The Power of Positive Words on Internal Branding


The sign in the Starbucks window reads: “We welcome Service Animals.” And, in much smaller letters, it states: “No pets, please. Thanks.” Being warm and welcoming is on brand for Starbucks so it’s no surprise that their customer signage follows suit. The message easily could have been reversed with the “No pets, please!” in large letters (and an exclamation mark added for good measure) and a smaller “we welcome service animals.” But Starbucks wisely prefers their coffee cup half full, not half empty.

The Starbucks sign is a great example of the power a positive tone has on branding. A positive tone enhances our ability to connect with our audiences. Human brains are wired to understand and remember positive expressions faster than negative expressions. Telling someone to “be still” is more effective than “don’t run.”

Implications for Internal Communications: A positive tone is just as important for our internal audiences as it is for customers. Directives get through better if we explain the action we want employees to take rather than what not to do. When giving instructions for tasks, or stating policies, detailing procedures, or in countless other directives from organizational leaders to employees, it’s easy to slip into needless negative tones. Compare: “You cannot sign up until Jan. 1” to “You can begin signing up Jan. 1.”

Case Study in Positive Outcomes: Years ago, I worked with the PetSmart Store Operations team to rewrite the Policy and Procedures manual. We devised a standardized template that reflected the upbeat culture we were trying to create. The previous P&P manual was about what not to do and the dire consequences for failure to comply. In our new version, each entry began with a statement: “When this procedure is followed, [insert positive outcome].” Outcomes included things such as “your shelves will be well-stocked,” “your employees will be paid correctly and on time” and “your customers will receive refunds promptly.” Store managers and employees appreciated being treated like valued partners.

When editing internal messages, consider adding positive expressions to your checklist. Talking to your employees in a positive tone is a simple, cost-free change that over time can impact trust, employee engagement and ultimately how your brand gets delivered to your customers.

So don’t forget, err…I mean, please remember: Be positive. It works.


Related Resources

Finding the Voice of Your Organization’s Brand

Developing the Voice of Your Brand

Positive Phrases:  The Ten Best Positive Words and Phrases!

Devising positive expressions is one of the many group exercises in my new workshop, Speak Up and Stand Out


Gio Lester

about 6 years ago

Hi, Paul, that's a good trait to point out. It is so much easier to complain. We all have heard "The squeaky wheels gets the grease" and we just keep reinforcing that. Not easy to break away from that. At my daughter's Montessori school, the teachers always used positive reinforcement - and taught it to the parents too. The results were so much better than those obtained with nagging or complaining. And that's what Starbucks is doing - and very well, I might say.

Bart Butler

about 6 years ago

Another subtle, yet powerful way to strengthen the bond between leaders and those they lead -- whether it's employees or franchisees or even vendors -- is to speak in terms of things "we" need to do, not just things "you," the audience, needs to do. Make things about a common effort we need to make as a group -- based on our common values and common principles -- rather than about some failing the audience alone needs to work on. That approach helps build the community, the tribe.

Paul Barton

about 6 years ago

Great point Bart! There a subtle but important difference between saying "go" and "let's go."

Leave a Comment

Only registerd members can post a comment , Login / Register