[Podcast] Corporate Branding from The Inside Out with Meg Kypena

[Podcast] Corporate Branding from The Inside Out with Meg Kypena

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Big companies struggle with the principles of the brand. In this episode, we sit down with Freelance Internal Brand Strategist, the powerful Meg Kypena.

In this episode, Matt Davies & Jacob Cass dig deep into how corporations can use the power of branding to align their people and communicate better.

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Transcript (Auto Generated)

Hello, and welcome to JUST Branding, the only podcast dedicated to helping designers and entrepreneurs grow brands. Here are your hosts, Jacob Cass and Matt Davies.

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the latest episode of JUST Branding. We’re thrilled to have with us, I’m going to say her name wrong, Meg Kypena. How’s that?

Oh, good.

I got it right first time, everybody.

You didn’t say super excited this time. I know.

I know. I’m mixing things up today. I’m getting names right.

I’m not saying super excited. I’m thrilled. But who is Meg?

Right. Let’s get on to that. Now, Meg is a very interesting brand strategist.

She is a freelance internal brand strategist. And we’re going to come on to that because today’s theme is corporate branding from the inside out. And we’re going to come on to what all of that means in a minute.

But Meg is super talented. You’re going to fall in love with her. I’m sure she’s worked with brands like Capital One and Hilton and really big corporates that she can’t even talk about because they’re so big and so special and they have her under NDA.

So welcome to the show, Meg. We look forward to speaking to you. Welcome.

Matt, Jacob, thank you so much. I’ve literally been really looking forward to it. I’ll say I’m super excited, even if you’re not.

There we go. But no, I’ve listened to, what did I say, a long time listener, first time guest. Is that all?

That sounds good.

Yeah. So you guys do great stuff. And as a brand strategist and as a marketer, actually is really my background.

Yeah. I really appreciate everything that you guys are doing. So thank you.

I learn a lot from you guys.

No, well, I’m thrilled and I know Jacob as well to be able to put the spotlight on this concept of internal brand. So why don’t we start there? What is an internal brand strategist?

Just give us a high level overview and then we can jump into the details.

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Absolutely. So, you know, I had a lot of companies say, well, we have a story and we got to tell our story and we’re trying to live the story. And, you know, especially since the pandemic, everybody’s got to have a story.

But a lot of companies don’t know what a story is, how to write it, how to express it and sure as heck how to live it. So what I do is, especially when companies are going through big changes, I come in and I help them in three big areas. The brand strategy, really aligning that to their business objectives.

The brand messaging, making sure that it’s really clear and it’s on brand. And then the brand education is a big part of what I do, making sure that anybody internally who needs to understand how to express the brand does it.

That’s awesome. So, and you obviously come in as a sort of solo gunslinger, as I like to refer to ourselves and us that work alone, come in and you work then sort of as an external consultant kind of thing and kick that through.

And I come in on my own. Every once in a while, I’ll bring somebody with me if they have a specific skill set, like a brand architecture or something like that, that I say, okay, yes, I could do it, but they could do it better, right? I’ll bring somebody with me.

However, I always wind up with a team and it becomes their team. So every single time, whether it doesn’t matter what the company is, one of the first things I say is, all right, help me build a team. Who’s going to be part of this?

I love the coaching. I love the mentoring, but you guys know, having worked with big brands, it’s not about us. It really is about so much of this is the transfer of skill, right?

I would love for them to say, well, we always need you on retainer, but that’s not practical, right? At the end of the day, our biggest value that we can give to companies is helping them do this on their own. So I’m in, I’m out.

A lot of people, most of the people in the company, they don’t even know that I’m there and that doesn’t matter, right? So in this kind of a position, you really can’t exercise a whole lot of ego because it’s got to be all about them.

Yeah. So you go in burst of energy, activity, set them up. We’ll dive into what that looks like, I hope, in a bit, and then set them up.

And then do you hire that team or how does that work?

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No, it’s their own employees.

So you get allies inside the company to get on board with this and then push it all forward. Oh, brilliant. How exciting.

All right. Super. So let’s dive into, well, actually, before we do that, your background.

You mentioned you were in marketing. Just tell us how you got to do this. That’s a really interesting segue.

Well, it’s interesting because somebody asked me that this morning, as a matter of fact, at a new client kickoff, and they asked me, because I’ll share it with you, and now I’m dating myself, what was my first campaign? It was Y2K. My first campaign was Y2K.

So funny. Loads of people on this podcast are like, what’s that?

It’s like, what is Y2K? Yes, that happened way back then. So, yeah.

Yeah. I mean, that was a big thing. I was at a firm and we needed to make sure that all of our clients actually understood what was going to happen with their policies and everything like that.

