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What Really Makes Up the Heart of Your Brand? Your Employees. Here's How. Employees play a pivotal role as the backbone of an SMB's brand. This is how you can — and should — build your brand from within.

By Summit Ghimire Edited by Kara McIntyre

Key Takeaways

  • Establishing a cohesive brand identity with a clearly defined purpose, mission and values is crucial for small to midsize businesses (SMBs) to distinguish themselves in crowded marketplaces.
  • Effective brand management requires alignment across all aspects of a company — from customer experience and marketing to workforce involvement and strategic decision-making.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Businesses operate in crowded landscapes, both physical and digital. It goes without saying that it is a fight for survival for small to midsize organizations. In this struggle, entrepreneurs are always on the hunt for all possible ways they and their teams can boost their odds of surviving and thriving.

Getting customers' attention is one part of the customer experience, arguably the most important. Sales are sales, after all. In this struggle to achieve a sustainable operation, though, retaining their continuous patronage and loyalty requires something altogether beyond that.

Related: 3 Ways a Strong Brand Identity Can Lead to Greater Success for Your Small Business

Brand identity: What makes a company truly unique?

Establishing a cohesive brand identity is an essential element for establishing a strong foundation. An incredible product or flawless service, paired with streamlined operations and prudent financials, all coalesce to warrant a spot on the carousel of commerce for a company.

The final piece of the puzzle is the company's brand. It's this aspect of an organization's existence that comes to define it. Terminology can begin to blur when professionals dissect a concept, breaking it down into its minutia. Sifting through the haze, you can zero in on the core concepts that carry the most weight and the central element woven throughout this DNA.

A business's brand is the essence of itself. The central elements of a brand identity can be defined as:

  • A defined purpose, mission and values or principles.
  • A trusted reputation is achieved via the customer experience and visibility within the community.
  • Clear messaging in all customer interactions, marketing efforts and employee engagement.
  • Consistent content in marketing with quality written, audio and visual elements across all platforms, locations and formats (both digital and physical).

And the lynchpin that is woven throughout this entire process, the force that holds it together? The employees. The comprehensive establishment, communication and understanding of that which defines a company directly impacts long-term survival and potential for growth.

Cohesive brand management and the interplay of internal operations and external perceptions

A company's identity is seen in the strategy, culture and operations that make up its daily reality. The clearly defined mission statement, established principles and expected attitudes and behaviors of all employees. These all combine into the soul of a small-to-midsize business, a soul that must be paired with recognizable graphics and messaging.

Establishing and maintaining this ethos and these characteristics across all aspects of a company's internal operations and external perceptions is referred to as cohesive brand management.

To establish strong roots and unshakeable "personality," employees and customers alike must buy into this brand. Every experience, interaction and impression must align. It is this brand alignment that is experienced throughout the customer journey and across all media and engagement platforms. Wielded properly, this process cements customer loyalty and fuels the exponential growth of reputation.

Related: Branding Is More Than an Accessory: It's the Foundation of Any Business

Employees: The backbone of authentic brand representation

Employee engagement is essential to achieve vital brand alignment. For the comprehensive saturation of a brand identity, a workforce must feel ownership of their company's image and ethos. The specific details of achieving this participation will vary with every business, impacted by where it lands on the scale of small-to-midsize operations and the industry and location where it functions. More so, the extent of and characteristics of employee involvement will naturally evolve as an organization experiences growth and achieves scaling. It must persist in an impactful way despite this evolution.

Clear communication from leadership and effective employee training are the core means of ensuring the comprehensive understanding and ownership of a company's brand identity. The customer experience is a complex journey, beginning with an entity's logo and marketing content down to the images, words and overall design. This first impression can occur on a company's website, across its social media presence and relevant physical location(s). It continues through the product or service provided and the various interactions had with employees.

The customer journey is dependent upon streamlined operations, which consist of everything from website performance and social media management to accounts payable and receivable, manufacturing and fulfillment and every element that impacts a smooth, positive customer experience.

6 key factors influencing brand management and employee engagement

  1. Consistent customer experience: Employee embodiment of a brand's identity ensures a consistent customer experience in every interaction.
  2. Workforce engagement: When employees connect with a brand's identity, a greater sense of purpose, increased motivation and commitment can be achieved.
  3. Word-of-mouth marketing: When a small business's brand is consistent, it's easier for both employees and customers to describe and recommend the business to others.
  4. Standing out in the crowd: A firmly established, fully embraced brand identity sets a business apart from competitors, a fact that can prove critical in saturated markets.
  5. Talent acquisition and retainment: Quality employees want to work for a business they can believe in, a company with an established reputation anchored by trust and values. A clear and positive brand identity helps attract and retain this talent.
  6. Impact on decision-making: Business decisions made with brand identity in mind ensure commitment to a company's mission and values, delivering strategic and cohesive decision-making.

Related: If You're Not Approaching Your Brand This Way, You're Losing Customers

SMBs and the inextricable link of branding and workforce

Brand alignment and cohesive brand management are both sides of the branding coin. Brand alignment is focused on syncing internal operations with established ethos, a process that creates the brand identity. Divergent from that process, comprehensive brand management centers on achieving a consistent experience, such as service and messaging, across all touchpoints.

These separate but equally essential parts of the branding experience are intrinsically linked to an organization's workforce. By prioritizing the establishment and communication of brand identity and investing the effort required to achieve and maintain brand alignment, SMB leadership will directly contribute to a positive environment for all parties.

Summit Ghimire

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Founder & Head of SEO at Outpace

Summit Ghimire is the founder and head of SEO at Outpace. He has experience optimizing websites for both small and enterprise businesses. His passion for SEO and conversion-rate optimization comes from successful campaigns working with hundreds of clients across verticals.

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