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Branding Inside Out

Companies often take an external view to building brand awareness, advocates, and loyalty. But what about internally? The people that represent, make, or service your brand – they’re your most valuable asset.

Your people are your brand

The way people inside your company think, feel, and share their experience working at your company is vital to how your brand is externally perceived. After all, brands are a collection of perceptions shaped through experience. The time and attention put into building a brand from the inside out will exponentially increase your brand value.

We all know the importance of being a customer-centric company. But what if I said to lead with being an employee-centric company?

Start with harnessing the passion, excitement, and pride from within. Find ways to create a culture that recognizes and rewards brand loyalty.

Now, more than ever, sharing experiences about work is easier than ever. Leverage those opportunities by creating positive experiences for your employees that they want to share and talk about.

I have been fortunate enough to have experienced a number of companies that are successfully building their brand from the inside out. Here are two meritorious examples:

The passionate pursuit of perfection

The first experience I will highlight is with Lexus. I was working for an international company at the time and we were planning a sales recognition trip in Los Angeles, CA. This was the first trip of its kind for our company where we brought together top sales performers from five different countries to celebrate their success.

We endeavored to create an experience that was both memorable and inspirational. Being that our company was in the service industry, we looked at other companies that excelled in providing legendary service.

In the luxury automotive market, Lexus is considered to be the premier brand on delivering exceptional service experiences. After some research and a number of phone calls, I was fortunate to get connected to Dave Griebler, a Lexus brand manager at the time with sales responsibilities as well as technical and associate training.

It was my connection to Dave that, unknowingly at the time, would far exceed our expectations of going behind the scenes of Lexus and learning first-hand how they’ve achieved this enviable level of service time and time again.

The passionate pursuit of pride

With Dave’s help, we were able to organize a half-day at their headquarters in Torrance, CA. As we walked their expansive campus we could see how the experiences customers value really begins with how Lexus employees felt about the Lexus brand.

It was the true pride of ownership that resonated throughout the company as we met and spoke to a variety of employees. It was visible on their faces – the pride they had for working for Lexus. It was real, it was genuine, and it was memorable.

As our group all piled into one of their conference rooms before taking a test drive of four of their latest models along the stunning California coast, it was these words expressed by Dave that left an indelible imprint, “We want our customers [and employees] to express that they can’t imagine a world without Lexus.”

The softer side of construction

The construction industry is filled with grit, hard work, and long days. It takes an exceptional company to build their reputation on not only doing quality work but intentionally looking after their employees as members of the family.

That’s how the employees of Henkels & McCoy (H&M) feel – like family. This didn’t happen by chance. It takes a lot of heart and soul in a company of their size to maintain this connection.

H&M started out in 1923 as a tree-trimming and landscaping company and has grown into a nationwide utility infrastructure contracting firm with more than 70 offices. Even with their expanded operations, one thing remains the same – they are still privately held and hold true to their core values.

This loyalty and pride in working for H&M is remarkable. Many of employees have been with the company for more than a decade. The reason they stay is attributed to how valued they feel, the way their voices are heard, and the opportunities for advancement that are available.

Value-driven to its core

H&M is a commendable example of leading with their values. This carries through to their internal and external communications. Human capital is vital to the success of their business – how they treat, reward, and recognize their workers.

Over the past three years, I’ve been involved in some of H&M Central Region’s internal communication initiatives. This has taken shape through a quarterly e-newsletter they publish as well as an annual employee recognition awards event.

They place as much focus and attention on providing information internally as they do externally. The common theme between their quarterly newsletter and the awards gala is rooted in their core values and in celebrating and recognizing individuals within the company that are either new to H&M, tenured, or who have just gone above and beyond.

This level of commitment to informing and recognizing their employees has garnered true brand loyalists and advocates for H&M’s Central Region. They, in turn, treat their customers with the same deep-rooted values that align with H&M’s. When you work for a company that treats you like family – it doesn’t really feel like work.

It is through these inspirational words that captures the essence of H&M.

The life of the business is the work we do, and since it is good work it is a good life.”
– John B. Henkels & Anne M. Henkels

In my part two series, I will share some tips that you can implement in your business to create an enviable employee-centric culture.

Until then, ask yourself this question: Am I spending enough time on building brand advocacy from the inside?


Michelle Mariola is founder & director of ISH-Productions, a Chicago-based branding and marketing company whose mission is to help emerging to mid-market companies develop their marketing strategies and brand identities.

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