Internal Marketing vs. Internal Branding

I’ve gotten a lot of questions lately about the difference between internal marketing and internal branding.  Some folks use the terms interchangeably, but there are a number of differences beyond semantics … or so I thought until I began to clarify what these concepts mean, how they’re different, and where they overlap.

I asked my colleague Debra Semans, an Atlanta-based marketing & branding consultant, to help me with this.  Debra has extensive experience with internal branding.

Exploring the Two Concepts

I define internal marketing as “the application of marketing inside an organization to instill customer-focused values.”  It bridges marketing with HR (Human Resources) to attract, motivate, and retain employees, with an emphasis on getting employee commitment to marketing and organizational goals.  Think of it as an umbrella concept encompassing any & all activities, events, internal public relations, etc., that reinforce the importance of customers AND the employees who take care of them.

According to Debra, internal branding is “the process of aligning day-to-day activities, business processes, job designs, and recognition & rewards with the brand identity to drive business results.”  It is part of a focused brand strategy that helps employees understand and integrate brand value(s) in their respective roles to ensure they can effectively deliver on the brand promise.

Where Internal Marketing & Internal Branding Overlap

  • Both approaches recognize employees ARE the brand.  As a result, both are focused on engaging employees.
  • Both are part of organizational and marketing strategy to strengthen competitive advantage.
  • Both involve leadership – i.e., neither can be effective without management commitment.

Where They Differ

  • Internal Marketing is based on the self-reinforcing relationship between employee- and customer satisfaction (“take care of the employees & they’ll take care of the customers”), whereas Internal Branding is based on making the brand part of the organization’s operations (“getting employees focused on delivering the brand promise”).
  • Unless Internal Marketing and Internal Branding are part of an organization’s culture from Day 1, their trigger points vary.  The application of Internal Marketing may be in response to problems with employee- and/or customer satisfaction or turnover, whereas organizations may turn to Internal Branding when launching a new brand or revitalizing an existing one.
  • Internal Marketing focuses on organizational culture and values, whereas Internal Branding focuses primarily on brand values that are aligned and consistent with organizational values.  [Hmmm … maybe this belongs with the “Overlap” list above?]

Regarding this last bullet point – as Debra describes Internal Branding’s scope: “From understanding the piece parts of the brand so that they can use it as a guide or standard for their day-to-day decision making, to communicating about the brand in ongoing internal communications vehicles, to building brand-based rewards into compensation models, Internal Branding is geared to making the Brand part of the organization’s operations – and yes, culture.”  [OK, the two concepts are similar in this context in that they both impact organizational culture.]

The Bottom Line

So the differences between Internal Marketing and Internal Branding aren’t as clear cut as I thought.  Some of their tactical executions may vary, but the desired outcome is the same: engaging employees for marketing and organizational success.

As Debra says of her work and mine: “Internal branding and internal marketing aren’t all that different.  Maybe the only difference is that I’ve been riding the brand wagon and you’ve been on the customer service train.”

What Do You Think?

And now, dear readers, tell me what you think of all this.  Semantics aside, what do Internal Marketing and Internal Branding mean to you?  I’d love your input.

To Learn More …

For anyone who wants to learn more about either or both topics, come see Debra and me at the American Marketing Association’s Marketing Workshop this spring in Austin, TX.  On March 13, 2006, I’ll be presenting my session on Internal Marketing (“Marketing from the Inside Out: Engaging Employees for Strategic Advantage”), and Debra will be doing her session on Internal Branding (“Living the Brand – the Dimensions of Internal Branding”) on March 15, 2006.

4 Comments

  • Sybil February 3, 2006 Reply

    T, here are simplified definitions that should be helpful. This one comes from the American Marketing Association’s Marketing Boot Camp program: “Marketing is the process of initiating & building mutually beneficial relationships with customers.”
    Branding, however, is a more abstract concept: it involves both what a company promises the market (through its logo, packaging, advertising & other communications) AND what it delivers (through its product/service performance).
    The internal application of marketing & branding recognizes that employees have to be considered the “first market” … if they aren’t sold on and committed to the product value of what their company offers, why should their customers be?

  • T February 3, 2006 Reply

    Glad to see this discussion…would appreciate a full definition of Marketing, as well as Branding, as spoken of these days. From the above I’m unclear as to how internal anything can be external anything. Heaven help us if George Carlin finds this blog.

  • Jonathan Dampier January 30, 2006 Reply

    I think, in the end, this is likely a game of semantics. You can look at internal marketing as having two goals: 1. Instill customer focused values and 2. Align employees’ day to day activities and customer interactions with the overall brand.
    bei
    The important thing is for a company’s leadership to recognize and act on the notion that “your employees = your brand”.
    In order to pull this off, and as you mentioned above, your employees must understand the brand’s DNA and what it stands for as well as feeling motivated to “live” the brand.
    One key ingredient not mentioned in your post is that of employee ownership and empowerment. Employees should feel they are a part of the brand and be empowered to act that way. For example, Marriott Hotels empowers their maids to live the brand by giving them a very generous spending limit to do whatever is necessary to make the guest’s stay a great and memorable one. In most companies, it would take 2 or more signatures on an invoice to make that happen.

  • Olivier Blanchard January 24, 2006 Reply

    Thanks for the link. 🙂
    Yeah, any time you’re talking about “culture”, branding and marketing start overlapping.
    If anything, internal branding is where the articulation of a company’s culture first emerges, whereas internal marketing is the process through which that articulation is carried outward towards the rest of the world.
    I think that you’re both on the right track.
    🙂

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