The Wonderful world of Internal Branding


At the very latest after Simon Sinek and his golden circle started with “why” in 2009, the entire world seems to have become purpose driven. Organisations have realised that what used to be called their soft factors or human resources*, are actually people, hard factors that cannot be ignored or limitlessly exchanged and renewed. * Oxford dictionary: “resource = a supply of something that a country, an organization or a person has and can use, especially to increase their wealth”


This realisation was triggered by the financial crisis of 2008. I worked in London at the time. Marketing budgets were slashed, which meant creative agencies and consultancies were slashed, and entire departments were wiped out. The remaining staff was rendered completely ineffective. Shivering with fear they were just sitting at their desks, waiting for the next one to be called to Human Resources (I will speak a lot about Human Resources, they are one of the key drivers for Internal Branding). With a marketing budget close to zero, and a truncated staff, the only option left to keep at least some level of productivity and sales was to make the most of the remaining ‘resources’. Enter: Employee Engagement, the name that was used at the time, by my employer at the time, Interbrand London. At the time I was under the impression that they were the first to connect strategy, brand and culture in a systematic approach. It was about giving employees purpose (yay) and confidence, empowering them, and most of all, to give them directions towards the corporate objective. We called that “A line of sight”. It empowered people by making clear what their role is in the bigger picture, and that it is an important role.


When I joined New Growth Strategies, I realised that my colleagues Marc van Eck and Linda Rutten were the actual pioneers in this field, ahead of the game since 2001.


A large project that we tested our theories on at Interbrand, after all this was fairly new stuff, was British Airways. For over 10 years they preached to all employees that passengers are a just means to make profit. Needless to say the 35,000 + staff had lost their pride in working for this flagship carrier. And then British Airways suddenly changed and introduced the claim “To fly. To serve”. Passengers are from now on loveable, to be looked after and to be pampered. Can you feel the challenge? It’s a great case that deserves a blog on its own. Watch this space.


What is it about?

Fast forward to 2020. It’s now called Internal Branding, a name that I will challenge in the next blog. It has as much to do with strategy and culture as it has to do with branding. Even though it is usually initiated from the marketing or communications department, and sometimes by Human Resources, Internal Branding belongs to and benefits everyone. It’s owner is therefore the line. An at the beginning of the line we have the CEO and his team in the C-suite. Internal branding is about breaking down silo’s, cross-functional working, building capabilities, alignment, but most of all, it means people who enjoy what they do at work, and who do the right thing. And for those of you who look at the bottom line: it is the most effective and efficient way to reach the objectives that have been set for the organization. And that means happy shareholders. I’ll also get back to you about the cost per employee of good internal branding. Cost is not the right word, it is better expressed as additional profit.


A look ahead

There is a lot to write about Internal Branding. Over the months to come, I will tackle, explain and highlight various topics to do with Internal Branding. For example: typical problems that Internal Branding can solve, and that includes pre- and post-merger issues, the various approaches to Internal Branding, the phases that a typical process consists of, (cultural) transformation and the fact that Internal Branding is not an additional project, but really part of what you do every day. It is not extra work, it IS your work. I’d be really pleased if you would send in any questions you have or specific topics you’d like to read about. In the next issue I will address the name Internal Branding and try to create clarity in the jungle of associated topics like employee journey, employee advocacy and internal communication. In the meantime, I can highly recommend to read “Het success van Internal Branding”, by my colleagues Marc van Eck and Linda Rutten. It is an easy, comprehensive read, with many examples of well-known Dutch and international brands.

Boilerplate Rudolf is Head of Internal Branding at New Growth Strategies, a strategic brand and business consultancy. We are helping clients to grow through business strategy, brand positioning, internal branding and brand innovation. Based in Amsterdam, operating internationally, a proud member of the global TBWA network. Rudolf has worked globally and lived in London (10 years), Hamburg, Zurich, Vienna and Budapest. The topic of culture is not alien to him. He now lives in Amsterdam, where he enjoys the multicultural aspects, creativity and open attitude of both the locals and the visitors who come for these qualities.