If something big happened, we had all these contingency plans and everything. But it was what I started learning back then. Now, being in marketing for almost about 25 years now is the fact that so much of the marketing activities that support the brand is always on the outside.

It’s always external. Throughout my career, having spent so much time in marketing, a lot of marketers don’t get the opportunity to really understand what brand is all about. A lot of people in brand really don’t understand what it takes to execute on their strategy.

I love that creamy middle of bringing everybody together and making sure that enterprise brand might be over there and corporate comms is over there and you’ve got multiple marketing teams all over the place. Well, how do you get everybody together? How do you get everybody saying the same thing?

I spent 13 years at MetLife. I miss MetLife. I absolutely love MetLife.

And as a marketer coming in, you’ve got Snoopy and the Blimp. Come on, you just hit the jackpot. What else do you need?

But I was really young in my career and being five feet tall, I wound up in a Snoopy suit like multiple times. This is what’s going to happen. You’re in marketing, you’re short, you’re in the suit.

But what I absolutely loved about working at MetLife was understanding how what we did impacted the client. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got 10 people, 10,000 people, 100,000 people, every single person has a responsibility for the brand. That was a huge, huge thing for me.

You may not have brand or marketing in your title, but it doesn’t mean that you’re not responsible for it. After that, our division was acquired by another company. Then in 2017, I got laid off.

It was my turn. After that, I said, well, I’ve got all corporate, nothing but corporate behind me. I figured I would just go on and maybe become a CMO someplace else or whatever.

I was very, very fortunate that I decided, okay, I had some really good people in my life who were saying, Meg, you can do this. Whatever you did, you go do it for other people. Then I started that.

So in 2018, I was incorporated, I got my own thing going, and I’ve been doing that ever since. And I love it. I loved it.

I love it. Everywhere I go, I’ve got a new team, and I just absolutely love it.

No, that’s absolutely fantastic. I love that story. And so here’s a question for you.

So this idea of everybody owning the brand, I think is massive. It’s such an important thing for any company, I would say, but particularly corporates to kind of get into their mindset. But it’s something that, let’s be honest, I don’t think, at least a lot of my clients, that concept is sort of there often.

And so as a strategist, I am also, similar to you, championing this concept that everybody is responsible for the brand, and therefore everybody needs to understand it, etc. So, my question, I guess, is that, why do you think that that is sort of such an alien idea? Why is that sort of a peculiar idea to corporates?

And I guess the other question following on from that is, well, what other kind of things do you think bigger companies struggle with in relation to their brands?

Well, I think that a lot of the companies that, in my observation, they think that the brand is just part of marketing, that it’s their responsibility. It’s kind of like, if it’s finance, then it must be coming from the CFO. If it’s marketing, well, then there’s the CMO.

And I guess they do brand too. I think over the years that companies have really understood the power of brand, especially with everything that’s been going on with the pandemic, the great recession. I am such a student of anything, as you guys probably are about how the pandemic has impacted brand and what we need to be thinking about and all of that.

But a lot of the big companies are very siloed, especially if it’s a global company. So you’ve got the Americas, EMEA and APAC. Everybody’s got their own brand team.

Everybody’s got communications and everybody’s got multiple marketing teams. And I have been on multiple calls, as you guys have, I’m sure, where you’ve got representatives from everybody. And the first five minutes is everybody talking about, well, what do you do?

What do I do? And everybody’s literally listening to themselves.

Yesterday literally happened to be yesterday. And you’re like, what? Aren’t you supposed to be one marketing team or whatever?

You know, like one. It happened to be with leadership one time. I was like, you guys have never met.

Like, you know, wow. So of course they’re not connected. Incredible.

You know, and they’re not. And so coming from that world, you know, I get it. You know, I certainly get it because, you know, you’re, you’re very often, we’re so myopic in, you know, this is our division.

And these are our five pillars or four pillars, or these are our brand values. I guess those brand values are for you. Okay, fine.

I’m doing my job and I’m running my team and I’m, you know, worried that I’m going to be let go because we’ve got changes coming in, you know, there’s, and then just life, you know, just life. That because we didn’t end before the pandemic, people who are virtual were virtual, right? I think obviously everything with the pandemic has made us so much closer and everything smaller.

You know, that, you know, somebody in the APAC region for me, okay, I was on with Singapore a couple of weeks ago. They had a luncheon learn. It’s midnight my time.

Okay. No big deal. Right.

That’s fine. Get on the phone. We do our thing.

But I think companies struggle because they’re not entirely sure what brand even is. It’s kind of like this cloud of an idea. They think they know it.

But then when it comes to really what is it doing on the inside? I think people can flate. In fact, I’ve had this very spirited debates about this.

People can flate brand and marketing activities with employee engagement. So the marketing is campaigns and promotions and engagement is just, well, if we want more engagement, then just communicate more. And it’s got to be everything coming together, but it obviously has to align with their overall objectives for the business.

