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Submit a Manuscript to the Journal

Services Marketing Quarterly

For a Special Issue on

Reinvigorating internal branding research: Employee needs, non-traditional employees, and technological advancement

Manuscript deadline
01 October 2023

Cover image - Services Marketing Quarterly

Special Issue Editor(s)

Lina Xiong, Colorado State University
[email protected]ostate.edu

Enrique Murillo, Universidad Panamericana
[email protected]

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Reinvigorating internal branding research: Employee needs, non-traditional employees, and technological advancement

Internal branding research has achieved rapid growth in the past two decades. Originally proposed as an ancillary branch of corporate branding, this research field emphasizes the critical roles of employees in delivering the brand promise to customers. It is particularly important for services marketing because of the intangibility and variability of service products. Without brand-aligned employees, service organizations are unlikely to substantiate their brand promise to customers, attain meaningful differentiation in saturated markets, or achieve customer-based brand equity.

However, recent reviews of the literature reveal a troubling trend, whereby the rapid growth of internal branding is driven more by quantity than quality, as reflected in new or novel insights. Indeed, many recent internal branding articles appear to be near replications of earlier studies in their research objectives and designs, thereby offering a limited contribution to our knowledge. The repeating theme is the examination of how organizational practices (e.g., brand communication, HR management, leadership) affect employees’ brand perceptions (e.g., brand understanding, brand internalization, brand ownership), and subsequent employee brand-aligned attitude and performance (e.g., brand commitment, brand building behaviours). Similarly, most extant internal branding research adopts survey instruments inquiring employees’ brand perceptions, which often result in common method bias and survey fatigue. This repeating theme spans across study contexts (e.g., hotels, banks, universities, hospitals, call centers) as well as disciplines (e.g., marketing, service/brand management, tourism and hospitality journals).

In addition, the term internal branding seems to be turning into a buzzword or a fashion, showing limited understanding of the concept in the broader examination of the brand management literature. For example, some studies conflate internal branding with employer branding or with internal marketing, or frame internal branding as a tool to achieve traditional HRM objectives, such as engagement, job satisfaction or employee retention without any mention of internal branding frameworks or brand-related outcomes. Furthermore, we also observe siloed journal publications which indicate an even more alarming trend whereby researchers tend to cite studies from their own disciplines, and are thereby confined to their field. Whether it is due to institutional merit systems (e.g., certain journals are ranked higher in different institutions) or researchers’ familiarity and preference for certain journals, we see a severe lack of interdisciplinary research. This observation is also evident in the future research directions proposed in internal branding studies. The authors tend to focus on possible extensions of existing research, be it a different context (e.g., internal branding in the public sector), a more nuanced view of internal branding at different levels of the organization, or more validations. Although these directions have merits, if this trend persists over the next decade, it is likely that internal branding research will run out of steam and eventually, into the ground.

The above observations suggest that internal branding research has reached a saturation stage, which significantly impedes its ability to be thought-provoking or to meaningfully examine contemporary trends and disruptions in the service work environment, including automations, AI-facilitated management decision-making, and non-traditional employees (e.g., gig workers). Although these disruptions are supposed to increase productivity, reality suggests that employees are increasingly treated as a disposable resource by the “faceless” management (i.e., algorithmic management). Instead of managers talking to employees to understand their challenges and aspirations, they increasingly rely on performance tracking software and endless internal surveys to gauge employees’ performance and wellbeing. These concerns are rarely addressed in internal branding research. Very few studies have considered the diversity of employment arrangements linking service providers to their organization in today’s workplace (e.g. permanent, temporary, agency/outsourced, gig workers, etc.). The impact of weaker contractual ties on the effectiveness of internal branding is an urgent research need, given that organizations relying on non-traditional work arrangements are as concerned as ever with the successful delivery of their brand promise. While some studies have examined the role of psychological contract fulfilment in internal branding processes, non-traditional work arrangements constitutes a different and pressing issue.

