Branding your small company isn't a matter of harnessing a million dollar advertising budget. Rather, it's a matter of corporate reputation, in which every positive action that the company makes establishes trust, credibility and support among its customers. Those customers talk to their friends, and those potential customers talk to their friends--all of a sudden--word-of-mouth has created your company's brand.

Conversely, if your corporate reputation gains momentum on reviews of bad product or poor customer service, you also get a brand--it's just not the one you want.

So how do you build your corporate reputation? Typical marketing activities certainly play a role, as does the overall strength and quality of the services that you deliver. But you also have another indispensable asset: your own employees. Building a corporate reputation and powerful brand identification in the marketplace begins right at home.

Spread the Message
You might take it for granted each of your employees understands your value proposition. The sales person, the engineer and the front desk person all play an important role in the company's operations therefore they understand the value of its services. Or do they? If you really ask each of them to give the company's "elevator pitch," how similar are their responses? If their responses are substantially different that means that their messages to a prospect or a customer will probably also be different.

Does your team know what differentiates your company from competitors? Do they understand your vision for the future?

This is a crucial challenge; take for example the case of my own company. We recently completed an acquisition of a larger competitor and we're striving to integrate the two populations in terms of both organizational structure and culture. I know that the job won't be done until all employees in the combined company can recite the same mission, vision and value statement, and be able to describe what the company does in the same way.

Having everyone aligned in terms of your company's message is crucial for building the framework of a solid brand. Your employees interact with customers, talk to their family about work and spread the word among their personal and professional networks. Each and every one of your employees is a brand ambassador.

Feed and Nurture Your Intranet
One of the ways you can ensure that your employees are in sync is to maintain a robust, frequently published and widely used intranet. Important company messages benefit from significant repetition. Having an intranet can be a relatively cost-effective way to keep the company's message out there and ensure that all employees are working towards the same goals.

The intranet shouldn't be rigidly controlled. You will want to create and promulgate consistent brand standards, and give the site an inviting, readable feel. But people won't read the thing unless they have a stake in it.

Consider the ownership employees will feel in the intranet if they have the ability to publish their own branded newsletters, communicate with other departments and contribute to the front page "news" of the company. The intranet will become a destination for them--the first thing they read in the morning--that also means that the intranet will be a trusted source of information.

Show the Human Side
While revenue may be a welcome side effect of an internal referral competition, it also represents an excellent opportunity to humanize the company for your staff. A lot of companies' value propositions sound like arcane business concepts that have no actual impact on real human beings. The reality is completely opposite. The chances are, your company is one that helps people and businesses succeed--and by extension, the people and families who work with them. You should be constantly communicating that message to your employees.

Otherwise, they your team may view the referral process and brand reputation as a chore. The more clarity they have in regards to how they help the business and consumer community, the more likely they are to become brighter brand beacons. The best brands and referrals are real and heartfelt.

Reap the Rewards
Building an internal brand is important because you have, by default, designated each and every one of your employees to be bearers of your company's brand. Their actions and perception of your company will directly impact your corporate reputation and brand image.

A positive brand identity leads to loyal customers, strong referral sources and strong internal growth. Bottom line: Take care of your employees and they in turn will take care of your brand.