And there’s usually a huge mess there.

So Meg, if I was in one of these teams and I said to you as my internal brand strategist, well, what is a brand then, Meg? How do you sort of tackle that kind of question?

So it’s interesting because I do get that a lot and people say, well, what’s the difference between, you know, you’ve got branding and you’ve got this internal branding. And I mean, I use a lot of the stuff from level C, right? You know, branding is the act of managing meaning, right?

The way that I explain what internal brand is, is really it’s the act of creating the meaning you manage. So internally, you know, we can’t, we know that we don’t own the brand, right? But what I think is really interesting is the fact that employees kind of do.

They create the experiences and they set the tone for the brand, don’t they? And they create the product, the whole thing. So they create the space in which the customer or, you know, walks into and then makes up their mind as to what the meaning is that this brand is all about.

So they have the control over the signals that sent out. And so in that sense, they do have that kind of control.

Yeah, they do. They do. And I think too, especially with B2C, a lot of employees have the opportunity to be customers.

So there’s a Harvard business study several years ago that talked about the fact that with internal communications, there’s a lot of marketing messages that are external, that are not the same as the internal messages. So, I mean, you know, and we’ve all heard of them, right? And actually it’s happened to me where there was a merge with my company and another company, and I found out about it from a friend.

I found out like, hmm, what’s going to happen? And that’s not unusual, right? So there’s all kinds of different, but obviously what that, you know, results in is a lot of distrust on the inside, which certainly doesn’t help with culture, certainly doesn’t help morale.

And it really doesn’t give me a reason to stay.

It massively contributes with churn and so on. I think it’s such a big issue.

I was going to ask Meg about other questions you get regularly. What is brand or what is internal branding? How is internal branding different to external branding?

So I was curious, what else do you get inside?

Well, a lot of the questions are, what is this going to solve? Like, internal branding, isn’t that something that HR does? Or what have you?

And the three big, huge things that internal branding solves is alignment, a clearer message, that’s much more on-brand, and consistency in its execution. So from a strategic perspective, Jacob, there’s a lot of the brand management that has to happen, whether it’s the assets, whether it’s new assets, whether once you’ve got clearer messaging, what do you do with it? You’ve got all these employees.

Well, who’s actually responsible for expressing the brand? Externally and internally. Do they know how to write?

I’ll answer your question too with an example.

I’ll have examples.

Okay, good. I was just working with a company, and their organization has about 250 people in it. Of the 250 people, 43 of them are responsible for either designing or writing, something that has to do with the brand.

That’s a lot of people. When you’ve got attrition, people coming and going and everybody’s virtual and everything, well, there’s no wonder why the marketplace is confused about the brand, is because if you’ve got 43 people interpreting the brand in their own mind and then going to talk about it, you’ve got mixed messages and it just becomes overly diluted. You’ve got brand illusion.

So people say, well, what do we do? One of the other things that people constantly say, and when you bring this up to them, they’re like, well, we have brand guidelines.

We’ve got a logo and some fonts and a PDF with it all packed away inside. What’s wrong with it?


We’ve got a brand. Go away. One of the things that I love about this too, Jacob, is that I was guilty of this.

When we have brand guidelines, like, okay, so if I was a marketer and I needed to know, tell me about the lockup. Okay, page 43. Okay, I can’t put it in gray.

Got it. Or what’s that hex code for that blue again? Okay, that’s fine.

That’s pretty much it. But brand guidelines, by their definition, should be a roadmap for all employees, whether you are expressing the brand, part of the brand team, part of marketing, it doesn’t matter. It’s, this is who we are, this is how we tell the story, and this is how we need to behave in order to live it.

Like you, I’ve read hundreds, if not hundreds of thousands, of different brand guidelines, and what makes me, Matt knows I’m about to go off, and I’m going to do my best here, and that’s it.

Well, brand guidelines, people put them together. Very often, companies, it’s like a small team, or a person, or an external consultant that brings in a template, drops it off, beautiful PowerPoint, beautiful PDF. It goes into a shared folder that most people can’t even find, but it doesn’t come to life.

There’s no education behind it. There’s no teeth behind it. There’s no real explanation for what it’s supposed to do.

And as far as writing, as a copywriter, one of the things that I do in working with companies is say, all right, so show me some examples of how you express the brand on the inside. And then they’re like, but the billboard, like, no, that’s out. Like, how do you express it on the inside?

And I had a brand guidelines. The first thing that I do is I say, don’t, you know, let me get to your intranet and I’ll go find them. One of the things I do is a timing study.

Like it just kind of happened. There’s no real framework that I put to it. But I, in 30 minutes, I found you ready for this one company.

This was about a year ago, 14 different versions of the brand guideline. 14. And none of them were less than like 20 pages.

