Do your internal communications match your external brand?

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They should, and the only way to find out if they are is to get out and have conversations with the people you’re trying to reach

You have a kick-ass website that really resonates with your target audience. It reflects your brand: cool, hip, a bit irreverent and modern. In fact your marketing efforts have won awards!

Communicators … high fives all around, right? Well … not so fast.

Here’s the deal. Only your employees can actually bring your brand to life in the eyes of your audience. You can have the best website and award winning marketing efforts, but they mean nothing if your internal brand doesn’t match up.

This was the situation at Houlihan’s restaurants. They nailed their brand … at least externally. Internally … well, not so much. To their credit, they recognized the gap.

That’s when we got the call to work on a really fun project. The goal:  help them with their internal training materials. When we started the project, this is what their funky, cool award-winning website looked like:

Screenshot 2014-04-07 15.12.12

And this is what their internal training materials for employees looked like:

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Antiquated. Old-fashioned. Walls of text. Just plain boring.  Lots of jargon. In other words, like just about every other company in their industry.

You can see how see how dangerous this situation is. They’re in the business of selling not only food—but a complete dining and drinking experience. The materials they use to build that experience looked like they came from the 1950s – certainly not the way to get your employees onboard and ready to deliver the hip, cool and fun vibe you’re selling.

The fact of the matter is the line between external and internal communications is blurred, if not erased all together. Thanks to social media, anyone and everyone can spread the word about how good or bad you are in seconds.

You’ve got to get it right and make sure your internal communications match your external brand. You’ve got to make sure your employees not only work according to your brand and values but they reflect your brand and values.

So, how did we start the transformation? First, we listened. This was the crucial element of this project. We started by talking to employees and leaders throughout the organization.

We had them tell us what was working and what wasn’t. What did they love the most about their jobs? What was most challenging? How did they use the current training materials? In a perfect world, what would the training program look like? What kind of people are hired at Houliahan’s? What would the perfect candidate for a position look like?

The answers and insights to these questions were pure gold. When you look at the old materials, anyone could go in and just edit the copy. That part was easy. The trick was to understand the program, the culture and the business so we could bring the training program to the next level, not just update the materials.

There were three major ‘A-ha’ moments after we talked to the Houlihan’s employees:

  1. Clearly a good explanation of the culture and personality was missing from the training materials. Dry, corporate canned copy along with some pretty boring graphics wasn’t getting the job done.
  2. There was too much stuff. Most of the trainers and managers didn’t even use half of the materials given to them. They literally cherry picked the pages (out of hundreds of pages of information available to them) that they actually used and basically built their own training structure. The rest of it just sat on the shelf, collecting dust.
  3. There wasn’t enough about sales. Outside of serving, one of the most important responsibilities a server has in any restaurant is to sell more food and drinks. After reviewing over a thousand pages of training materials, not only was the sales aspect of the job not highlighted, it was completely absent.

We completely blew up the training pieces they had and we simplified. Hundreds of pages were cut from the training materials and put online for additional reference. We updated the copy to match their brand, culture and demographic. We paid attention to the graphics, and made them just as important as the words themselves.

We also created two pieces: A culture piece and a sales piece. These are the foundation of their training program and really help trainers introduce the Houlihan’s culture and explain the experience that the servers are expected to deliver.


Culture Piece (click for a closer look):

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New design by Collision Labs


Sales Piece (click for a closer look):

Screenshot 2014-04-07 15.27.13

Most important, we changed the tone and style of the writing. We went from “corporate” to “creative.” We got hip. We spoke the language of the employees we were trying to reach.

The writing became more conversational, more relaxed, and easy to skim and still hit the main messages.

In short, working with the talented folks in Houlihan’s marketing and communications departments, we helped create a new internal “voice” for Houlihan’s. One that employees would identify with and pay attention to.

But before we ever started writing, before we ever started swapping drafts with the Houlihan’s folks, we listened. Changing the training materials wasn’t just about good copywriting. We first had to understand the culture.

That’s something every communicator should remember. In order to reach, engage, motivate, and educate your employees, and help build an internal culture that matches your external brand,  you first have to listen to your audience.

And then ask yourself: Do the communication pieces you create support what you’re trying to do? Does your internal voice reflect your brand, your desired culture, and the people you’re trying to reach?

If not, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. If you’re struggling with this, it’s time to get out of that cube and start talking to people at all levels in the organization.

Then, and only then, can you make the adjustments necessary to get noticed. And getting noticed is half the battle.