Employees Are Not Customers!

Posted by: in Corporate and Strategy, gary grates, Thought Leadership, W2O Group on April 17, 2014

Why Marketing Techniques and Thinking Don’t Work Internally…How to Turn your Workforce into an Influencer

It’s the big day!  Your organization is announcing a new product and internally employees are being greeted with posters, videos, messages, balloons, mouse pads, mugs, and pithy slogans in an effort to get them “excited” about the launch.

So, what typically happens next?

Employees take the goodies home or throw them out (how many mugs can one person have?)  The balloons and banners eventually deflate and fray.  The messages dissipate and the videos are neither viewed nor shared.

In the end, while the intention may be noble the execution is flawed due to one critical insight – employees are not customers!

Customers and employees are distinct communities, each with specific levels of understanding, beliefs, bias, motivations and expectations.  They each have different mindsets.  Customers tend to see what you want them to see and believe about your product and company.  Employees see behind the curtain and are much savvier about the company’s strengths and weaknesses.

Employees expect not to be entertained but informed.  They need context and purpose.  They need input and involvement.  They need dialogue, discussion and debate.  What is usually missing when communicators use marketing techniques to “promote” strategies, products, services, or initiatives inside companies is that employees don’t respond to campaigns – slogans, give-aways, speeches.   Rather, they are looking for information, education, discussion, and feedback so as to make the argument for themselves.

When this happens people feel more compelled and confident to share with their networks – both internally and externally – acting as both ambassador and advocate for the company’s position.  This is important given that recent surveys identify employees as the most credible source of information about a company’s products, services, and promise turning them into a legitimate influencer in today’s social and digital environment.

What to do

Instead of canned videos touting your new product, set up web chats with the product’s designer that employees can access and gain insight into the thinking behind the effort.  Instead of banners and balloons, provide interactive modules with potential customers or users and select company representatives gaining a deeper appreciation for the product’s efficacy and usage.  Instead of themes or slogans, explain the marketing program including objectives, strategies, target customers, techniques and timing to cadence an employee’s use of social media to expand outreach.  Instead of prepared messages, engage senior leaders with employees through Town Halls and corresponding on-line discussions via internal collaboration platforms (Yammer, Jive, etc.) that initiate new conversations on the product and the company.

All of this shifts internal communications from a “sell” activity to a “discover” strategy engendering trust among the workforce through strengthening people’s knowledge, confidence and treating them as active members of the organization’s success.

When done right, internal efforts become external opportunities with employees leading the way and providing necessary, credible arguments on a variety of topics to customers, prospects, media and influencers.

Bottom-line: Marketing and Communications are trying to achieve the same overall goal – organizational success – but need to support that goal via vastly different yet complementary strategies, approaches, techniques and measures.

It starts with recognizing and respecting that employees must be addressed differently than customers and that your workforce is not a homogenous group.   It continues with working in partnership to align the company’s promise and products in a manner that results in employee understanding, confidence, and engagement.

Think about it.  Who better to supplement your existing marketing and sales effort than your workforce!

How many coffee mugs do you have?

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