Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Communication within a brand or organisation is as important as communication with its external consumers, perhaps even more so. After all, if a brand is to live in the hearts of its employees, time, effort and resources must be allocated to ensure they understand the vision, mission, strategy and values of the organisation, and most importantly, their own role in the life of the business.

Internal communication can be a formal, structured process, dictated by the corporate identity and specific tone of the business, or it can be an organic process that evolves from the people of the organisation and shapes itself, explains Lindy Scott, managing and creative director of Conceptual Eyes. In the latter case, internal communications is a process of co-creation, instead of being driven from the top down.   

The greatest differentiator between marketing communications and internal communications, says Scott, is the consumer. The profile of the employees may differ vastly from that of its consumers in terms of literacy levels and demographics. This is a crucial point to take into consideration.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of taking the time to communicate with employees is the effect it has on their understanding of where they fit into the bigger picture. “People want to feel that what they do matters and makes a difference,” Scott points out. She says that internal communication is way to create a sense of pride among employees and show the value they add every day, in a way that is both fun and creative.

Creativity is an essential element in the process of bringing a brand or organisation to life from the inside. “We instil a sense of creativity in one of two ways,” says Scott. The first is to develop strategic workshops that are guided by creative tactics included in the experience, such as dance, industrial theatre and graffiti.  Moreover, because the content is internal and will not be seen by the public, Scott says the company has a lot of fun in the process.   “People can be really creative when they are given the opportunity to be so, which is why we often hand the creative side to the participants themselves.”

The second form of creativity comes into play with visual communications, through video content, voice-overs and the like. “Often we use the employers themselves be the actors, voices or models, thereby making content personal and providing employees with a sense that the content belongs to them. It is an effective way of getting them to buy into the brand and what it stands for.”

The big take out

Internal communications have become an essential to the way employees buy into a brand, and should consist of a unique, personalised approach that fosters a sense of ownership and pride.

There are certain industries where the right type of communication among employees can make the difference between life and death, such as in mining or manufacturing. Over the past two years, the company has done a great deal of work within these industries around health and safety, under the title Health and Safety Dialogue. “In this space, presenting the information in a visual way helps to simplify content that can otherwise be seen as long and boring, though it is essential to the wellbeing of employees in these environments. In addition, visual communications help to break down language barriers and overcome low levels of literacy,” she says.

In this sector Scott believes creativity in internal communications saves lives, and the more creative the content, the more likely it is that employees will buy into it. Tactics such as gamification, storytelling and reward and recognition work particularly well in this environment. Success in health and safety campaigns is heavily reliant on factors such as co-creation, employee participation, consultation and leadership.

Scott stresses the important role of leadership in successful internal communications across all sectors. “Strong leadership is vital in a business. Mixed messages spread like wildfire and can cause leadership to lose credibility among employees,” she says. “At the same time, you don’t have to be an executive to be a leader, and initiative shows at all levels.”

Successful internal marketing campaigns have a number of factors in common. Scott explains that this is a discipline where a cut-and-paste approach does not work. The first step is to understand the audience of the campaign and to create a unique concept that is inspired by the brand itself. Second, there must be some form of engagement with the audience, and this is a way in which success can be measured – “one can tell from body language, facial expressions and how many selfies are being taken whether or not the audience has bought into your campaign,” says Scott, adding that creativity, consistency and visual identity are all vital.

She concedes that many of the trends coming into the industry are challenging to implement in Africa, due to problems with infrastructure. Virtual reality and artificial intelligence (AI) are driving many trends, such as the use of goggles for training, she says. In addition, AI is fostering discussions around the importance of the development of soft skills. Collaboration remains a major trend, as is corporate citizenship. “Employees want to know what they can do for the economy or the environment, yet organisations must be careful not to force the issue and simply open the floor for discussion.”