January 20, 2015
How to Build Strong Brand Storytelling From the Inside Out
As marketers, we focus a lot of our time and attention on outside audiences, which makes sense. We’re trying to get people to buy what we sell. We want them to get to know us, like us, talk about us and think what we sell is a good idea.
There’s so much going on with audiences on the outside, that there’s little time left to think about our employees. But employees are the heart of what makes our brand story come to life and create meaningful experiences for customers. And, especially If we’re going to go “all in” with content marketing, we have to think about the role of employees.
It’s Not You, It’s Me
It’s easy to blame a company’s bad performance on the economy or competition – anything with an outside influence. But companies that consistently outperform their peers or industries have something in common: a unified purpose.
In order for purpose (which is the foundation of brand storytelling) to be clear, companies have to understand the business that they’re really in. In 1960, Harvard Business School professor Theodore Levitt coined the phrase “marketing myopia” to describe the short-sightedness that happens when companies focus on products and services instead of seeing the big picture of what customers really want. Customers, he taught his students, don’t want a quart-inch drill; they want a quarter-inch hole.
For companies to be driven by purpose, employees have to know what that purpose is, have tangible expressions of what it means in their everyday life, and understand how to create relevant experiences for customers. As marketers, we need to raise the bar on what we expect our role and influence to be on employee engagement because it makes a BIG difference in how the stories that we tell, and the experiences that we create, play out with those moments of truth between employees and customers.
That’s all well and fine, but how do we actually do that?
How to Get Employees “Into” Your Company
People and organizations reflect their leadership. But there’s often a big gap between what leadership sees as the vision for the company and what employees hear and know. Back to Levitt’s point, companies aren’t in business to sell things, they’re in business to satisfy customers. For that to happen, marketers have to tell a cohesive brand story internally. Here’s six steps to do just that:
- Make it a Priority. Building relationships with employees is no different than with customers, and you have to aggressively make internal content production a priority, just like with external audiences. Start with executive buy-in so that you have the resources, authority and responsibility to centralize the practice. That way, you’ll have one consistent story that employees hear, rather than sporadic, conflicting stories from every department.
- Develop Employee Personas: Just like the personas you use for external content, you need to identify and understand what drives the many personas within your organization. How does what you’re telling your customers matter to them? If your blog is talking about problems you’re solving for customers, does you technical support team know about them? The content that you create for executives shouldn’t always be the same as the people who have day-to-day contact with customers; some are leading the strategic and others are executing it. Look at how each of your personas connects with your content. Tech company employees are very different from oil and gas workers in the field. Intranets, Yammer and Google hangouts won’t reach everyone if they’re not tech-connected. By getting to know your employees as well as you do your customers, you’ll be able to get creative on how you capture their attention.
- Understand where you’re starting: Have you ever had regular communication with employees? This could be as simple as coffee and donuts every Monday morning for small teams or quarterly global broadcasts for enterprise organizations. By knowing where you’re starting, you’ll know how much you need to educate internal teams on your brand story, how it makes a difference to customers and what their rolls are.
- Make a Plan: Now’s when you put it all together and make your brand story come alive for employees. Here’s a simple template with which to start that will guide your editorial strategy for everything that you publish. This template outlines who else helps tell the story – including your executive leadership. Because, let’s face it, if it’s a priority for your leadership to eat it, breathe it, live it and sleep it, then it’s going to be a priority for every employee to get engaged with the story and live it in their own special way.
- Communicate Strategically: While you might find that you need to communicate more frequently with employees than you do now, realize that everything has to be purpose-driven; don’t give them a reason to ignore you. That’s why the chart above makes you think about what you want to say and what you want the outcome to be. Some employees will make the connection easier between the company’s brand story and their work than others will. Tout examples of employees who’ve made the connection and how they did it. How your brand story inspired them to solve a customer’s problem, not just sell a product? What’s the experience that they were able to create for the audience?
- Be Interesting: David Ogilvy once said: “You cannot bore people into buying your product.” The same goes for your internal brand storytelling.
We know that customers have relationships with people, not companies. To truly make brand stories come to life through the experience we create, marketers have to be willing to lead our brand storytelling internally, so that every person who represents your brand understands what makes their company unique. By getting employees excited about our story, we’re able to building a unified, cohesive team who are proud to share it every chance they get.
Tell me, what do you do to get employees interested and on board in telling your brand story?
This post originally appeared in the Content Marketing Institute blog.
About Carla Johnson
Carla Johnson is a world-renowned storyteller, an entertaining speaker, and a prolific author.
Over the last two decades, Carla has helped architects and actuaries, executives and volunteers, innovators and visionaries leverage the art of storytelling to inspire action. Her work with Fortune 500 brands has served as the foundation for many of her books.
In her latest project, Fast Forward Files, she contributes to a larger collection of thoughts by some of the world’s greatest minds - Shazam co-founder Dhiraj Mukherjee, activist and entrepreneur Heather Mills and behavioral designer, technologist and mental-health champion Peter Trainor. Consistently named one of the top influencers in B2B, digital and content marketing, Carla regularly challenges conventional thinking.
Today, she travels the world teaching anyone (and everyone) how to cultivate idea-driven teams that breed unstoppable creativity and game-changing innovation.