We believe that a principal reason for the focus of extant research as well as the lack of new research addressing current internal branding challenges is the transactional management-centric approach traditionally adopted. That is, the research focus is how employees react to a variety of brand-oriented practices in organizations. There is also a severe lack of internal branding studies that consider what the employee wants or expects from the brand, and subsequent consequences on employees (e.g., exhaustion). From this perspective, the responsibilities and control of internal branding outcomes are considered to be shaped by management, which is in line with how brands have traditionally been managed. This traditional view of brand management, and the management-centric approach in internal branding is increasingly perceived as unfitting for the contemporary challenges. In consideration of the changing workforce aspirations after the COVID pandemic, there is an need for internal branding researchers to break out of this crowded space to explore the uncharted territory defined by these pressing issues.

In summary, current internal branding research appears to be transactional, management-centric, and suffers from repetition studies, siloed publications, lack of consideration of the changing labor market and lacking in innovative and effective research methods. Accordingly, the purpose of this Special Issue is to build a collection of innovative and meaningful internal branding articles to drive continuous research growth. Studies that adopt the emerging perspective of brand management that focuses on brand meaning being co-created by multiple stakeholders are encouraged. A focus on an employee brand agency, that views employees as active players that affect branding outcomes, is encouraged. Furthermore, a sensemaking perspective that focuses on how employees, including brand managers, address information asymmetry and make sense of the brand in a changing environment, is encouraged. Studies of employees’ understanding of the brand from a sensemaking perspective are very scarce. Compared to prevalent research that examines how employees “react” to internal branding practices, a sensemaking perspective emphasizes a more organic process that brings to the fore the challenge of each individual employee trying to make sense of his/her work environment, and in particular of the intangible brand and brand promise that they are expected to deliver in every service encounter. This perspective also expands our understanding of how to extend the internal branding process to everyone responsible for the branded service experience, beginning with employees but including strategic partners as well. Accordingly, research methods that observe organic brand building attitudes and behaviours in employees’ natural environments are also encouraged.

This Special Issue provides a platform for innovative internal branding research ideas that will inspire meaningful research in the decades to come. In addition to the examples described above, we also encourage interdisciplinary research that contributes to our understanding of how employee-based brand equity is achieved from multiple perspectives (e.g., customers, brand managers) and different fields (e.g., service marketing, hospitality, tourism). Consistent with the journal’s scope, we encourage both conceptual and empirical submissions with appropriate theoretical support and clear and actionable policy/industry implications. We also welcome thought pieces that can inspire public, practitioner, and academia debates. Contribution and reflection from practitioners with respect to internal branding in the real world are highly encouraged.

We welcome submissions relating, but not limited, to the following topics:

  • With organizations’ increasing reliance on non-traditional work arrangements (e.g. casual, temporary, agency/outsourced, gig workers, etc.), what is the impact on internal branding?
  • How do service automation and AI-facilitated management decision-making affect the future of internal branding?
  • How do service providers make sense of the brand to deliver the brand promise?
  • How do service providers address brand information asymmetry from multiple informal and formal sources?
  • How can internal branding address employee needs and enhance employee wellbeing?
  • How should internal branding practices adapt to encourage employees’ and strategic partners’ co-creation of the organization’s brand equity?
  • What is the co-creation process of the brand experience involving service providers, management, service systems, and customers from a longitudinal perspective?
  • How can the impact of employee-based brand equity on customer-based brand equity be conceptualized and measured?

Submission Instructions

Interested contributors are encouraged (but not required) to email a 300 word Abstract to the Guest Editors for a preliminary assessment of paper suitability for the Special Issue. Please note that a favourable opinion on the Abstract in no way anticipates the outcome of the blind peer review of the full manuscript.

All completed manuscripts should be submitted using the ScholarOne platform and selecting “Special Issue on Internal Branding”. Interested contributors should be guided by the Instructions for Authors, and the Aims and Scope of Services Marketing Quarterly, particularly the journal’s emphasis on translational research. As a consequence, systematic literature reviews or bibliometric analyses of internal branding research would not be appropriate for this Special Issue.

Instructions for AuthorsSubmit an Article

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