Right. So when you have the brand and again, all good intentions, we’re going to have this brand guidelines and all that and everything. They’re very often old versions of them.

Somebody came in, we don’t even have that. We’ve got the brand, you know, we’ve refreshed or we rebranded or whatever. Nobody scrubbed the intranet for the old versions.

The wireframes are all different. Everybody says something different. I mean, is there any surprise why people on the inside really don’t even know what they stand for?

And I think another issue I find with classic brand guidelines, which I kind of flick through from time to time, is they’re very executional in nature. And the strategic intent, if it was ever done, is rarely ever outlined. In other words, like, okay, so I understand this is how we express the brand, but what makes us different in the marketplace?

Why are we going to stand out? Who are the customers? And what’s the value proposition that we’re going to make for them?

And those key assets or key pieces of thinking, which people think traditionally all that’s just marketing, it isn’t, as we’ve pointed out, because if I’m on the front desk, I need to understand who our target market is and why we add value. If I’m in the call center, I need to understand that. If I’m creating product and I’m in a SaaS company and I’m developing the UX, I need to understand the brand strategy so that I can link my work with the high level intentions of the brand.

And they’re the bits which I feel often are missed because the job’s handed from a strategist to an executioner who then just goes and sort of executes. And the strategist kind of sort of step off. And that’s a mistake.

I think we’ve got to, like you say, inside out, it’s got to be, the strategist has got to see it through and make sure it lands internally. So perhaps we can talk a bit about that. You mentioned education being a key area.

So how do you go about educating a company?

Well, what’s really interesting is, you know, the first thing, just making them aware of all of the different things, all the different messages that are very different. One of the things that is part of the interview process, and then obviously part of the audit process is, you know, okay, so here’s all of your brand guidelines. We’ve got this one that’s 76 pages.

This one’s, you’ve got a voice guide that’s 20 pages. And then you’ve got a diversity version of that, that’s seven. Like, you know, tell me about the language, tell me about this, acronyms, all of that.

So you’ve got all that part, you know, and you’re also, also, this is a big one. A lot of companies don’t do that. I audit their LinkedIn profiles.

What, as individuals?

Or the leadership, everybody is right. So you think about it. So many companies right now are so concerned about, we’ve got to make sure that we’re bringing in the best talent.

Right. And I actually had a leader tell me, this was, I don’t know, maybe three or four months ago. Yeah, Meg, you talked a little bit about like, you know, LinkedIn profiles and we should all kind of lock arms and, you know, have the same look and feel and everything.

Can we not do that? And I asked him why, like why? And he says, because I don’t want recruiters to start, you know, coming after my leaders.

I said, well, hang on a second. Hold on, hold on. So you don’t want to have the same message externally as far as here’s who we are as a leadership team and this is what we stand for because you’re concerned that people are going to start picking up.

You know what? A LinkedIn profile, if they leave, it’s not going to be because somebody saw their LinkedIn profile, right? Let’s be honest, but I said…

If it is, what a terrible leadership team, if they’re just stuck together because of the LinkedIn profile.

But think about it from the perspective of, because we know that there’s research to show this, that talent that’s out there, they’re doing their homework. They’re doing their research, right? So if you’ve got Jacob and Matt, or Matt and Jacob, you guys can fight that out.

The head of the organization, and Meg’s coming in, she’s some good talent or whatever, I’m going to look at you both. But if Jacob still looks like he’s doing whatever, and then Matt, I don’t even know, they look like they’re completely separate companies.

He’s posting some weird stuff out there. We’re like, what is going on? Meg’s like, these guys are clearly off their heads.

I’m never going to join their organization. No, but you’re absolutely right. I think that’s a really interesting thing because we have personal brands, don’t we?

Leadership does, but there is a responsibility on leaders to appreciate and understand the company brand that they’re connected to and to be able to reflect that. If they’re posting stuff that is conflicting with the other leaders, then that’s not only confusing for their own teams underneath them and drives division within the company, but as you say, new talent can come along and it’s there for everyone to see. I think that’s where we’re getting to.

I don’t know what your thoughts are, Meg, but my view is that although I accept from what you’ve said, there’s an inside-out approach. Brands, in my view, need to be considered with both in mind, right? So the inside and the outside together, but the problem often is on the inside because they don’t understand it.

But it’s got to fuse together somewhere and that is the power. Would you agree with that? Or do you think they need to be treated for massively differently?

Well, they might be approached a little bit differently because you’ve got the opportunity, obviously, for employees to become part of the brand development, right? A lot of employees don’t think that they’re going to be part of it because maybe I’m in technology and brand is way over there. It’s not my job description, right?

You’re calling them brand ambassadors. I don’t even know what our values are, right? So, I mean, there’s something to be said for that, but I think that they need to be literally like this.

