomerLab Solutions)