Building brand promise from the inside out with Arafa Heneghan | S1 E1

First published: 16 June, 2020

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Building brand promise from the inside out with Arafa Heneghan | S1 E1

Using internal brand to develop employee engagement

In this episode, The Big Picture People’s Craig Smith talks to Arafa Heneghan, Head of Brand at online electrical retailer AO. Arafa is passionate about brand starting on the inside. She explains how internal branding works, and how, together with external branding, it allows values and behaviours to flow throughout the organisation to the customer across all touchpoints. She also demonstrates the big part that storytelling plays in helping to connect values, purpose and behaviours, and shares engaging examples.

Bringing internal brand to life

“For your brand to truly thrive on the outside it has to be lived, and breathed, and fundamentally believed in on the inside first,” says Arafa. You hear her passion for this, as she explains how internal and external brand are one and the same thing.

Brand is what connects values to behaviours

As Arafa says, it is crucial that brand is believed on the inside. It defines the connection between values and behaviours. As Head of Brand at AO, Arafa leads a small strategic team whose job it is to provide guidelines, guidance, and processes and procedures to help the rest of the business live and breathe its brand. Her brand elevator pitch is summarised as:

“We’re a brand of innovation. We’re a brand of challenging the norm, but genuinely doing it because it’s the right thing to do from a customer point of view rather than because we want to show off. So, it’s all based on what the right thing for the customer is.”

Storytelling makes brand come to life

Stories are incredibly important tools, helping to link values and purpose to expected behaviours. Sharing stories is a central strategy of AO’s business, integral to helping its people understand what makes the company so special. Arafa shares some of these stories to illustrate their power.

Some storytelling is done in formal settings – such as at talks or the CEO’s monthly ‘State of the Nation’ address to the company. But the stories aren’t forced – storytelling is best when it comes naturally. They demonstrate what the company is about, capturing values and beliefs and helping employees align with them.

Making bedfellows of HR and marketing

Arafa acknowledges that there can be tension between HR and Marketing (or PR), as employee engagement strategies are usually considered as a function of HR, whereas brand is usually a function of marketing. When you develop brand from the inside out, it becomes a potent tool of employee engagement, thus blurring traditional lines.

Arafa describes this as two lanes, in which everyone is clear on which lane they’re in, but also that there is a massive crossover in those lanes. She says many brand teams want to be part-involved in everything, but this is not practical.

“The reality is that’s what slows brand teams down, because you do not have capacity to do everything,” Arafa says. “It’s our job to do strategic direction and then to provide the guidelines, tools, hints, and tips, sometimes being a face in a room to get people in the right direction. That is what we have to be responsible for.”

It is essential to understand that the focus is on people, but that there is an absolute connection between internal and external messages. You cannot separate internal and external brand if you want your people to be your brand ambassadors.

Leaders and managers must be brand examples

“You can’t ask someone to go above and beyond if you’re not willing to go above and beyond for them,” asserts Arafa. Leaders and managers promote the integrity of brand by behaving in line with company values and beliefs. To have employees behave as you want them to with customers, it is essential that those employees are treated likewise.

Make your values relatable to bring them to life

Often, values are couched in complexity. For example, AO could describe its overarching value as “We act with integrity and we are personal.” Instead, it brings these values to life by saying, “Make decisions your mom would be proud of and treat every customer like your Gran.” Humanise your value statement. Make it relatable, and bring it to life.

Internal brand develops employee engagement

When your internal brand resonates through all that your employees do, it helps to develop high levels of employee engagement. They will feel your ethos in their daily lives. They will live, breathe, and believe in your brand.

Useful links

Arafa’s LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/arafa-heneghan-41b6424a/

AO’s website: https://ao.com

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