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After more than 50 years spent building a brand by connecting with Canadians through value pricing and product promotions, Pizza Pizza had a redefined identity that translated into higher sales – an 8.4-per-cent increase in same store sales growth for 2023.Supplied

Amber Winters is the senior marketing director for Pizza Pizza Ltd.

Last year Strategy magazine – a national publication focused on marketing, advertising and media – named Pizza Pizza among its Brands of the Year. The accolade was a major pat on the back for the company’s successful efforts to brand ourself as “pizza for the people.”

The brand’s new platform, Everyone Deserves Pizza, had struck a chord among Canadians anxious about high food prices and rising interest rates, and who had grown more aware about the evolving landscape of inclusivity. Pizza Pizza built meaning into this tagline through campaigns such as Fixed-Rate Pizza – where the price of an extra-large pizza is locked in for one year – and its temporary renaming to merely “Pizza” on Valentine’s Day to make single people feel included. These unattached consumers also got a free slice on that day.

After more than 50 years spent building a brand by connecting with Canadians through value pricing and product promotions, Pizza Pizza had a redefined identity from our brand platform that connected deeply with the market and translated into higher sales – an 8.4-per-cent increase in same store sales growth for 2023.

Prior to and throughout launching this work, we spent a lot of time considering the authenticity of our freshly articulated brand promise. Sales and market feedback data told us we were resonating with our customers, but how did our internal audiences – Pizza Pizza’s employees, franchisees and their employees – feel about the brand? Did they believe in our brand promise, and did they think that promise was for them too?

That may seem like overkill soul-searching over a brand that sells quick-serve food. But when you’re an incumbent in a competitive market with a constant influx of trendy new players, your customers’ persistent belief in your brand is everything. That belief can weaken quickly if it’s not organically driven by your internal audiences.

We’ve seen many high-profile examples of brands that have been damaged after employees exposed behaviour that contradicted the principles touted by the brand. Recent cases that come to mind involved certain television talk show hosts or celebrities whose on-air brands presented them with a personality inconsistent with their true self.

This disconnect between external brands and internal truths doesn’t always manifest in scandalous exposés. In many cases, it simply erodes the brand’s credibility with every interaction between their internal and external audiences. A surly front-line worker can turn a customer from loyal to never-coming-back. Similarly, an aggrieved employee speaking ill of an employer at a dinner party can leave other guests with a poor impression of the company’s brand.

Internal audiences aren’t just a brand’s best – or worst – ambassadors, they’re also the machine that powers the brand. Weak internal support for a brand could lead to an impoverished corporate culture, which in turn results in high employee turnover, poor operations and, ultimately, sub-par financial performance.

This is why it’s important to build a brand from the inside out, based on truths espoused by employees and other internal audience groups, such as franchisees or even suppliers and contractors. The brand communication to these internal groups may not necessarily be the same as what goes out to external audiences, but the messages do need to intersect and align.

To achieve this, companies need to ensure their brand identity is agreed upon and authenticated by the very people who, through their day-to-day contributions at work, translate a brand’s promise and attributes into products and services that live up to the brand. One way to do this is through anonymized crowdsourcing of ideas for brand building from internal audiences – an approach that encourages honest feedback and builds consensus without the risk of “group think” or too much influence from leadership.

Ongoing monitoring of internal engagement with the brand is also critical to ensuring inner-circle audiences continue to support and live the brand. This can be done through regular check-ins, which are either integrated into human resource surveys on employee engagement or conducted separately by the marketing department.

At Pizza Pizza, our external message of Everyone Deserves Pizza is supported within the organization through the company’s principles of diversity, inclusion and empowerment. We literally have a recipe for success that embodies our corporate culture and internal brand, with “ingredients” such as respectful relationships and recognition, empowerment, community and integrity, initiative and innovation. Pizza Pizza uses this recipe to plate up rewards for outstanding internal performance and we measure its outcomes against our over all business strategy.

When it comes to our franchisees, we look for alignment of values right from the start and continue to build brand engagement throughout the relationship. Our franchisees are the internal audience with the most direct and frequent connection to our external audience and their support for the Pizza Pizza brand reinforces our reputation with every customer interaction.

That’s our truth – from inside and out.

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about the world of work. Find all Leadership Lab stories at and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.

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