By Carla Johnson published August 25, 2014

Build Strong Brand Storytelling From the Inside Out

body-with gears insideAs content marketers, we focus a lot of our time and attention on outside audiences, which makes sense. We’re trying to get people to buy what we sell. We want them to get to know us, like us, talk about us, and think what we sell is a good idea.

In fact, we are so concerned with communicating with our external audiences, that we leave little time to think about our own employees. Yet, employees are at the heart of what makes brand storytelling come to life and create meaningful experiences for customers. If we expect to be able to go “all-in” with successful content marketing, we have to think about the role our employees play in getting us there.

“It’s not you, it’s me”

It’s easy for a company to blame its poor performance on the economy, or on its competition, or on pretty much anything that has an outside influence. But you’ll likely find that companies that consistently outperform their industry peers have something in common: They have a unified internal purpose.

In order for this purpose (which is the foundation of brand storytelling) to be clearly communicated through content marketing, companies have to understand the business that they’re really in. In 1960, Harvard Business School professor Theodore Levitt coined the phrase “marketing myopia” to describe the short-sightedness of companies that focus on their own products and services instead of considering the big picture of what customers really want. Customers, he taught his students, don’t want a quarter-inch drill; they want a quarter-inch hole.

For companies to be driven by a unified purpose, employees have to know what their purpose is, have tangible expressions of what it means to people in their everyday lives, and understand how this purpose can be reflected in the relevant experiences they create for customers. As content marketers, we need to raise the bar on how we influence and drive employee engagement because it makes a big difference in how the stories that we tell, and the experiences that we create, play out in those moments of truth between employees and customers.

Of course, this is all well and fine for us to accept as true, but how do we actually do it?

How to get employees to be “into” your company

Both people and organizations reflect the characteristics of their leadership. But there’s often a big gap between the vision that leaders have for the company and what their employees experience and understand. Back to Levitt’s point, companies aren’t in business to sell things, they’re in business to satisfy customers. For that to happen, content marketers have to tell a cohesive brand story internally. Here are six steps to help us do just that:

  1. Make engaging our employees a priority: Building relationships with employees is no different than with customers, and you have to make internal content production just as much a priority as it is for communicating with external audiences. Start with securing executive buy-in so that you have adequate resources, authority, and team responsibility to centralize the storytelling practice. That way, you’ll have one consistent story to share with employees, rather than them getting sporadic, conflicting stories from every department.
  1. Develop employee personas: Just like you create buyer personas for the external audiences you target, you need to identify and understand what drives the many personas that exist within your organization. How does what you’re telling your customers matter to them? If your blog is talking about problems you’re solving for customers, does you technical support team know about them? The content that you create for executives shouldn’t always be the same as the people who have day-to-day contact with customers; some are leading the strategic and others are executing it.

Look at how each of your personas connects with your content. Tech company employees are very different from oil and gas workers in the field. Intranets, Yammer, and Google Hangouts won’t reach everyone if they’re not tech-connected. By getting to know your employees as well as you do your customers, you’ll be able to get creative on how you capture their attention.

  1. Understand where you’re starting from: Have you ever had regular communication with employees? This could be as simple as coffee and donuts every Monday morning for small teams, or quarterly global broadcasts for enterprise organizations. By knowing where you’re starting from in their understanding of your brand story, you’ll know how much you need to educate internal teams, how it will make a difference to customers, and what each team member’s role should be.
  1. Make a plan: Now’s when you put it all together and make your brand story come alive for employees. Below is a simple template with which to start that will guide your editorial strategy for everything that you publish. This template outlines those who help tell the story — including your executive leadership. Because, let’s face it, if it’s a priority for your leadership to eat, breathe, and live your story, then it’s going to be a priority for every employee to get engaged with it and live it in their own special way.
  1. Communicate strategically: While you might find that you need to communicate more frequently with employees than you currently do, realize that everything has to be purpose-driven; don’t give them a reason to ignore you. That’s why the chart above makes you think about what you want to say and what you want the outcome to be. Some employees will make the connection between the company’s brand story and their own work more easily than others will. Tout examples of employees who’ve made the connection and how they did it. How has your brand story inspired them to solve a customer’s problem, not just sell a product? What’s the experience that they were able to create for the audience?
  1. Be interesting: David Ogilvy once said: “You cannot bore people into buying your product.” The same goes for getting your employees enthusiastically on board with your internal brand storytelling.

