I’d like to share a story about an internal versus external marketing challenge that I recently faced.

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What Is Internal Marketing Again?

At many product and service companies that embrace Agile practices, there is an increased amount of attention given to promoting collaboration both internally and externally. This allows greater customer engagement, and better transparency between departments within the company. This in turn leads to better products and services, and ultimately better experiences for the customer. Finally, this supports a commitment to customer service that is ideally embedded into the internal culture of an organization, which is where internal marketing comes in.

Internal marketing is a means of enculturating practice development, and a commitment to customer service, within an organization and in the context of the organization’s identity. Recently, I ran into a situation in which the question came up as to whether of not it was appropriate to share this internal identity statement with the outside world. This came up during a branding workshop at which the internal team became attached to, and identified with, a specific articulation that was not likely to make sense to outsiders.

In this example, we were exploring a company tag-line, which should ideally be a concise articulation of identity. In general, tag-lines are really more of an externally facing message, but they support internal adoption. Things get more interesting and complex when it comes to mission statements which speak to the company culture and how the company is set up to support that culture. So, what did we do about the tag-line tha the internal team resonated with, but which wouldn’t work externally?

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Aligning Internal & External Messages

In the above example, poor alignment between the internal and external message arose from a fierce commitment to going beyond best practices internally. Thus, the internal tag-line was quite bold and aggressive. For customers this  gave them the impression that they were paying to reinvent the wheel, which felt unnecessary and expensive. Whereas, the Internal team was simply articulating their belief that innovation comes from taking risks and applying a flexible and iterative process (i.e. starting from scratch can be part of that process). This is often when a copywriter get’s called in to find some middle ground. Before taking that step, however, it’s worth looking at the underlying issue more closely.

Intuitively, it can feel disingenuous to create one set of messages for the internal team and another set of messages for customers. In fact, some might interpret this as being in conflict with the spirit of collaboration with customers. Combined with a skepticism about “marketing” or “salesy” messages, I’ve seen this conflict can spiral out of control.

I should also note, that some companies do have a common articulation for internal and external use. These articulations, however, may be unbalanced, less meaningful, or require supporting messages. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and it’s really a trade off that depends how important it is to be able to lead with your mission when it comes to messaging. So how do we make these decisions? What makes the most sense for your organization? And, is having multiple messages really ok?

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A Portfolio of Messages

Consider this, companies that have highly evolved product and service development practices understand the importance of empathizing with customers, and that different customers respond to different messages. Thus, it is clear that we need different messages for different audiences, so that’s not the issue. The issue is how to create messages that are complimentary and compatible. It’s not about hiring a copywriter to craft a perfect compromise of a tag-line …. though you’ll need that too. This is where a good marketer cones in. How do marketers create external messages that are authentic, and appropriate, but which also consider and respect the culture of those we are engaging with?

  • ITS A DESIGN PROCESS: Start by explaining how the process of marketing is just another empathetic design process. If the internal team can relate how marketing works to their own process it will be easier for them to get comfortable promoting messages that are tailored to different audiences without feeling disingenuous or inauthentic.
  • IT’S ABOUT THE STORIES: A company’s identity is not a tag-line, but a portfolio of messages that communicate a set of interlocking ideas. In other words, don’t fixate on the specific articulation of the tag-line, but use it as the launching pad for narratives. It’s the stories, which the company’s mission enables, that people really resonate with, so get your team to focus on those!
  • IT’S A RESOURCE: Make documents that reflect the messaging readily available to the internal team. If you provide them with a resource, thus saving them work, you’ll be set up for success when it comes to alignment.
  • IT’S ABOUT SUPPORT: You have to make 100% sure that the management team is bought into your plan, and will support it. If you can’t convince them, then you’re not set up for success. Keep in mind that they cannot make alignment happen, but they are a prerequist for it to happen.

When It Works

One of my favorite examples of a tag-line that works is, “IDEO helps organization innovate through design”. It’s so general that you could see why the internal team might not support it. Plus, it doesn’t say much about what they actually work on. That doesn’t matter, though, because it has been so consistently woven into the fabric of the stories they tell, and adopted by their practitioners, that it helped define their industry. Embedding it into books, presentations, websites, and talks supported IDEO becoming synonymous with innovation. Plus the internal team has another line that is complementary, and more appropriate for internal use, “Fail faster succeed sooner”. You can see why it might be smart not to lead with the idea of failing, until a potential customer understands your business throughly (obviously, this message is internal-facing, but can be used effectively in an external context once rapport is established).

I believe the tag-line above was streamlined even further to, “Innovation through design”, and becaome even more memorable. Interestingly though, they recently replaced it with “We are a global design consultancy. We create impact through design” on their new website. I’m not sure what to attribute this to, but I think it supports their effort to move into new global markets (like China), as well as distancing from the word “innovation” which is now  past it’s hayday and somewhat diluted. Bruce Nussbaum, an industry journalist, wrote about the death of “innovation” in BusinessWeek.

Last thoughts

In some ways, I wonder if it’s easiest to think of the externally facing messages as being more introductory, and the internal messages as being more meaningful and deep. When you meet someone new, you don’t start with the philosophy you bring to your work, you just introduce them to what you do and hopefully what makes you uniquely interesting. Ideally, what you start with foreshadows what is to come. In the end, I don’t see any downside to sharing the internal perspective once you’ve got a real relationship going. If that’s the case, then marketers can focus on opening those windows between silos, facilitating the articulation of the company identity, creating complimentary messages, and fostering alignment.

Ok, that’s actually quite a bit more than I was planning on covering …. so before I go any further, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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2 Comments to “Internal Vs. External Marketing”

  1. […] Before I start in, you might want to skim my previous posts on the state of marketing today: Visualizing How Marketers Got Here, Where Marketers Are Today and Internal vs. External Marketing. […]

  2. […] External Marketing. Every outside interaction, your human resource team has with outside representatives, companies, organizations, and candidates is a form of marketing that can be relevant to the business.  Many product driven companies evaluate the number of touches, a company must have before a potential customer becomes a buying customer.  In the competitive world of recruiting and talent capital management, the same holds true. […]

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