And when I was talking about people who express the brand, whether it’s through anything creatively or if it could be HR, it could be talent management, it could be marketing, it could literally be learning and development is a big one. I just did a survey with a client a few months ago, and one of the things that I found, I said, you know, well, for those of you, it was the 43 people, for those of you write on behalf of the organization, what are some challenges you have in writing? And I’ve got literally, I’ll read to you a couple of exact responses.

It said, I don’t know how to blend a personality that isn’t mine into my writing. One of the challenges, writing with consistency without sounding boring, getting creative without sounding off brand, having confidence that what I’m going to write will drive engagement and writing faster and more efficiently. So people aren’t sure how to even express the brand, like what words to say and how to do it.

Because, going back to the brand guidelines, many of the brand guidelines, once you’ve got that voice section, the personality, what have you, let’s face it, we’ve got three examples of how we sound and three examples of how we don’t. We sound like this, we’re really friendly, and we’re not jerks. We say this and we don’t say that.

There isn’t a word bank, a phrase bank, an acronym, just making sure that everybody’s on the same page. There really isn’t a lot of that. So you’re talking about the education.

One of the things that I do in sessions is I say, listen, what positions do you need, Phil? And I say, what do you mean? What positions do you need, Phil?

What are the most important positions? Well, we need a director of this, we need a VP of this. Okay, go pull those, give me copies of those job descriptions, and we’re going to together write them, rewrite them in the brand.

Now, again, we’re assuming that they know their purpose, they understand what it is that they have to offer, they understand who they serve, right? But they don’t know how to show up, right? They don’t know how to show up.

So these brand education sessions is answering that question. How do we show up? And so what we do is there’s a couple of things, and I know that Jacob likes frameworks.

Yes, he loves frameworks.

And one of the things that I love to do is whether it is going to be, and we do a lot of this with brand archetypes, by the way, because we do use them internally.

We’re a big fan of those on the show.

I know you are. I know you are. I learned so much from you, Matt, from some of the Level C stuff.

I thought I knew brand archetypes really well, because I kind of do, but I learned so much more. And then I started just reading this random book the other day.

First hand play over here.

And go. Yeah. So anyway, but the mantra and the motto, we talk about that.

I even bring up your book. But okay, so here’s an…

You blushing, Matt.

I am a little bit. Checks in the post, Meg.

All right. So listen to this.

All right. So if you can do this in Miro, Miro, you can do it in Google Sheets, whatever it is. Okay.

So you’ve got along the left-hand side, you’ve got 10 of their most often written about things. Like, you know, we’ve got an org announcement. We’ve got somebody new coming on board.

We’ve got a campaign we’re about to launch. We have a new product. We have a new course description, right?

So you’ve got little blurbs. And then along the top, you have every single archetype. So you break the teams up depending on how many and, you know, different groups or what have you.

But then if you’ve got their top 10, you know, things that they typically write on a regular basis, and then what you’re going to do is just divide and conquer. That’s 120 different messages that they’re going to learn how to do. They’re going to help with collaborative writing.

Just a lot of this, Jacob, really is to help them get out of their own head and write like something else. That’s such a big thing that people have to overcome.

Give me an example. Say, for example, ruler archetype. Some new leader is joining the company.

What kind of line would that look like?

Actually, I’ve got a real one right here. All right. So these were theirs.

So let’s just take Sage, Jester and Hero. All right. You’re getting started.

Let’s see. Welcoming our newest employee to the organization. Sage, this is what they wrote.

She’s published articles, guest lectured and cracked the code on key challenges in our industry. And now she’s bringing those insights, perspectives and possibilities to our organization. Jester.

So you’re Brad Pitt. That don’t impress. No, actually it does.

But check out who just joined the club. We’re so excited. We’re sitting on newspapers just in case.

And then Hero. Yeah, I know.

Hero, well, folks, we’ve officially leveled up. We have a new team player and they’re here to help us crush our goals and cross the finish line. Listen to this lineup of credentials.

So you give them, you know, again, this was a group that they took two hours. They wanted to do all 120 messages. But, you know, we had others as far as, you know, getting started with our product is easy.

Sage, Jester, Hero, you know, and Rebel. Everybody had a lot of fun. But at the end of it, right, they were like, well, what are we really, right?

So obviously we make sure that they understand, you know, who it is that they are and all that and how they show up. But the exercise isn’t necessarily about their brand. The exercise goal is to help them stop thinking of the brand on behalf of the organization.

One of the most important things that a leader said to me, actually, I was part of the meeting. She actually kicked off this exercise. And she says, going forward, if I see anything from the organization, I don’t want to know who wrote it.