 

employee-content-revised-chart

(Click to enlarge)

We know that customers have relationships with people, not companies. To truly make brand stories come to life through the experience we create, we have to be willing to lead our brand storytelling internally, so that every person who represents our brand understands what makes their company unique. By getting employees excited about our story, we’re able to build a unified, cohesive team which is proud to tell its stories.

Want more instruction from Carla Johnson on how to manage some of today’s biggest content marketing challenges? Sign up for the Content Marketing Institute Online Training and Certification program. Access over 35 courses, taught by experts from Google, Mashable, SAP, and more. 

Author: Carla Johnson

Recognized as one of the top 50 influencers in content marketing, Carla's latest book, Experience: The 7th Era of Marketing, with CMI's Robert Rose, teaches marketers how to develop, manage, and lead the creation of valuable experiences in their organizations. Carla serves as the Vice President of Thought Leadership for the Business Marketing Association (a division of the ANA), and is an instructor for the Content Marketing Institute, the ANA, and Rutgers University. A frequent speaker, Carla also contributes to industrywide news outlets, forums and conferences on the future of the B2B marketing profession, leading through innovation and storytelling. Learn more at Type A Communications and follow her on Twitter at @CarlaJohnson.

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  • http://www.ripenn.com/ Josh Sturgeon

    Nice post, Carla. I LOVE the idea of creating internal personas! The truth is, our best content assets are sitting next to us. We just need to figure out how to engage with those co-workers! Just wrote a similar piece about getting more internal ideas for content: http://www.ripenn.com/blog/the-most-untapped-resource-for-new-content-ideas/

    • Carla_Johnson

      Hi Josh,
      I find it interesting that the personalization that we (hopefully) bring to external audiences is foreign when we think of what matters to the different groups of employees internally. At best, I see most companies only segmenting by executives, supervisors/managers and everyone else. If you want to know how to engage them, you have to understand them, and I’ve found personas the best way to do that.

      Thanks for sharing your piece on ideas for internal content,
      Carla

  • http://www.irissignals.com/ Kostas Chiotis

    Sure, the economy is making things more difficult for business owners, but yes I do agree that the largest responsibility when it comes to success does lie with the business. Storytelling and brand promotion are so important if we are to engage with our audience. Great post Carla.

    • Carla_Johnson

      Hi Kostas,
      Thanks for your thoughts. I think business owners haven’t yet realized the weight that they can take off their shoulders by investing in their employees as brand storytellers. They have a lot on their plate but I think it ‘s most helpful when they realize that don’t have to be the ones who control how the story is told – employees will help them do it in ways that are the most meaningful to them.
      Carla

  • http://www.unitedcontentbureau.com Brandon Boyd

    Thanks for the insight Carla,

    Employees want mutual success but are we giving them the right tools? As a company grows, it becomes more and more important to reach across the silos to empower our people. I’ve seen an employee get excited about the content our company puts out and they transform before our eyes into rabid brand ambassadors. What can you do today to help that transformation?

    -Chief Editor, unitedcontentbureau.com

    • Carla_Johnson

      Hi Brandon,
      I completely agree that if you want to see quality work that you have to equip people with the right tools, including your employees. You know you’ve nailed it when you see exactly what you pointed out – employees becoming rabid brand ambassadors!
      Carla

  • Cristine McCauley Balda

    Thank you Carla for writing about the need to communicate internally too! There is so much information on how to engage externally – content marketing, email marketing, social media, etc. Many companies have lost sight of inspiring their own employees, beyond the quarterly report on revenue / cost performance. Great point on internal personas too, it’s not just executive management, top level managers and everyone else (or the worker bees as I like to call us), there are many segments within and those should be addressed.

    • Carla_Johnson

      Hi Cristine,
      You’re right on the money. I find it interesting that companies spend so much time segmenting messages to external audiences and making sure they have consistent, relevant engagement but then don’t see how the same thing should apply to engaging internal audiences. The tools are there, and it’s time to use them with the people who matter most to our brands – our employees.
      Carla