Recently, the term “employer brand” has come into vogue.
Before you start working on a new internal brand to keep up with this trend, let’s revisit what brand does for a business.
What I love about brand as an organizing principle is that it forces focus on the value that your business uniquely offers.
The most value-creating businesses use their brand strategy as their North Star.
That North Star guides all of the decisions that grow the business, from the internal to the external, from the big to the small, from the short-term to the long-term. From deciding how to innovate your product to creating your email signature to decorating your headquarters lobby.
The businesses that create the most value from brand are the ones with a single North Star that guides both internal culture-building and external audience cultivation.
Instead of having an employer brand and a customer brand, how about having one brand? When genuine and distinctive, that single brand promise galvanizes employees and customers alike. Rather than standing for one thing with employees, and for another with customers, you could stand for one promise that inspires all whom you serve.
Internal marketing and external marketing are both marketing! Whether you are marketing to employees and future employees, or whether you are marketing to customers and future customers – these are all marketing activities. As any marketing leader with a scarce budget will tell you, it is more effective to focus on a single big idea for all marketing tactics than to spread your marketing across multiple ideas. When internal and external marketing bring to life a single idea, your investments work in concert for greater collective impact.
PEMCO Mutual Insurance is a Seattle-based business that has doubled down on this insight that a single brand for employees and customers creates the most vibrancy. In my book Forging an Ironclad Brand, I wrote about PEMCO for winning the hearts of Pacific Northwesterners with its quirky, empathetic customer storytelling.
I was delighted to learn recently that PEMCO views its brand as a single North Star at the intersection of internal (employees, current and future) and external (customers, current and future). In her Forbes post, PEMCO VP of People and Brand MJ Vigil wrote that “persuasive branding starts internally by ensuring your culture aligns with your external brand promise.”
PEMCO serves Washington State and Oregon, and channels the flavor of the Pacific Northwest throughout its employee culture and customer marketing. PEMCO is committed to its four pillars: Insurance and Service Expertise, Mutual Good, Inspiring & Inclusive Workplace, and Defender of Your Northwest. These four pillars inform both the internal and the external expression of the brand.
Let’s take that first pillar. The Insurance & Service Expertise pillar informs the customer experience overtly during each interaction with PEMCO. For instance, when a PEMCO customer calls PEMCO after an accident, that customer will always speak with a live person fast.
And internally, this service ethic is equally manifest. Peer recognition for service to one another is deeply woven into the way the company operates. Most companies do recognition in a sparse, somewhat distant manner. I have seen many crystal bowls with captions of “Outstanding Contributor” adorning office desks. But PEMCO does recognition differently and in a more motivated, heartfelt way. Through the company intranet, PEMCO employees can give and receive frequent, specific recognition from peers after serving in a remarkable way.
At PEMCO, the ethos of service is not window dressing, and it is not a benefit reserved for customers. Service is an employee benefit as well, and the systematic enabling of employee recognition makes it part of the daily cultural fabric of the company.
And let’s take another pillar: Defenders of Your Northwest. “Defenders of Your Northwest” is PEMCO’s tagline, and each time the audience sees this tagline on a bus ad or billboard, it sparks a sense of pride in the region among people living in PEMCO’s market.
That alone is a magnificent value creator for the PEMCO brand. But my favorite aspect of the “Defenders of Your Northwest” tagline is that it sparks belonging for employees, too. PEMCO’s Marjorie Hastings shared with me that employees take pride in this campaign as a beacon. When employees share with their friends where they work, rather than mumbling “I work for an insurance company,” they can exclaim with pride that they work for PEMCO. The employees then become brand ambassadors, which is good for external marketing. And who wouldn’t prefer to be a “defender” of the people in one’s region over merely working for an insurance company?
When you are articulating your business’s customer brand or employee brand, challenge yourself. Develop a single brand promise. One that will foster the motivation and love of employees and customers alike. In doing so, you create more meaning for the two groups of people your business exists to serve.
Lindsay is a Brand Strategist and Founder of Ironclad Brand Strategy, which builds brands using an exacting and analytic method. Her background as a P&L owner at Clorox fostered a deep appreciation for the executive charge: to create sustainable value. Ironclad advises companies from burgeoning startups to national corporations, including Zulily, IMDb, T-Mobile and Starbucks. Lindsay holds an MBA in Business from the University of California Berkeley, Haas School of Business.