our company's brand values and the reason your firm exists beyond making money are the foundation upon which your brand strategy will be built. Understanding and agreeing upon this 'clarity' of your business vision and values, is the first thing you will do and precludes all other activities you undertake when developing a brand strategy.
The internal brand is developed with your company directors and covers the less tangible 'reasons' and 'whys' behind your company. It encompasses your company purpose, your mission (day-to-day commitments) your vision (long-term aspirations) and the values your firm holds dear.
Why does an internal brand matter?
It can be argued that developing an internal brand is more suited to some types of business than others. Your local one-man plumbing firm may not - somewhat understandably - have invested much thought into their company mission and vision, but if you were launching an ethical clothing brand or an organic food company for example, then you may have given this more thought. This is because there was probably an external driving force (such as strong beliefs or values) that pushed the founders towards this kind of ethical, social or charitable business.
Your company's brand values and the reason your firm exists beyond making money are the foundations upon which your brand strategy will be built.
It's not to say however that firms that operate in a more social or environmentally conscious industry are automatically more attuned to internal values. Frequently forward-thinking professional service firms who are looking to attract a new generation of business owners and staff are understanding two key points that necessitate developing a set of internal brand values;
One: Your brand strategy (and ultimately your brand identity) is built from the foundations of your internal brand, your core beliefs and the 'why' behind your business.
Two: Generation Z consumers and staff are socially conscious and internet savvy. They have multiple ways to appraise your company, to understand how it acts, before they choose to use your services or work with you. They may look at your commitments to environmental and social policies (think Certified B-Corp); your reputation on Trustpilot; the way you respond to your customer's Google reviews, or even what its like to work at your firm (think Glassdoor).
This online reputation is known as your social proof and is a powerful tool that often requires a level of transparency and openness in the way you conduct business and treat people. Your internal brand values will be judged and reflected back at you, by your consumers, forming part of your reputation. This idea is also relatable to the small business that chooses, for example, whether to respond to Google reviews, be they positive or negative.
Professional service firms are realising that Generation Z consumers and staff are socially conscious and internet savvy. They have multiple ways to appraise your company, to understand how it acts, before they choose to use your services or work with you...
If you think that sounds overly dramatic, take a look at the social feeds of companies that advertise in newspapers bought to task by organisations such as Stop Funding Hate. Poor behaviour and purposely divisive reportage by big media can be damaging to a firm's reputation even via the association of simply running advertisements through these media firms. You will be judged by the company you keep.
Ethical advertising, like ethical investing, is a consideration, and large firms are being educated and kept in check through their own consumer feedback. Case in point, brands including Ikea and Grolsch quickly did an about-turn from their advertising contracts with right-wing news channel GB News. Why? Because customers of Grolsch et el voiced their dismay at the company's willingness to associate with a media channel that was seemingly so 'in conflict' with the (internal) values that Grolsch claim to hold, as well as the principals of many of their customers.
Can small firms have internal values?
Flip the idea of a negative social media backlash on its head, let's consider small firms striving to do good. The small firm that always aims to 'go the extra mile' (an internal value) will see that reflected in its positive Google reviews, testimonials and customer advocacy.
These behaviours and approaches will be defined and agreed upon in your internal brand explorations as you discuss and uncover just what kind of personality your company wants to project. This means making decisions on how you will act and what you 'stand for'. It's asking both the big questions and the smaller questions which will help define your internal values as a company. The answer to these questions will, in turn, influence future decision making and the impression you make on your audience.
For example 'Who are we helping and why do we want to help them?' would be considered a 'big' question, leaning into your brand vision. Others could be 'what environmental causes do we want to support?'. These are not questions asked exclusively by large corporations however as it is not uncommon to see an Ecologi badge on even the smallest firms' websites, which is an expression of an internal value (caring for the environment).
The smaller questions have a shorter term, and perhaps a local impact such as 'What causes do we feel passionate about?' 'How can we support local schools and youngsters through work experience and internships?' 'What local events or charities can we support?'
Your internal mission, vision and principals will guide your behaviours and are what make your firm relatable and even respected. Without these drivers behind your business, you have no real brand to speak of, or at least not one that anyone would connect with on an emotional level.
Your internal mission, vision and principals will guide your behaviours and are what make your firm relatable and even respected. Without these drivers behind your business, then you have no real brand to speak of, or at least not one that anyone would connect with on an emotional level.
How will my company's internal values present themselves in the branding process?
In terms of the branding process, these considerations will be brought to the fore as you develop a brand strategy, and will show in your brand personality. Translated into more tangible elements of your brand, they will present themselves in your tone of voice, and the words you use and are further reflected by the visual cues of your brand identity design.
Ultimately these values are projected and channelled through your brand identity, onto your website, your social media channels and into your employer value proposition and other places where you face your potential customers and staff.
You will be judged, so companies will do well to invest in branding and identity that is borne from clarity and values. My definition of branding is "to go through the thought process of how you want your company to be perceived and then take the steps to create that perception"
Understanding that a 'brand' is so much more than 'a logo'.
It is very common for business owners to incorrectly think of a brand as simply 'a logo' or a 'identity design'. It is my job to help the client understand that a solid brand strategy will ultimately present itself as an attractive customer-facing brand identity design. It will be wrapped up in a website, in the way you speak to your audience, and even shine though in the organisations, charities and local businesses you choose to champion and support. A strategically developed brand is there to help engineer and influence the perceived value of your company and strike an emotional chord with the audience you care about.
Written by Ben Stanbury
Ben is a branding and naming consultant. As the owner of Prosper he regularly blogs on the topic of branding, naming and differentiation for professional service firms. Among other things, he likes horror films, mountain biking and collecting vintage movie posters.