Marketing to your employees can have a significant effect to your business. Although most Internal Marketing agencies will advise you to form a marketing strategy before you begin (which is wise but time consuming and will most likely adapt to the changing situations in the company anyhow) it has been shown that even the larger companies like McDonalds and Kelloggs struggle to moderate the success of their campaigns.
What are the benefits of internal marketing?
- Firstly internal marketing can improve overall performance levels
- It unites the company, the brand and the employees forming stronger working relationships. Business culture, the structure, the management styles, vision and strategy of the business, and the social needs
- It empowers employees giving them accountability and responsibility
- It improves employee retention and individual development
- Encourages staff to improve their service to external customers by better understanding their valuable contribution to the success of the business
- Improves communication throughout the company
What is internal marketing?
Chances are you have been marketing internally already (even if you didn’t realise you were), but better understanding what you are doing and how to improve it will ultimately give you better results and allow you to see what marketing techniques work better than others.
An example of internal marketing is when you have introduced “casual clothing Fridays”. One day a week employees are entitled to come into work in their casual clothing. It costs the business nothing (unless someone dresses inappropriately and it results in a law suit) however empowers the employees to express their individuality. Working in comfortable clothing has been proven to increase productivity by 7%. Staff are more inclined to move around and sit more casually, which in turn allows them to free up barriers and focus more on business needs. Limiting employees to this opportunity once a week gives them something to look forward to and there have been suggestions that introducing such a scheme towards the end of the week reduces absenteeism.
Internal marketing is therefore marketing an idea or initiative which contributes to the positive workforce of the business.
“Internal marketing (IM) is a process that occurs within a company or organization whereby the functional process aligns, motivates and empowers employees at all management levels to deliver a satisfying customer experience. Over recent years internal marketing has increasingly been integrated with employer branding, and employer brand management, which strives to build stronger links between the employee brand experience and customer brand experience. According to Burkitt and Zealley, “the challenge for internal marketing is not only to get the right messages across, but to embed them in such a way that they both change and reinforce employee behaviour”
Burkitt H & Zealley J (2006). Marketing Excellence: Winning companies reveal the secrets of their success p.295
Six Key Attributes of Successful Internal Marketing
1) Senior Members Involvement
Leadership begins at the very top and all lower level efforts tend to go amiss unless the leaders are involved in the process. Therefore point 1 is critical to grow a successful marketing communication. Understanding as an employee that your manager, senior manager etc. want you to feel more comfortable and cared for will improve your likelihood to work more productively and feel more appreciated. So high level staff should interact with all employees; face-to-face, over the phone, via email. Make an effort to show these people exist and you will benefit from the improved attitudes towards you and performance levels.
For instance, working for my previous company (let’s call it Hell) was like being chained to a desk and told when to sit and stand. Feeling like a caged animal was upsetting, de-motivating and exhausting. The director worked alongside me and was often off for three weeks at a time, returning tanned (and towards the end burnt which added mild humour to the workplace) and would stroll in after 11am while I’d been forced to start far earlier, working 7.5 hours a day with half an hour break. To make things worse I would be expected to leave late to complete work which he’d decide to give me ten minutes before work ends. He would typically call me in for meetings at 4.50pm and keep me in the office until 6pm. It extended to the point where I was forced to cover the phones alone (not even part of job role) while everyone else was allowed to go for lunch so I would spend my half hour of freedom sat alone outside. Result of working there: Had no loyalty to the company, hated working for the Managing Director, and felt completely unappreciated.
Now let me give you an example of the company I left Hell for. Aside for the hour long lunches, the freedom to go into the games room to relax if feeling far too stressed, the friendly meetings held at reasonable times and the ability to go to the toilet without being questioned, we wear casual clothes every Friday. We call our Fridays “doughnut days” and everyone gets to munch on a variety of delicious doughnuts courtesy of the Managing Directors. The MDs even come and sit in the kitchen area with all the employees.
Even with these basic principles and rewards in place it can be seen that there is a huge contrast in the way staff interact and appreciate each other. Hell had huge political issues within the office which held only eleven employees! No-one particularly liked the MD, and the office manager would impose ridiculous rules which split the office into an even wider divide. At this location which I shall call Heaven, we have our differences but work closely as a unit. The MD interacts with the team, shows his personality, is reasonable and understanding and therefore even when mistakes are made (even by him) no-one makes snide comments or tears the office into two.
So as a high level employee (if you are reading this) question how you interact with your staff and whether you could get over your dislikes towards one person which is causing tension with everyone. I say this as there is always one or two people you will dislike in the office. Typically someone on the same level as you, but you just have to live it with I’m afraid (or read my future articles about the psychology of employees coming in 2012).
2) Horizontal structure (Integrated Organisational Structure)
Bureaucratic organisations such as the Police have so many formalities that it relies on departments doing their jobs. There is little interaction between different departments and the MDs and senior level managers would be calling security if a long term lower level employee was to say “hello”. The comparison to those who have never had the opportunity to work in a structure like this is like living in a high rise building of flats. You may know the few neighbours on your floor but chances are you will never speak to any of the remaining 400 people who live in the same building. For the next twenty years that you live there they all remain strangers.
