What does it mean for a business to experience cognitive dissonance? Let’s take a moment to clarify its general meaning first. The term “cognitive dissonance” refers to the discomfort people feel when their behaviors do not match their beliefs. For instance, believing that you should stop smoking because it’s bad for you… but continuing to smoke anyway.
The old adage, “as above, so below,” suggests that the natural state of things is reflective—to be aligned, a macrocosm bearing a representative microcosm within it. Fractals. And when anything contradicts that natural order (as with cognitive dissonance), we instinctively seek a way to correct it.
In many cases, that means we “correct” cognitive dissonance by rationalizing the contradiction. (“I’m going to die somehow anyway, might as well smoke.”) On the flip side, it can also be corrected through a positive change, like actually quitting smoking. Bottom line: we really don’t like feeling that disparity between our actions and beliefs. So somehow, we find a way to either pacify or rectify the situation.
Ok. We’ve covered the meaning of cognitive dissonance in people. How does it apply to business?
Cognitive Dissonance in Business
Throughout our engagements with clients, we’ve found that the lion’s share of the focus is on activating a brand externally. It’s rarer to see attention placed on expressing the brand internally. If you put zero effort into building a company culture that reflects your brand…. You have a cognitive dissonance problem.
External branding is all about “talking the brand.” But internal branding is all about living the brand. To strengthen an external brand—and, more importantly, to make it real and meaningful—the internal reality must reflect the face of the brand.
Cultural buy-in from leadership and employees makes a brand authentic and resilient. When the brand is aligned internally and externally, it can be viewed from any angle without concern for “continuity errors.”
In order to ensure consistency across your brand, the meaning behind your brand must be clear to both internal and external audiences. Without clarity, nobody knows what they’re buying into. So, finding and defining your authentic brand story and messaging is step number one. Next, activate the brand internally prior to its external launch to galvanize the forces and create a genuine brand that is ready to face the world.
Why Does It Matter?
Beyond the benefit of internal/external alignment, there is a ton of value to internal branding that makes the initiative worth it. Done right, it enables employees to make a strong emotional connection to the company, its culture, and its products or services. When people feel a genuine connection to the work they do every day, it builds a sense of agency and empowerment. It boosts morale and strengthens commitment. Essentially, your employees are naturally encouraged to bring their A-game.
Furthermore, a solid internal brand carries its story and message out into the world via employees, and likewise brings good employees in via its story and message. Top talent is attracted to companies with a strong, defined, authentic culture they can get behind. But what matters most is that it gives the entire company a sense of overarching identity, and something real to rally behind.
“We’ve found that when people care about and believe in the brand, they’re motivated to work harder and their loyalty to the company increases. Employees are unified and inspired by a common sense of purpose and identity,” said marketing veteran Colin Mitchell in Harvard Business Review back in 2002. The message seems to only become truer with time, especially as millennials continue to take over the workplace.
Employees are brand ambassadors to the world, whether they’re speaking to potential clients, potential co-workers, or someone with zero connection to the company. They are your representatives. And you never know who they might talk to.
Internal Brand Activation Is a Journey
So long as your brand story is solidified, the process of internal activation can begin. And once it’s begun, it really never ends. The initiative should be ongoing and iterative. Reinvented over time. It should continue to manifest throughout the company, both intentionally and organically (if you’re doing it right).
Perhaps the idea of a never-ending project is a bit unnerving. Fair enough, anything with no clear “end” can have that effect. But if you and your constituents (employees, leadership, cohorts) have crafted a brand you truly believe in, you’ll find yourselves and the company culture are actually energized by the brand itself as it continues to come alive. It can take on momentum that may surprise you.
However, before an internal brand really gets rolling, you’ll have to get the process started and continue to nurture it in a variety of ways. We’ve divided the process into 4 broad stages to create manageable steps towards internal brand alignment. Most of our internal branding engagements include recommendations that fit into these four phases…
4 Phases to Internal Brand Activation
Learn: Ignite the Flame
Awareness & Education: Phase 1 is all about giving employees what they need to understand and begin to adopt the brand, its story, and its culture. Focused on building buzz, creating excitement, and engaging employees right out of the gate while offering all the info they need to get familiar and get on board.
Lean In: Fuel the Flame
Active Participation: Phase 2 feeds employee curiosity and interest, giving them a deeper understanding of the story. Focused on uniting employees and fueling ongoing involvement while continuing to strengthen bonds amongst employees and emotional connection to the brand.
Lead: Pass the Torch
Ownership & Advocacy: Phase 3 is all about encouraging the team to enact the brand story and champion its practice throughout the company. Focused on creating brand story ambassadors to evangelize the movement internally. This helps to carry the message more organically and give employees a greater sense of ownership.
Live It: Keep the Home Fire Burning
Cultural Growth Through Action: Phase 4 solidifies the brand story as a central, long-term component of the broader company culture. Generally this involves creating traditions and amplifying core brand values through everyday practices. Focused on inspiring current and future employees to incorporate the new mindset into their work and daily lives.
Maybe all of this sounds great, but you still don’t know how to start. Need an assist? Reach out to us to learn more about how we help businesses to energize positive change both inside and outside of the workplace.
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