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Internal branding: target innovators and early adopters first

In Seth Godin's 2003 book Purple Cow (see free excerpt and bonus chapters) he argues, as many do (here is just one example), that mass marketing is dead. Rather, marketers should try to persuade that small group of people who are influencers of the masses, rather than the masses themselves.

(To illustrate, he shows a bell curve in which innovators and early adopters are on the left hand side, laggards [people who are late to adopt new things] are on the right side, and the early and late majority [the masses] are in the middle. Ideas spread from the left hand side to the right.)

You may be saying to yourself, I've heard this already -- what is the big news here?

The news is that we as marketers haven't applied this truth to one important area - internal marketing or branding. When you need to launch a big internal branding initiative, do you instinctively reach for the influencers or do you try to hit the masses of employees with the message? My guess is the latter - and they react the same way people do when they are exposed to mass advertising - they ignore it. Next time, try putting your message out only to a select few - the opinion leaders - and let them get the word out for you.

It goes without saying that your message should be meaningful and credible. If it's the same old b.s. then nobody is going to influence anybody to adopt it - just the opposite.

Also note that this approach is different from the traditional employer branding communication methodology as expressed in "Internal Branding (Employer Branding)" by R. Alan Crozier, writing in the IABC Handbok of Organizational Communication. Crozier suggests that the internal branding initiative needs "a champion from the top of the organization." While it is true that the initiative needs to be supported by the CEO or equivalent, the actual championing of the message needs to be done employee-to-employee.

What are some activities that you could undertake to implement internal branding this way?

1. Survey the workforce to find people who are known as opinion leaders/influencers. Ask directly: who in (name of company) would you consider an informal or formal leader with a lot of influence over what other people think?

2. Call opinion leaders on the telephone and speak with them in person to describe to them the new initiative and ask for their support in sharing it with others. Provide them with written materials that can help them to talk about it. (Stop with the banners on the walls...as was demonstrated in the movie Office Space these banners make people feel uncomfortable. There is also anecdotal evidence of this from the Land's End company, where a banner on the warehouse wall describing the mission was rejected by employees as intrusive...I don't have a written source on this one but heard it in a recent podcast on organizational development; I'll try to get the name of the podcast and post it here.)

3. Place internal branding/marketing materials selectively in places where they can be accessed easily by those looking for them. Online, on the intranet, is the best place to start.

4. Once the initiative has had some time to grow and mature, and people on the ground are interested in it, start talking about it more publicly. Seed employee blogs with discussions of the brand, insert it into online discussions, etc. Incorporate feedback from these discussions into the implementation of the brand.

5. Finally, when all the dust has settled and people are already fairly familiar with the internal brand, roll out the new guidelines for using it in a "mass market," traditional but creative corporate communications way.

6. Institute an award ceremony to recognize people who have incorporated the internal brand into their everyday activities.

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