Horizontal structures encourage communication between departments including the senior managers. It maximises involvement and commitment as you work as a unit. It also empowers employees with decision making processes and allows them to a have a suitable social life which makes work are far more bearable place. Problems are resolved far quicker and actions take place quicker, allowing companies to adapt to the external environment more successfully than the vertical structure.
I used to work for the Police and dealt with previous victims of crime on the phone to take surveys to monitor the Police success levels with interacting with the General Public. All ran smoothly if I stuck to my specific role but I was not empowered to do any more than complete the survey and make calls. When a customer would complain about the Polices’ inability to respond to their enquiry in a proficient manner and demand I act on it I immediately had problems. I would have to consult my manager who would consult their manager. This would take half a day to a week. Then I would have to give the customer’s details to my manager who would give the details to her manager. Her manager would then have to pass on the information to the relevant department and along the way the message would either get interrupted or completely lost. When a chain is this long things have more opportunities to go wrong. Worst thing is, my name would be given to the customer and I never had a clue about the end result. Employee Empowerment? Pah! They haven’t heard of the words.
In contrast, a perfect example is again where I work. When I first came to work here the company was smaller and easier to manage, but with the increase in employees comes the need for supervisors and managers. We sit the managers of the departments on the same table as the people they are managing. Departments are encouraged to interact with each other with shared information and team meetings. We empower our employees to make decisions and understand that with this comes mistakes, which if learnt by the employee can lead to a stronger team and a new opening for a supervisor/management position in future.
Vertical structures do have benefits but I’m not old fashioned and I much prefer to give an element of responsibility and accountability to my team. It reduces the amount of day-to-day business as usual activities I have which in turn frees up my time to think of how to improve the business further.
3) The feedback Practise
Marketing internally is difficult to calculate. You can rely on monitoring the staff turnover and absenteeism for figures but to better understand how your customers feel you are best asking them. When hiring people it helps to find out their ethics, self-esteem, team working and empathy skills and allow the manager of the department/team to meet with them to see whether they would fit in. The feedback from the manager is essential in determining whether the new candidate would be looking for a new job during work hours as he/she is so desperate to get out in a few months time.
Retention can be improved through training and communication with employees. A better working environment will undoubtedly satisfy the first three levels of Maslow’s hierarchy theory of needs and encourage personal esteem needs to be met. Happy employees equal a happy brand image and healthy brand equity.
I’ve worked for several companies which never asked for an opinion from the day to day operational level employees and from it they have made costly mistakes changing processes that did not need changing. The poor training given to the new changes, the appalling communication to why the changes were made, and the reluctance from employees to change led to huge costs in either reverting back to the original process or to retraining (and in many cases rehiring) employees. Had the management team spoken to their department, they could have prevented this. Had the management team spoken to their department they could brought some extremely useful money saving ideas to the table too.
Part of my ever changing role here is (simply put) to help improve the company improve. I lack the understanding of the day-to-day operations and procedures in place. I know my team knows the very well but having being recently given the role, my knowledge is limited. So I hold regular meetings with my team, I speak to my employees individually and ask them what problems they have noticed. Once they report their issues I work to resolve them. In doing this so far I have seen an improvement in work performance (as staff feel recognised, empowered and like the fact they get a say and its considered), moral, communication, teamwork and will to progress with the company. One member of my team has already excelled so much that they have become responsible of a small team.
Feedback has been critical in my career path. I used to voice my opinion as a low level employee (even if I wasn’t asked- risky but it got me noticed) which often got me excelled to a management position very quickly. I listened to my team and trusted them, took on board their ideas and worked towards a solution. As a manager now I get feedback from my team, the departments I monitor and from the MDs to get a 360 degree look at the company. The more I learn about the company, the quicker I can do my job.
4) Brand Communication
The larger your company the harder it is to manage communications. The brand identity may get diluted throughout the employee chain. Managing Directors may know what they want the brand to say but by the time it reaches the external customers, it’s gone through a few stages of Chinese whispers the message gets distorted. Managing the brand internally is a critical ingredient to delivering the right message to the external customer.
Ensure that the brand identity is clearly outlined and email employees regularly with friendly discussions and threads to encourage communication. Not only will this support point 3 (feedback process) and allow employees to engage more freely with each other but it allows you to advertise to them.
The only example I can think of bad branding internally is where I have worked for companies with no comprehension of the brand and therefore no commitment to promoting the company to their employees. In fact working at Hell was very much like this where the MD thought lower level staff should be treated like dogs… bad example really as dogs get treats.
Good branding lies where you make efforts to keep your employees happy. We hold meetings where we speak to the team to identify problems and to inform them of our plans for the upcoming weeks (empowering the staff with knowledge keeps them feeling secure in their roles and content with us for informing them). It also shows that we listen to our employees and act on ideas that they give, and in turn they are contributing towards the brand identity.
Promote promote promote! Like my doughnut Fridays at work is a promotion you can introduce anything that comes to mind that sounds either fattening or fun. Rewarding employees is a great way to improve the moral and opinions of the employees to the brand. However do not encourage one department to introduce an idea alone; the whole company must do it as a whole to avoid rivalry and (unhealthy) competition between departments.
If you have time, then ideally a structured approach to internal marketing will enable you to effectively monitor the successes of your actions. However in my opinion it’s more important to get started on simple improvements which you are most likely already doing. Get your internal customers on the company’s side and it will give you the time to develop the business as a whole.