External branding is a valuable tool for your company, drawing in clients and retaining them. But your clients aren’t going to stick around if your employees don’t. One solution to increase employee engagement is to create an internal brand that your team can rally and align around. 

“If your internal branding is effective, it won’t be visible to your clients per se but will bleed through your employees to your clients. It can’t help but do so,” says Steve McKee, author of Power Branding and President of McKee Wallwork and Company. Your employees are your studio’s foundation—and your business can’t live without the mission and vision of your product emanating through every piece of your structure. Duke Business School researchers teamed up with Columbia for a recent study, which showed that not only could corporate culture drive success internally, it can also earn you more money. The study surveyed more than 1,400 CEOs and CFOs across North America, who conclusively revealed the importance of culture, internal structure and communication. Here’s how to make sure you do it right.

Internal branding is often thought of as some dictum sent down by HR—but don’t let it feel like that. The big difference: HR is about helping employees understand the transactional components of their employment and minimizing risk or dissatisfaction on the job. Internal Branding is about communicating vision and encouraging risk-taking. It might seem impossible to try to separate the two, especially in a small organization, but when executed correctly, it can be a game changer. “Done properly, it will make people run through walls. Handled improperly, it will build walls. It’s really that simple,” McKee says. Consider drawing up a culture code, where you can make expectations and execution well defined. Having something to refer to, that doesn’t feel like an HR document, will give staff members the chance to see that they fit in with how work is done. It also sets a standard you can hold yourself to.

The last thing you want is for the essence of your studio to feel inauthentic. Take the time to think through why you opened your studio and what drives your passion every day. Write that down. Then share it with your employees. Not all clients may learn your vision, especially first-time visitors, but each and every single employee should live and breathe it. The best way to achieve this? Leave the dramatics at the door. Exclamation points, clichéd team building and corny activities are not going to sell it. “That will backfire,” McKee says. “Be real, be genuine, be winsome.” You had to believe in your product enough to start it, so show that passion to your team, which is going to want honesty above anything else. Host workshops that can inspire, where people will actually learn and get something out of it—plan events and offer rewards that your staff will want.


If employees like and respect the company, it will not only produce success on an external scale, it will create loyalty, longevity, honesty and efficiency within your organization. McKee says his company uses two phrases that apply to this.  One is “be careful—your strategy is showing.” The other is “don’t advertise your aspirations.” If your internal branding is strong, it won’t feel like something is ‘showing’ or being ‘advertised,’ it will simply be. Think about the number of dollars going toward external marketing and channel that internally. It doesn’t need to be split in half but an investment, whether financial or not, will pay off greatly.