There’s a reason that every business degree requires a Marketing class. It doesn’t matter what your job is anymore, you better be a marketer, too. In Daniel Pink’s book, “To Sell is Human,” he discusses the importance of being able to sell in every profession. He argues that we ALL need to be salespeople to be successful — and I would argue the same thing about internal branding and marketing. We have to be able to market everything that we do even when our customers are internal to the organization. Examples include administrative departments, such as human resources, education & training, finance, and IT.
As a healthcare HR professional myself, I believe that our department’s influence on internal branding is of the utmost importance — it’s where everything starts. If you don’t have a good brand, you can’t sell your product, service, or value. In my opinion, there are four key requirements to be successful in building a strong internal brand:
Strong internal branding requires consistency. My team jokes that consistency is my favorite word in the dictionary — they get it, though. Consistency in branding says so many things to our customers, end users, and stakeholders. It says we’re credible. Consistency allows people to understand our brand — and if they can understand it, they can buy into it. They can appreciate it and believe in it. They can trust it. It says we’re predictable. Customers want to know what they can expect. Consistency gives them comfort in knowing that there is quality in everything we offer, regardless of the day or time or who on our team or in our organization they encounter when they have a need.
Consistency says we’re confident, and if we’re confident, everyone who comes in contact with us and our product or service will be confident too. It means we know what we’re doing; we know what we’re offering is exceptional, and we’ll produce the same high-quality work time after time.
2. Sophistication and Simplicity
A strong brand must be sophisticated, yet simple. Wait what? I’m contradicting myself, right? How can we be both at the same time? I’m not going to say this is easy. It’s tough to find the right balance between sophistication and simplicity when it comes to our brand.
Our brand has to be smart. It has to meet all criteria our stakeholders are looking for — personalization, versatility, relevance, wit and much more! It also has to be simple — consistent (check!), understandable, quick, and to the point.
The best way I have found to do this is to keep simplicity at the core throughout the planning process while considering options for incorporating the sophistication. Apple is a great example of this. The company’s brand is always simple, an apple. They add flares of sophistication and complication by offering different color options for user personalization. They keep it consistent in that every computer operates the same way with a dock of icons, and every iPhone works by clicking on any icon to open an application. It’s smart and innovative, but it’s so simple that users will be able to use Apple products for years and decades (maybe their entire lives) without learning new ways to operate the products.
The sophisticated simplicity of Apple products is very different than Windows products, which require a slightly more tech-savvy user to be able to operate without instruction. As a trainer at Northwest Community Healthcare, I’ve witnessed this happen thousands of times. It used to be a start button with a menu. Then, with Windows 8, there was an entire start screen, not just a button. Now, Windows 10 is a combination of the two. My mother cannot operate her Windows computers if her life depended on it but she’s had three different iPhones, and she used all of them like a pro. She asked me just the other day if I knew that she could do everything on an iPhone, and there’s no reason she needs a computer anymore. I was being a brat and decided to amuse her, so I said, “Get out! I had no idea. How is that humanly possible?!” She started showing me all her apps and how to access the internet from her iPhone.
Yes, how customers interact with a product or service is part of branding.
I hate to say it, but looks matter…a lot! Our internal branding can be consistent, and we can win the sophistication/simplicity balance, but if our branding is ugly — so is our product (in the eyes of our stakeholders at least). We must consider ALL design elements such as contrasting colors, white space, and appropriate font sizes when designing any outward-facing elements of an actual product or when designing promotional (or other) materials.
A strong brand leaves a lasting impression, eliciting emotion and retention. This requires all of the previous three requirements. It’s the “wow” factor when all is said and done. Do all of the elements of our brand come together cohesively? It’s important to do a check, a double check, and a triple-check test before we launch our brand. It is also necessary to pilot our brand and ask for feedback — whatever it takes to make sure it will hit home for our audiences.
Our business, our value, and our reputation rely on strong internal branding — this should be reason enough for healthcare HR professionals to pay more attention to their influence on internal brand!