Internal brand vs. external brand: what’s the difference?

Caroline Russell - profile image
By Caroline Russell
Account Director

When people think about branding, they tend to think about external elements: logos, slogans, colours and adverts. But a brand is so much more.

As neatly defined by Seth Godin: “A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer's decision to choose one product or service over another.”

Recognisable, consistent and powerful external brand messaging is the cornerstone of any successful marketing strategy. It’s what sparks your clients’ or customers’ attention, hooks them in, and keeps them coming back to you.

But a successful brand isn’t just about how well you communicate your brand externally to potential customers, it’s also about how you communicate your brand internally  to your employees and stakeholders. 

In this blog, we’ll give an overview of:

  • What is an external brand?
  • What is an internal brand?
  • What are the differences between the two?
  • How are the most successful brands marrying the two together?
  • Why must external and internal branding be aligned?

What is an external brand? 

Your external brand identity is what makes you immediately recognisable to your clients.

A brand is made up of visual elements (logo, colour palette, stylised icons, specific fonts, image style) and written elements (including your purpose statement, positioning statement, company values and tone of voice).

The brands that are most successful in inspiring customer loyalty are those who know their audiences deeply, articulate a clearly defined purpose, and present a consistent look and feel across all their communications. In other words, they know:

  • Why they exist
  • Who they’re talking to
  • What they want to communicate
  • How they’re going to communicate it

As Seth Godin says: “Design is essential but design is not brand.” 

While visual elements are important, these elements are the substance of a brand identity – and that’s what matters increasingly to consumers

A 2020 study by Zeno Group spoke to 8,000 consumers globally and found that when a brand has a clear purpose that’s communicated effectively and consistently, customers are:

  • 4 x more likely to purchase from the company
  • 6 x more likely to protect the company in the event of a mistake or public criticism
  • 4.5 x more likely to champion the company and recommend to friends and family
  • 4.1 x more likely to trust the company

Your external brand messaging inspires engagement, purchase, and loyalty from your customers.

What is an ‘internal’ brand?

An internal brand – also referred to as an employer brand and linked to your employer value proposition (EVP)– is what inspires engagement and loyalty from your employees.

Rather than communicating to customers, your internal brand is the way your organisation embodies and communicates its values, identity and purpose to employees and stakeholders.

The ultimate goal of an internal brand strategy is to ensure all employees understand and buy into the company's purpose and culture, and are empowered to live into it.

Learning and development pathways, employee policies, internal communications and teambuilding are all integral to creating and communicating an authentic, successful internal brand.

What are the differences between an internal and external brand?

A successful brand on the inside and outside is one that understands and articulates its value proposition effectively and cohesively for both its market and its people.

  • The goal of an external brand strategy is to make compelling promises to your customers or clients
  • The goal of an internal brand strategy is to ensure your company culture underpins, embodies and delivers on its external brand promises 

That’s why we take an ‘inside out’ approach to branding. A successful brand starts on the inside, equipping your employees with the skills, resources and motivation to deliver on the promises your organisation makes to customers.

Exceptional brands inside and out

The most successful brands right now are those which champion their purpose and their people.

Here are a few examples of brands that walk the walk and talk the talk.

Innocent Drinks

Not only are Innocent Drinks hilariously funny to follow on social media, demonstrating innovative and off-the-wall ways to engage with their target customers, but their website shouts about the ways they live their values, and put their people at the centre of their brand messaging.

Their external branding gives as much importance to everything they do for people and the planet as it does to their products, while their recruitment page does an exceptional job of showcasing their company culture.


Salesforce consistently wins ‘Best Place to Work’ awards and currently tops the Glassdoor rankings as the best place to work in the UK.

Not only does their website tell a compelling brand story showcasing their commitment to helping people and communities around the world, they also show how they empower their teams, provide opportunities and promote equality.


Pfizer’s purpose statement is ‘Breakthroughs that change patients' lives’. Ali Fox-Robinson, Head of Colleague & Community Engagement at Pfizer spoke to us about the impact of building an internal brand around this purpose: “It's been hugely energising because 90,000 people around the world can get behind something and have a framework they can really live and work by.”

Defining their purpose and embedding it internally and externally has made a huge impact on attracting and retaining talent, strengthening their brand message even further. Ali told us: “I interviewed one of our graduates and asked her why she chose Pfizer. She said: I came because I loved what I heard about the purpose. And when I showed up and started working here, it turned out to be true.’”

Why your internal and external branding has to be aligned

When your internal branding and external branding strategies align, your organisation truly has integrity. You become a company that is authentically purpose-driven, as well as profit-driven.

Across all industries, brand success necessitates going beyond providing high-quality goods and services. The brands that truly stand out and are most likely to be chosen by consumers are those which communicate and embody their values across every single touchpoint.

Your employees are integral to your brand strategy – because every touchpoint a consumer has with your brand affects your reputation. Every individual who works for you is a face and a voice of your organisation – and when they fully understand your brand, inside out, they can do their job better. 

To enable this, it’s essential that you invest time and resource into creating and communicating internal brand messaging that reflects your company values, and drives your workplace culture.

Your people give your brand its life force. 

When you attract both the talent who share your vision and values, and the customers and clients who buy into and support your purpose, your brand becomes fully cohesive. This is what energises and motivates your people, enhancing and growing your external reputation.

Get the inside right – and the outside follows.