Branding from the Inside Out

By Jason Miller, Senior Creative Director

Senior living communities often think of brand in terms of what we put out into the market. Communities thoughtfully craft logos, brand statements, ad campaigns and communications to reflect the reputation they want to cultivate and how they want external audiences to see them. These efforts may prove successful in attracting the target audience, but what happens when prospects walk in the door?

When brand is viewed separately from culture, we run the risk of creating a disconnect. Brand is not just for people on the outside and culture for people on the inside. A brand that does not deliver on its promise is not only a wasted investment of time and money, but also the potential damage to the reputation you’re striving to establish can have long-term negative impacts.

To be successful, brand and culture must operate in unison, aligned and nurtured together. That’s why branding must start within.

Employees give life to your brand

The lifestyle benefits of a senior living community are typically viewed as the brand promise. To deliver on their commitment, communities tend to focus on the residences, designing and promoting campus location, features, amenities, services and opportunities that support the promised lifestyle. But there is another critical component that often gets overlooked—the people delivering that promise.

Without residents, there would be no community to brand. But if your residents are the lifeblood of your community, then your employees are the heart and soul that keeps it beating. For better or worse, your employees are shaping your organization’s brand. Why they show up every day, how they do their job, their interactions and the experiences they create all impact the care and services that residents receive. Communities with the most authentic brands are those whose employees show up for more than a paycheck. They show up consistently embodying the mission and values of the community.

The employer brand—aligning culture with brand

Your employer brand is how you build a culture that engages and motivates employees to deliver on your brand promise, fostering a shared sense of purpose and unity. When everyone is aligned with the organization’s mission, values and vision, they understand their pivotal role in delivering exceptional experiences and meaningful interactions with residents and their families.

Internal branding, when implemented effectively, shapes organizational culture, creating powerful brand advocates who drive external reputation.

Brands That Get It Right
The following companies are known for their strong internal and external brands. They leverage a culture to drive market engagement, reputation and growth.

A firm internal brand foundation and your employee value proposition

Understanding what kind of organization you want to be, including the type of employer you aspire to become, is foundational to building a healthy internal brand strategy. Aligning your organizational identity involves two related concepts that serve different purposes and focus on different aspects of the employment experience: your employer brand and your employee value proposition (EVP). Both are essential to attract and retain talent.

  • Your employer brand represents the perception of your organization by both current and potential employees. That means your employer brand is only as strong as your relationship with employees, including why and how people show up to do their job. By focusing on the values, culture and attributes you aspire to, you can authentically promote a positive workplace culture and position yourself in the job market to attract candidates.
  • Your EVP is what drives the messaging in all your talent acquisition marketing efforts. It sets your community apart as an employer and clarifies why employees should be proud to work there.

Six steps to strengthen your employer brand

If you have concerns about your employer brand (and even if you don’t), here are six steps to employ:

  1. Perform an internal brand audit

    Start with an honest assessment of your culture and employees. This can be as simple as conducting a staff-wide survey or as indepth as interviewing employees at every level of the organization. Ask what your employees know about your mission, values, beliefs and why you exist. Is there a difference between your expectations and theirs? What inspires them to come to work? Do they care about and respect your residents and each other? Do they feel valued? Do they talk about where they work in a positive manner? Gathering this data can help identify any gaps.

  2. Model from the top

    It should come as no surprise that leadership’s role in driving internal branding initiatives is critical for success. However, many companies delegate their cultural foundation to HR, marketing or others. Senior leadership must be directly involved in crafting and refining brand values to ensure authenticity and alignment across the organization.

    Everyone in management should take responsibility for setting the tone and visibly championing brand alignment and accountability. In other words, managers should lead by example. Fostering a culture that aligns with brand values requires consistent discussion. And leaders need support and training too. This investment in leadership development will enhance employee morale and engagement and strengthen the organization’s reputation.

  3. Celebrate who you are

    Make your internal branding strategy underscore what’s great about working there; give your employees a reason to believe in what they are doing. Use training and development programs to serve as catalysts, equipping employees with the tools and resources to embody your organization’s ethos in their daily interactions with residents, families and each other.

    Effective communication through internal brand campaigns should celebrate the culture you’re creating, align employees with the organization’s values and mission, enhance engagement and trust, and empower employees to become brand advocates.

  4. Engage employees to shape change

    Behavior doesn’t just change through internal communications. Engage with your employees regularly. When your company demonstrates its brand values in action—whether large or small—take the opportunity to share these stories to your employees. This shows that they are real and reinforces that they matter. It helps translate brand values into tangible actions and behaviors that guide employee interactions and decision-making.

    To further strengthen buy-in and participation, empower employees to contribute to the development of the employer brand. Brand ambassador programs drive internal engagement and external brand advocacy. When they turn employees into enthusiastic advocates for the brand, organizations can amplify the message, build trust with stakeholders and differentiate themselves from their competitors.

  5. Recognize and appreciate employee impact

    Employees should understand their integral role in your mission. Ensuring they feel seen and valued inspires them to deliver their best. Enhancing employee satisfaction boosts productivity, engagement and a sense of pride.

    Make it real for your employees by rewarding them based on embodying the desired brand behaviors. Create easy-to-perform rituals for your employees that reinforce your culture’s beliefs. Be intentional when designing your workplace to foster cultural awareness, such as specific spaces designed to promote certain ways of working.

  6. Stay committed, be consistent and measure change

    Internal branding is ongoing. Brand strategies need continuous reinforcement and adaptation. Measure and recognize progress. Knowing what works and what doesn’t will enable you to make the necessary changes to deliver on your brand’s promise.

    At the end of the day, you must be intentional and disciplined to ensure that the community brand values are being lived—and not just nice sounding words in your brand guide.

The net effect of a strong internal brand

In today’s noisy, competitive world, the importance of internal branding cannot be overstated. Having a great looking community logo or a catchy tagline simply isn’t enough to connect to residents and prospects. To stand out, you must cultivate a culture in which employees feel a sense of belonging and purpose. In turn, team members who embody the values and mission of your organization become more than just staff—they become ambassadors for your brand.

A strong internal culture and compelling EVP attracts and retains talented people who genuinely share your organization’s values and beliefs and keeps them committed and engaged. Continuity in staffing fosters a sense of stability and trust among residents and families. Happy and fulfilled employees are more likely to provide exceptional care and service to residents, ultimately improving their quality of life. Plus, happy, dedicated employees tend to share their pride about where they work in the broader community.

Internal branding may require external help

Investing in brand efforts on the inside makes your community stronger on the outside. But navigating the complexities of community branding and reputation management can be difficult because it depends on people. Specialized agencies like Love and Company understand the unique challenges of senior living communities and can provide tailored strategies to help cultivate a successful internal culture and a strong brand.

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