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.