I don’t want to be able to tell who wrote it. And we talked about that if you’re part of expressing the brand, and a lot of people worry about the credit, right? They worry about, well, it’s got to have my name on it.

It’s got to have this. People have to understand what it is that I’m doing. A lot of the people who I’m working with internally now, I teach them how to build a small portfolio of work, so that when it comes to whether it’s quarterly or the end of the review, you know, year or something, performance management, right?

Everybody has it. They can actually show what it was that they did and how they did it. Going through these kinds of exercises, I will tell you people get faster.

They get out of their head. They can write things more clearly. We put word banks in place.

And especially with the brand archetypes, we’re actually able to say, and we write these together, by the way, we go through, let’s say like hero, right? How does it sound? What are the phrases that resonate?

Calls to action, content types, right? Design themes, strategy examples, how a hero works with partners, what they want from other people, brand stories, right? So a lot of people say, well, when you’re in a big corporation, you don’t have a lot of creativity, right?

I’m actually the explorer. And what I love to do is get people out of that mentality, right? Well, I’m at corporate, so I can be like super, super creative in this tiny little area.

I show them that through brand strategy, you can actually be much more creative and faster and more productive.

And aligned.

Yes, aligned. Think about that, right? Going through that whole process, like with a leadership team and introduce, because you guys have done this, introduce brand archetypes to them.

Oh, they love it.

They love it. The challenge, though, is the last time I did this, I think we were 12. Yeah, it was just recently we were 12.

And everybody immediately is like, I’m the rebel. No, no, no, we need to be this. I mean, I’m like, it’s not it’s not we’re not picking Halloween costumes here.

This is a little something different. But when you help them understand that, you know, it’s rooted in brand psychology. We’ve got a lot of very technical people.

We’ve got, you know, folks that are just like, oh, this is kind of woo woo. I’m like, OK, well, I also understand, like, you know, Myers-Briggs, have you done that? Oh, I’m an IF, you know, LNOP.

OK, how about your an anagram? Oh, I’m a two. OK, well, tell me about disc.

I’m definitely a D. But this this brand psychology, I’m like, guys, where do you think it started? The guy’s name was Carl.

I’m going to do a little bit of education here. And we help people, you know, come in so that they’re actually owning, being part of developing the brand. I can’t say enough about it.

We there’s so many different exercises that you can do to make sure that everybody’s on the same page and that they’re expressing it so that when I leave, right, I get emotional thinking about it. But then I start reading their new job descriptions and then they’ll, you know, I’ll see an org announcement or press release or whatever. And it is on brand.

And I’m like, I remember that word. I remember that phrase. I remember that call to action.

And internally, they’re going through and rewire framing a lot of the different websites, you know, the web pages. Right. I had one organization just for their organization.

They had, I think it was 15 or 16 microsites. Like, I like what, how do you, how do you, how do you, because every leader wanted their own. Another thing, and you mentioned the NDAs, the reason that I can’t say anything about a couple of the companies is that they’re actually going through merges and acquisition.

That’s the juicy stuff right there. Because you’ve got people, think about it. You got people coming in with their own brand.

They might not know how to really express it, but it’s mine. Right. I’ve got my 43 marketing campaigns, and those are the ones that we need to have in flight.

And I’m already the CMO, so I guess I’m going to be the CMO here. And I’ve got my ideas and my this, my that. And then, yeah, you’ve got a CMO or a CEO that suggested, well, you know, maybe we can just get everybody t-shirts.

A new brand, a new logo. And it’s not how you’re going to build a brand.

You So Meg, I had a question about, you’re talking about personality here with the brand, and it sounds like you’re just like a copyrighting exercise, but how would you bridge the gap with visuals and the rest of the brand and merging that all together for the team?

Yeah, well, very often when people think, well, we’ve got to change things that we have to actually rebrand. And that’s a decision that is, it’s not like, well, I guess we’re gonna rebrand because nobody knows what the brand is, right? A lot of it is maybe it’s just not communicated correctly.

So again, leaning into the brand archetypes, we know that, let’s say, how to express it through hero. We know what a sage would look like and I help them understand. So I’ve worked, Jacob, with teams, with creative designers who are just like, well, I take the copy, I’ve got a little bit of direction because I’ve got the creative brief and then we just go off and running to the races.

They’re not at the table. They’re not at the table that’s making that happen. So when we, just recently, when we did a rebrand, they were right at the table.

They understood the brand archetype. They understood what it took. They went off and did some of their own research and then they came back and they were like, okay.

I mean, let’s be clear. Most organizations, they’ve already got like the one font you can use and the five colors with maybe a couple of shades. So a lot of creative folks think that you can’t go beyond that, right?

Like, well, Meg, we’ve got one. I guess I could make it bold, my font, or maybe italicize, but you know, there’s not a whole lot you can do. There’s just so much more.

