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Jennifer Zanfardino

Cheering On Your Internal Brand

Once upon a time I coached a mediocre high school cheerleading squad.

Being average is fine when you want to hide. Not when you cheer for a nationally ranked football team, and share half time with a nationally ranked dance team. Yet there I was my first season watching, pom poms flail without passion.

As I moved into the second season, I knew my girls had the talent to live into the reputation established by their fellow teams. It was my job to give them direction, goals and belief that they could.

I posed a challenge to my girls. I told them that at the first game I wanted people in the stands talking about how good they were. Not the football team. Not the dance team. Not how much fun the first Friday night of football season was. I wanted the thousand or so people in attendance to say, “Wow, THAT’s the cheerleading squad?!”

That season we had a common goal. We were aligned, and therefore held each other accountable. They weren’t in it alone. When we ran laps together to build endurance, and I hung back with the girls bringing up the rear to cheer them on. When rehearsing the half time routine, the girls in the front of the formation were just as important as the girls in the back. There was nowhere to hide because as a team they were only as good as their weakest link.

That season we also had to make some tough decisions about which girls would be flyers (girls thrown in the air), which put one captain in a tremendously foul mood for a few days. But when she realized the change truly elevated the quality of the performance she came around.

And then it was time for our first game of the season. In the two minutes and thirty seconds my girls were on the field their spot-on, energetic, performance wowed the crowd. They were the same girls but a different team. The fans, mostly there for the other teams, were amazed.

The cheerleaders came off the field even more excited than they had taken it. Some even cried with pride. They had raised their bar for excellence.

So why am I writing about high school cheerleading on a blog that’s supposed to be about internal branding?

At their core, internal brands are all about creating a common goal, and helping every person involved understand their unique role in achieving that goal. In the case of my cheerleading squad our goal was to live up to the incredibly high performance standards set by the football and dance teams. And to wow the crowd. With my cheer squad, the base (girl lifting the flyer) was just as important as the girl who was shown off by being thrown in the air. If the base didn’t do her job, then the flyer couldn’t do hers. The performance suffers. The team keeps its mediocre reputation.
This is the same with any organization. If you have externally built your brand on providing a quality product, but your line manager doesn’t feel responsible for producing a quality product, then maybe he looks the other way when that widget doesn’t quite live up the standards the organization expects because it makes his job easier. That, in turn, jeopardizes your product and your customer’s perception of your brand.

Internal brands, just like my cheerleading squad, are only as strong at their weakest link. It doesn’t matter if you’re fielding a call about a schedule, dealing with a customer face-to-face or the last point of contact before the product leaves the warehouse. Everyone needs to be clear on the goals of the organization and work to fulfill those goals in their unique capacity. When everyone does this, external brands can really sing. Look at Zappos. Or Nordstroms. Or Google. Presumably every employee understands what they’re there to achieve, whether it’s by answering phones or shipping products.

When everyone is in it together, that’s when you accomplish greatness.

Don’t worry. I’m here to cheer you on.

So how can I help you with your brand?