Visual Storytelling: Connect With Employees via a Strong Brand Identity

When do employee communications most often fail? When the employee sees them. Without an employee brand identity to immediately grab the employee’s attention, your time and the opportunity to communicate are wasted.

What is an employee brand identity? It’s a comprehensive, coherent and compelling visual format for deliverables. It’s a meaningful set of colors, artwork elements, typefaces and aesthetic considerations, such as balance, proportion and use of space. It’s an approach that uses those non-verbal elements to motivate employees in ways that words alone cannot. It’s what moves communication beyond merely efficient to truly evocative.

An employee brand identity adds value in six ways:

1. Creates a connection. An employee brand identity creates an emotional connection between the employee and the company. Corporate identities have long used visual communication in their advertising and marketing to build brand loyalty among external audiences. Who doesn’t understand the meaning of Big Blue or the Golden Arches?

Companies seeking to maximize employee engagement extend that branding internally. They know that a well-crafted visual approach will move employees on a fundamental, emotional level. Plain text, no matter how well-written, cannot do it alone.

Consider the difference between the reading of a play and its theatrical presentation. Actors sitting on stools on an empty stage reading the script can communicate the words, but the same words enhanced by sets, costumes, staging and lighting tell the story in a much deeper, more meaningful and more memorable way.

2. Tells your company’s story. An employee brand identity indicates consistency and stability. Every company has an underlying story that links the present to both the past and the future. That story is expressed through the culture of the company and depicted by signs, symbols and other iconographic representations. An employee brand identity weaves these signs and symbols into a visual narrative that faithfully depicts the company story.

When the company changes, the identity changes. Outmoded visual elements are dropped, important ones retained and new ones introduced. The evolution is subtle, but not drastic. This builds confidence that change represents growth, not disruption.

3. Shows respect for the people behind the brand. An employee brand identity shows respect for the employee. A company will spend millions of dollars cultivating consumer devotion to its brand. Promotions are developed and tested, then revised and retested until all verbal and visual elements work together to maximize the appeal. Employees are then charged with fulfilling the marketing promise. They’re the first point of contact with customers.

But the training materials? They’re often dull, lifeless and unappealing—decks, binders and intranet portals filled with pages and pages of tiny type, stale clip art, cluttered layouts and meaningless photos. Employees see the difference and sense the implication.

The distinctive look and feel of an identity builds enthusiasm. Brief, bulleted statements set in large, legible type makes reading easier. Clean layouts without clutter reduce fatigue. Relevant illustrations and photos reinforce the message. All of this presented in a familiar visual framework acknowledges employees as valued team members, not commodities.

4. Clarifies messaging. An employee brand identity serves as a beacon for employees deluged by messages. Information threatens to drown us all. Employees see thousands and thousands of printed and digital pages every day. How can a company designate the truly important messages? By having a distinctive identity that enables quick recognition. Moreover, a comprehensive, yet flexible identity establishes a family relationship that ties together e-mails, memos, benefit reports, financial updates and policy statements no matter what department is issuing them.

5. Encourages kinship. An employee brand identity builds kinship. It connects employees to the company and to one another. This is especially important among road warriors and remote workers who lack frequent direct contact with other employees. Outside the office, they recognize and bond with other employees who are wearing apparel branded with the employee identity.

It is also critical for building connections with workers in facilities abroad. Text is translated into native languages, subtly changing meaning and intent. But the identity remains intact, its signs and symbols evoking a consistent emotional response.

6. Leverages for recruitment. An employee brand identity helps recruitment and onboarding. When a potential employee—especially a high performer—looks at a company, the question is: Does the company’s internal brand signal alignment with the expectations developed by the external one? By visually complementing the external corporate brand, the internal identity indicates that the answer is: “Yes.” Once a person is hired, that answer needs to be confirmed.

You spend hours writing a brochure, report or policy statement. The text aligns perfectly with company strategy and the purpose of the particular topic. Then you send it out and the employee immediately drops it into the shredder.

Want to avoid that scenario? Make sure your company has an employee brand identity. PRN

[Editor’s Note: This article was excerpted from PR News’ Employee Communications Guidebook, Vol. 2. This and other guidebooks can be ordered at]


This article was written by Bob Zeni, president of Bob Zeni & Associates, a branding strategy and communications development agency. He can be reached at


Looking to better visually connect your brand with your employees? Here’s a checklist to use from Bob Zeni, president of Zeni & Associates.

• Does the identity align, support and reflect the fundamental aspects of the employee brand?

• Does the identity convey the company’s story in an accurate, memorable manner?

• Do the employee brand identity and the external corporate identity support one another—are they similar, but not identical?

• Are there enough visual elements to handle a variety of applications—posters, brochures, intranet pages, video, PowerPoint presentations, premiums—without boring repetition?

• Does the identity take into account corporate identity standards (use of corporate logo), employment policy language (EOE tagline) and sustainability efforts (use of soy inks and FSC-certified paper)?

• Do the deliverables have impact, strength and appeal without seeming extravagant and wasteful?

• Does the mix of print, video, smartphone and Web site deliverables correspond to the employees’ preferred method of communicating?

• Is there space on English-language deliverables to accommodate translated text that requires more space, such as Portuguese or German?

• Is there an organized, easily accessible repository of digital assets in native software applications (often Adobe CreativeSuite) and popular exported formats—JPEGs, TIFFs, PNGs? Does the repository have a directory?

  • Judy Williams

    Why should branding be only “visual?” What about voice messaging from company phones? How we respond (or not) to email messages? In other words, is there a place for non-visual, customer service communications that also expresses our brand?