RELEVANCE OF INTERNAL BRANDING A SECOND THOUGHT

Postgraduate

ABSTRACT

 

The purpose of this study is to introduce the concept of internal branding, define it and discuss its relevance. The objective is (1) to put together the reasons why internal branding is indispensable and explain them systematically, (2) to introduce a critical perspective regarding the implementation process that internal branding entails, and (3) to check if the theory is reflected on to the empirics within this context. Following a deep literature survey about internal branding, branding and other related organizational and marketing issues; six supportive and critical points were put forward. Next, through a single case study on a service business, these twelve points were tested through detailed interviews with ten current and former employees of the case company to see if they empirically exist. All the supportive points were substantiated through this qualitative study, and the critical points were found valid but proactively dealt with by the case company in order to avoid them to hinder the internal branding process. The conclusion is that internal branding has high significance for the entire branding process; however, it is crucial to design and implement it correctly in order not to defeat its purpose and to ensure the support of the entire employee base.


Introduction: Why Internal Branding?

Branding and brands are everywhere, and they are inevitable; each and every product or organization is branded somehow whether they say something or just exist in the marketplace because, good or bad, every little detail communicates something about the brand (Please refer to Appendix I to recap branding).

 

Today, with the realization of the fact that the strongest and the most prosperous brands are the ones that are supported by the entire organization, corporate brands have become much more accentuated, important and attractive than product brands both statistically and logically. Charles Handy, the leading expert of management thought of 90’s and former professor at LBS, coined the term “the empty raincoat” which embody the obvious “emptiness” of many organizations:

Emptiness in the sense that the firm appears as a cold, distant, unfeeling monolith, often unrelated either to its customers and consumers or to its employees, associates and other stakeholders. (Kitchen et al, 2004:349)

Strong product brands tend to have this exact effect on corporations making them “a detail, a non-entity” (p.356); however, it is gradually sinking in that brands have to move beyond that and become corporate brands to succeed in this incredibly competitive marketplace where “interactivity, dialog and personalization” are in power (p.349). Corporations must denote something reflecting the values and identity of their employees, products and stakeholders as a whole. Thus, a potent, coherent and stable corporate brand is required to retain and improve cash flow and shareholder value which is why Kitchen et al (2004:347) claim that corporate branding is “the most likely scenario for most multi-national organizations in the 21st century.” And obviously, corporate branding requires substantial focus within (internal to) the organization with the roles of employees changing from just a “category under the firm” to “brand ambassadors” (Harris et al, 2001:443). 

 

To a great extent, the branding literature has taken an external standpoint concentrating on “strategies and tactics that firms should take to build or manage equity with customer” (Keller, 1999:43); however, internal positioning of the brand -meaning positioning the brand in the employees’ minds, and explaining and communicating external branding efforts to them- is equally important (Keller, 1999). Branding should not be perceived barely as a marketing competency; brands that are built as an organizational competency, where each division of the organization does its part in branding and positioning efforts, add much more value to both the products entailed and the company itself (Willard, 2004). Brand experiences are the engine that steer consumer attention and, eventually, customer loyalty, and in order to make those brand experiences effective, consistent and right-to-the-point; the entire employee base should be informed, highly-trained and motivated marketers because people are more accountable than any other branding and/or marketing tool that will be used. As Didriksen (2003) puts it “as with most things, it comes down to people.” A company should not address its branding efforts solely to outsiders; corporate brands should provide value to their employees along with their customers. Any message delivered by someone who is working for a corporate brand, regardless of division, is of utmost significance, and this is why internal branding, which is an utterly understated issue in the branding literature, bears great importance.

 

Purpose

In this thesis, internal branding will be defined, and its relevance will be studied and questioned. The academic and empirical research about internal branding is quite limited so far, and the existent research is only pro internal branding. The purpose of this study is (1) to put together the reasons why internal branding is indispensable under six captions in a systematic fashion, (2) to introduce a second thought and a critical perspective to the concept of internal branding and its practice, again in a systematic fashion, and (3) to check how congruent the theory and the practice are in this matter regarding a certain case of a service business. Consequently, this purpose generates these three research questions:


Research Questions

 

Shortly, the aim of this study is mainly to find out if internal branding is as prominent, as it is claimed to be by various researchers and authors, no matter how it is practiced. 

 

Intended Contribution

There are several levels to the intended contribution of this thesis. First of all, the uniqueness of this thesis with regard to internal branding literature is its introducing a critical perspective to the issue; hitherto, internal branding has been cited only with an affirmative approach, and its debatable features, its probable ‘black holes’ so to speak, potential problems regarding its implementation and how it can fail had never been discussed. Thus, in this paper, questions that have never been asked will be asked, and internal branding will be studied with a critical point of view besides a praising one which seems to be the common standpoint of authors who have written about internal branding.

 

Secondly, the importance of this study stems from its combinative nature of organizational (internal) and marketing (external) studies. According to Hatch and Schultz (1997), the concept of organizational culture rarely comes up in the marketing literature about corporate identity and image, and likewise, the organizational literature on image has an exclusive focus on internal features. The authors claim that one of the major challenges that companies have to confront today is the “breakdown of the boundary between their internal and external aspects” (p.356) due to the potent connection between insiders and outsiders:

(Earlier) top executives, marketing, purchasing, PR and strategic planning departments handled external relations, while internal issues were attended to by middle and lower level managers and HRM, engineering, production and accounting departments. However, networking, business process reengineering, flexible manufacturing, the new focus on customer service, and so on, redefine what were previously considered matters of external relations as part of the daily activities of nearly all organizational members. (Hatch et al, 1997:357) 

Thus, the fact that internal and external operations have integrated in the contemporary business world necessitates combination of knowledge, information and practice of organizational and marketing studies. Hence, this study is built on the conjoined and integrated basis of organizational studies focused on internal context (internal resources) and corporate branding and corporate identity issues focused on external relationships of organizations. 

 

Thirdly, internal branding is an understated and understudied branch of branding about which there is very limited research as to what it encompasses, how it helps and hurts the brand and how it is practiced (Keller, 1999; Schultz, 2003a; Dinnie, 2003; Bergstrom et al 2002; Vallaster, 2004); specifically, there is not a single source that analyzed internal branding methodically, systematically and critically as this thesis intends to do (please refer to Table 4.1). Previous research about internal branding is more about the opinions and observations of authors; however, this study is aiming to introduce internal branding as an eminent fraction of the entire branding process and literature in a more scientific manner. Lastly, this paper is the first to issue internal branding within the context of a hospitality business to which branding is utterly essential.

 

For all of the above-mentioned reasons, this thesis is set to be a unique and humble contribution to the internal branding literature.