Inceptually, absolutely. So a lot of what I’m doing is helping them change their perception over, you know, where they are now and where they could be. As part of that, Jacob, to further answer your question, is the actual management of it.

A lot of, you know, they say, well, how far back do we have to go and change stuff that’s on the internet or that flyer from 87 or like, well, like what, how do we, like, how do we, how do we catch up with the change? How do we make this real? And I’ll simplify for the sake of example, but, you know, we go to analytics and metrics, we say, you know, give us the engagement on the intranet, you know, the highest traffic sites, the highest traffic, you know, your marquee programs, if it’s, you know, L and D, you know, what’s all of the different parts of the organization.

And we audit, but I teach them how to do that, right? So we audit for the messaging, right? So you might have a tagline, but mine’s more of a description, but yours is kind of a slogan, kind of, sort of.

We’re all part of the organization, but your logo is like a pop of color and mine’s got like this weird leaf or something. So we actually take all of that, no judgments, no nothing, because the way that companies come and go and contract and expand and all of that, there’s always somebody making a different decision. And so we just say, this is where we’re starting from.

And they’re like, my God, no wonder everybody’s confused. And then I show them how to put a plan together so that whatever channel it is, however they show up, however they sound, whatever they look like, they can start making real progress over a timeline to get to that unified, aligned, consistent message. Does that make sense?

Loads of sense. So Meg, question for you. In your work as a freelance internal brand strategist, what are the biggest challenges that you kind of come across and how do you try and overcome them?

One of the biggest ones, and again, you hit it right off the bat, is coming in from the outside. So you’re not part of the company. You’re not one of us.

A lot of it is around the perception of consultants or contractors or people just coming in for a quick buck or something like that. You really don’t understand what it is that we do or how we do it. And it’s just the whole, you’re not one of us.

I’ll tell you, for me, I am able to get over that. And I think a lot of that has to do with just setting the temperature right off the bat. And going back, doing a lot of just the initial discovery work, you say, why do you need me?

You’ve got Enterprise Brand. You’ve got corporate communications. You’ve got all of this.

Why me? And it’s usually because they’re looking for somebody with fresh ideas who understands a complex organization, who understands what it’s like to be kind of piecemealed. And they say, we just need something fresh and new, right?

We need somebody coming in and pulling us together, right? And it can’t be one of the leaders of the organization or something like that. We need somebody outside who’s done it before.

That it’s a big, big challenge. But I mean, it’s nothing, nothing you can’t overcome. I think one of the other challenges obviously is just timing on everything.

Everybody wants a new brand to happen now and getting people to understand. Because look, I know, especially here in the US, a lot of the things that we do as far as timelines, we’re looking at 90 days, 90 days, 90 days, right? A brand is years.

It’s long term. So helping them understand that we’re going to put a, we’ll put a one year plan in place. This is what it’s going to look at the 18 month mark.

This is what it’s going to look at three years. They’re like three years. I don’t even know if I’m going to be here in three years, right?

And making sure that the right people get to the table. So often in big organizations and look, there’s a food chain, right? If you are an EVP and then SVP and then VP and then assistant vice president and then director, I don’t care.

I don’t care who needs to be put at the table, who needs to be part of the decisions, who is going to have something to say.

That and in working with organizations, unfortunately, they’re very often structured linearly, but brand is not linear. And so marrying those two from an organizational development standpoint while you’re helping them define and very often develop the brand does not always mesh and that’s tough.

Yeah, they find it confusing. I’ve got some products at the moment like that because they’re like, well, can’t we just give it to one person? It’s like, well, not really because you all own it, right?

So the only answer to that is we pull our thinking, we get you in a room, we thrash this out together, we make some decisions and they’re not used to doing that often, particularly cross regionally as well, I find. So you’re not only doing cross region, you’re doing cross function, right? That freaks the right out.

Whoa, I was going to talk to marketing? No.

Yeah, no, no, no. You know, a lot of people say, well, why do we have to have tech in the room? Or why would we have to have HR?

We don’t have any problems. Like, no, that’s not what HR, you know, or that’s not our problem. It is HR because L&D is under that and that’s talent management.

And that’s, you know, I think getting people, and that’s why I love kind of the Explorer so much, is that you just help people see the other possibilities, right? And you say, okay, take the employee journey, for instance, right? Have you guys mapped that out?

Like, well, yeah, you know, it starts with the awareness and then we’ve got the interviews and we’ve got this. Okay, great. And then eventually somebody comes on board and, oh, Meg, we even just have like a 90 day, you know, onboarding program.

And this is, you know, all those experiences and stuff like that. I’m like, okay, so hold on. You’re talking about brand, right?

Yeah. So how many people are going to apply for position? Right.

Well, more than one. And there’s going to be people who don’t get the position, right? Yep.

