Why Marketing Techniques With Employees Don’t Work

Posted by: in Communication, Communication Strategy, Content, Corporate and Strategy, gary grates, Organizational Communications, Thought Leadership, twist, W2O Group on October 6, 2014

One of the more disturbing decisions being made in business today with regard to strengthening employee engagement is the belief that a marketing type “campaign” complete with some type of branding (logo) and theme will resonate with people.

Certainly the intention is sincere but the thinking and execution flawed.

Employee engagement is not marketing and employees are not customers.

Listening to employees and observing their behavior indicates that as soon as an internal initiative is turned into a program or campaign then credibility is lost.   It is no longer about them but about the process.

Here’s a manager-level employee’s take  on a recent roll-out of his company’s change management effort.

“We received an invitation to a town hall meeting where all of the senior executives spoke about the company direction and the need to change in order to survive and prosper.  At first glance everything made sense.  Then we were given a variety of items with a theme.  There were banners hung everywhere in the building with the same theme.  People’s e-mail salutation now contained the theme.   A series of videos were shown with employees describing the need to change.  A new area of our portal was built to share “change” stories.  The presentations were well-done and complete.  We all sat there and watched the show. But no one asked a question.   Afterwards there was little or no follow-up.  People often asked me for further details but nothing.  No further briefings about the competition, the market, the potential or our progress.  There was no training or development opportunities. New videos and leader messages populated our inboxes but nothing tangible.  After several months, the posters disappeared.  The videos weren’t viewed.  Layoffs ensued. And the leadership team was generally replaced.

Sad part is that this wasn’t the first time.  Our folks pretty much know that anytime leadership rolls out an internal campaign or program then it’s not sincere or valued by the employees.”

Juxtapose the above with this 15-year veteran with a global industrial organization looking to accelerate new product commercialization:

“It was becoming obvious that the company was falling behind in terms of innovation.  Leadership embarked on a major customer information gathering effort to uncover areas we could improve.  Similarly, employees at all  levels were asked to participate via teams in various aspects of the product development process.  Briefings were conducted for managers on competitive issues, market realities including pricing, etc. so they could help guide their staffs accordingly.  Leadership messaging kept everyone updated on progress.  Externally, key leaders become regular commentators on the shifting state of the industry driven by new customer expectations. All of which our employees were exposed to via media, social and digital channels.  After 18 months, our time to market was reduced more than our target. There were awards given out and videos of employee experiences shared throughout the process.  The entire plan featured education, face-to-face interaction, knowledge sharing, and social linkages.”

What the plan didn’t have were logos, themes, and posters.

Customers and employees are distinct entities.  They are each driven by levels of understanding, choice, beliefs, and motivations.

Customers need to find you and so marketing techniques such as advertising are important.

Employees need to know you.  Comprehend your purpose, approach, values, expectations.

Customers respond to promotion.  Employees require education, discussion, debate.

While campaigns and the resulting themes and activities demonstrate importance for consumers and customers, they only trivialize your message to employees.

A New Reality

In a social and digital age, it is more important than ever to truly recognize that employees are smarter, more savvy, and capable to discern the real issues and opportunities facing the company.  As such, employees understand how the “sausage is made” so to speak vs. consumers who only see the finished product.  Customers, as savvy as they may be, see what you want them to see about the company for the most part.

Engaging people in the business – from strategy to customer service – is the critical differentiator in organizational success.

The key is to treat employees as active members – involved, engaged, challenged, and recognized – in the decision and policy making process of your business.  Employees don’t want to be sold or told.  They want to discover and gather information in a manner that allows them to learn and decide for themselves.

When the initiative looks like it’s already baked, so to speak, complete with logo, theme and style then the ability to have impact, to engage, and to listen is compromised.  Employees may sit there respectfully, some may even nod their approval, but the reality is that you’ve lost them.

And so that means for your next major internal initiative or program, instead of a logo, event or theme try gathering ideas and comments from employees via your collaboration site; sending a contingent of employees to key customers and then having them share the experience internally, conducting a session on competition, products, market conditions, etc., that improves confidence; and having employees run the next town hall with no executives.

Now that might be worthy of a branding effort!   (Only kidding…)

Pre-Commerce Check out W2O Group President Bob Pearson's new book, Pre-Commerce, in which he shares ideas for leaders to engage directly with customers to shape their brand and marketplace success. Now available for order on Amazon.com! http://amzn.to/bAmvFN. Join the conversation #precommerce.

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