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Brand positioning tip #13: Embedding positioning internally

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? I don’t know the answer, but I can tell you that brand positioning not effectively communicated and embedded both inside and outside your organization will definitely not make a sound. So how do you ensure your brand positioning exercise isn’t in vain? How do you communicate your positioning both inside and outside the walls of the organization? In these next two brand positioning tips, I’ll try to answer that question. Today, we’ll tackle how to embed the brand positioning within your organization.

So here we are. Your positioning exercise is complete. You’ve identified one or more competitive frames of reference. You have clear points of difference distinguishing you from competitors. You’ve articulated the points of parity you need to achieve. And perhaps you’ve even decided on a brand mantra. Now what?

For most organizations, the next step is to build a plan to embed the positioning internally. Unless you work in a small firm, I’d recommend you don’t build this plan alone. Instead, convene a strategically-chosen team of folks to help you build the right plan for your organization.

Who should be on this team? I’d pick a group of 10 or less people from the following two sources:

1. Brand Groupies: You’ll want a few of the people who were most excited to participate in your brand positioning exercise to continue on as part of the roll out team. First off, these folks will already be familiar with the positioning you’ve chosen and the thinking behind it. Second, these people will likely be passionate—they’ve made an investment in the process already and will want to see it through to completion.

Ideally a few of your brand groupies will be folks with day jobs in key communication roles (they’ll bring tools and expertise) and a few will be from other parts of the organization (they’ll bring  relationships and perspective). And if there is an internal communications person in the organization, try to ensure they are involved.

2. Cultural Influencers: Your roll out will go much more smoothly if people who hold a lot of sway in your organization are a part of it. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to recruit people with big, important titles, especially if there are lots of interests competing for those folks’ time. Instead, look for people who have been with the company a long time and have lots of relationships across many departments. In many cases, the ideal cultural influencers will be extroverts who simply connect to a lot of people (over lunch, at the water cooler, whatever).

The important thing is to ensure you have representation from people who can reach into every corner of your company as internal brand ambassadors. When choosing people for the roll out team, I always try to choose at least one “hater” too. By hater, I mean someone who has expressed doubts about the brand positioning project specifically, or perhaps tends to express doubts about every project they encounter.

Why bring in the enemy? Two reasons: 1) the hater will be your canary in the coal mine, proactively exposing places where you may get a negative reaction and allowing you to course correct before you go public. 2) I’ve seen many cases where a hater properly engaged actually ends up being one of the biggest supporters of the project. This can be a powerful thing.

With your team chosen, next bring them together as a group, setting aside a few hours for the first session. Start with a recap of the brand positioning basics, then go over the final brand positioning you’ve chosen, including showing the math for how you arrived at it.

Next comes the fun part: brainstorming ways to begin injecting the positioning into your corporate DNA. This is where having people involved who deeply understand the organization’s culture matters most.

When it comes to rolling out brand positioning internally, I’m a big fan of subtlety vs. beating people over the head. That’s why I like the word “embedding.” A brand positioning roll out should not be just a big advertising campaign, it must be more nuanced than that, and must be authentic to the culture of your organization. As you’ll seem from the examples below, embedding brand positioning is not just a communications activity, it can be a exercise in organizational design as well.

Rather than continue in generalities, let me share a few ideas I often suggest for embedding brand positioning. Perhaps these might help get your brainstorming session started.

1. Host a bootcamp
Facilitate a session with the executive team where you practice techniques that will help them correctly articulate the brand positioning. During the session, they’ll begin internalizing the brand position, they’ll have the opportunity to practice their elevator pitch, and they can get feedback from colleagues on how well they communicate the story. Once executives are communicating the story consistently, it’ll be much easier for others to follow.

Consider also hosting similar events for other employee groups; the sales, marketing, services team—any group that communicates directly with customers will be a good candidate for a session practicing telling the your story.

2. Make a brand story book
Design a simple story book that communicates the brand position as part of answering the “why are we here?” question for your organization. Give the book to every employee or job candidate. Here’s an example of the one we did for Red Hat.

3. Change how you interview
When interviewing people to come work for your organization, include a series of questions that test whether a candidate’s style of work, character, and experience are a good match for the company’s brand position.

4. Change how you hire
You never get a second chance to make a first impression—so ensure the brand positioning is clearly communicated from the first moment a potential hire comes in contact with your company.

5. Rethink your review or goal-setting process
I’m not a big fan of performance reviews, but if you have a performance review process at your company, consider ensuring people are measured on how well they are living the brand.

Do you think these techniques might work inside your organization? I’ve seen many of these things get new brand positioning off to a good start. But I’ve also tried many more, and in my experience, what works and what doesn’t work often differs by organization.

Building a solid internal brand position takes time and patience, and it definitely won’t happen overnight. As I’ve highlighted in a previous post, repetition over a matter of years will provide the best results, so don’t give up too soon. But you’ll know your efforts have been successful when you start hearing people in the organization you’ve never even spoken to before effectively articulate the brand position.

Do you have techniques you’ve used to embed brand positioning within your organization? If so, please feel free to share them here.

[This post originally appeared on Dark Matter Matters]

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