What do you say to them? We look for little tiny missed opportunities to express the brand. Right.

Two big ones are when you’ve got somebody who’s coming on board. We talk about, you know, day one, minute one. What’s that experience?

What’s the press release? Who’s helping them kind of get up and instead of here’s your computer. Good luck.

We’re all counting on you. Right. It’s what happened to the people and how are you expressing your gratitude?

And are you going to stay in touch with the people that you didn’t, you know, get the opportunity for? Like, what is that? If they’re communicated to at all.

And I think that another big missed opportunity with organizations is the off boarding. Exit and refuse. Typically, that’s HR.

They’re kind of sterile. It’s like, you know, keys, parking pass, computer, whatever. Oh my God.

Right. But what a huge opportunity to actually demonstrate. Why does that not?

I wasn’t even, I wasn’t even that bad. I mean, that’s another story for another time. I just, I just, it’s just the nature of corporate life, isn’t it?

But here’s a question, because we, you know, I think we’ve thrashed around some really insightful and interesting things. But I think, you know, for me, everything you’ve said, you know, puts the employee at the heart of the brand, which I think is so important. And what I find interesting about, you know, you talk about the employee experience, the missed opportunities, the training, the thinking, the engagement that’s required, the effort that companies you need to put in to make this happen.

It shows the power shift, you know, in a way that the brand is, you know, we often think the brand is owned by customers, but let’s be honest, what we’re talking about here is the brand is also owned by your employees, because as you say, or even people that have applied for a job and didn’t get the job, it’s owned by their perception of you, right? So you’ve got to manage all of that. So I think it’s remarkable.

It’s been so insightful. And final question for me, what’s the future? What are your views on the future?

What’s coming down the track in terms of internal branding that you think are big things for folks to think about?

Well, a couple of things. And this really is kind of on the heels of what’s going on with the pandemic. We’re just now really trying to figure out like, how did that impact branding, internal communications and marketing?

Like, what do they have to be thinking about differently? Well, we know a couple of two big things happened as a result of the pandemic. One, we got much better at becoming more visible, right?

Here’s the resources. Here’s the people that you need. Here’s what’s going on.

It was like everybody just all of a sudden got really good at communicating, right? Which proved that you can do it. Okay, you can absolutely do it.

In internal communications, when I’m working with a team, I talk about three levels of, it’s a little gory, but whatever. Your audience is awesome. You have different channels of communications.

You have arteries, you have veins, and you have capillaries, right? So typically the arteries, it’s the big stuff going through, whatever, all the way to capillaries. Maybe it’s just a little communication, internal team, whatever, and everything in between.

There were no veins and capillaries. It was straight up artery. And only the most important kind of message got through.

And it was a, I say anything good that came from the pandemic, but it did help people align their messaging. Like that is no longer important. This is making sure people understood what resources were available internally or externally for mental health, for connecting.

And that actually leads to the second one, which is there’s going to continue to be more authenticity. I think people really, truly understood when I was a, you know, if I’m a CEO and I’ve got to get something across, I don’t have my design team handy to do a slick video, right? I have my phone.

Okay. When restaurants happened, I know actually of a very, very wonderful gentleman, actually here in Charlotte, North Carolina, as all the restaurants were starting to close, he had a marketing team. He had laid them off.

He had an external videographer. Nope, couldn’t do that anymore. He took his phone and he was explaining.

It was like the sun was there and it was all like goofy and everything. But it was the restaurant owner saying, hey, we have takeout, and this is what we’re going to do and everything. And it just became this thing.

But that was just this amazing thing that people don’t want slick anymore. They want real. So people got much better.

I think in companies are going to continue with this because I don’t think we’re just going to go back. There is no more normal. We got better at making more important things, more visible and accessible, and we’re more real about doing it.

And I think with the two of those, oh my God, I can’t wait to see what other organizations are going to be doing with that.

That is awesome. Meg, you’ve been phenomenal. We’ve really enjoyed this conversation.

Jacob, do you have a final, final, final question for Meg? Yes.

Where can people find you? Oh, okay. So they can find me on LinkedIn or, and I’m excited, I’m about to launch my new website and it’s guide on the inside.com.

Oh, I like it. Explorer Archetype extraordinaire.

Little bit.

Awesome. Well, keep exploring. Thanks so much for stopping off and having a chat.

We’ve enjoyed it. And yeah, guys, connect with Meg. She’s phenomenal.

You reach out to her on LinkedIn. She’s always, well, I found she’s always very responsive. So any questions or anything like that, I’m sure I’m answering for her, but I’m sure she will take them in good spirits.

So thanks so much. Take care, Meg. All the best.

Thank you very much for explaining internal branding for us.

So much. You guys were great. And please keep doing what you’re doing because you’re making us better.

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