By: Caitlin Gibson
When you think of “marketing,” you probably picture a Super Bowl commercial or a looping Instagram ad, aimed at getting a company’s product or service in front of millions of potential users. These are examples of external marketing, which can take the following forms. As a consumer yourself, you’re probably familiar with them.
The first is inbound marketing, which attracts customers through relevant, helpful content that adds value to each stage of a consumer’s buying journey. Through this form of marketing, people find products and services through search engines, blogs, and social media.
Outbound marketing is more traditional. It’s about pushing out a message to an audience through various advertising channels like TV commercials, podcast sponsorship ads, and print materials.
Account-based marketing is the latest strategy, and it’s proving to be one of the most effective. This type of marketing targets a specific audience with personalized messaging and content (e.g. that Instagram ad that not so sneakily shows you a product you just searched for on Amazon). The idea is that, if people feel something has been curated just for them, they’re much more likely to tune in and consider what’s being marketed to them. Look no further than Spotify Wrapped. This innovative marketing campaign combines personalized playlists, customized emails, and a data-driven microsite celebrating each user’s individual listening habits to not only further drive users to the service; it creates an easy way for users to market—however unwittingly—Spotify’s service on their behalf.
Even with such innovative external marketing strategies, however, many companies are quickly finding that they’re missing a piece of the puzzle—internal marketing.
This form of marketing is becoming crucial. It champions the idea that you must communicate your company’s story with your employees as avidly as you do with your customers. It entrusts employees with being the voice of your brand, and that makes them so much more invested in the company and what it does.
What is Internal Marketing and Why is it Important?
So, what is internal marketing exactly? It’s the promotion of a company’s objectives, products, and services to its own employees. Internal marketing is about giving employees an authentic brand experience, so they can be fully engrossed in the ins and outs of the product or service their company provides and be part of creating an optimal customer experience that drives business growth and ROI. This type of marketing strategy cultivates a closer connection between employees and their organization’s mission, so every employee knows how much their work and contributions matter.
There are numerous ways to go about internal marketing, including:
- educating employees on the company’s mission, vision, and values
- creating two-way feedback channels
- cultivating communication and collaboration among employees
- guiding employees through times of significant company change
- ensuring employees know their contributions matter
- having employees use and offer feedback on the company’s own product or services
Why is this Internal Marketing so important?
First, your employees need to care about and believe in your brand. As employees everywhere become increasingly purpose-driven, they not only want to understand their company’s goals; they want to be confident that the work they do every day directly serves the company’s short and long-term plans. It’s about feeling seen, heard, and valued. When we know our contributions matter to our company, we’re much more likely to care about and fully invest in our job. In fact, when internal communications are used to help employees understand their company’s values, employees are 51 times more likely to be engaged at work.
Next, internal marketing is the practice of employee-centric enterprises. These are organizations that know the days of putting the company first or the customer first are behind us. They recognize that, when employees are prioritized and fulfilled, they work better together, invest more thoroughly in their work, and, when serving customers, are much more likely to go above and beyond. This approach cultivates a shared company identity and culture, and it leads organizations to financial success, industry recognition, and growth opportunities.
Consider the example of Southwest Airlines. At Southwest, employees are put first. Yes, that means before their customers. In an industry that relies so heavily on customer satisfaction, this might sound odd or even foolish, but it’s actually spot-on thinking. Southwest believes that if they treat their employees right, their employees will treat their customers right, and, as a result, they’ll increase their business and profits, making everyone happy…and they’ve proven this to be completely true. They’ve been named one of the best places to work by employees, continue to rank first in customer satisfaction, and have been profitable for 45 years in a row.
How have they done it? An enviable internal marketing strategy. Specifically, in 2013, the company shared a new vision with their employees and the world: to become the World’s Most Loved, Most Flown, and Most Profitable Airline. Unlike too many company visions, this one wasn’t relayed in a lengthy company meeting and then quickly forgotten. They continue to rally their employees around it through the power of internal marketing and storytelling. CEO, Gary Kelly, gives weekly “shout outs” to employees who’ve gone above and beyond to show great customer service. Each month, the Southwest Spirit magazine features the story of an employee who’s also gone above and beyond. They highlight positive behaviors throughout the company through numerous recognition programs and awards, and they leverage the power of live-action video to share true, inspiring employee stories. Put simply, they have a multi-faceted internal marketing strategy that works.
How to Develop an Effective Internal Marketing Strategy
How can you craft an effective internal marketing strategy of your own? You have to understand how your external marketing strategy operates first. The two need to be connected and support each other, ensuring what’s messaged outside the company matches what’s communicated inside the company. When your internal and external marketing strategies aren’t aligned, this can negatively impact your employees’ perception of the company’s integrity. Recall Southwest Airlines’ approach; their vision is for both the public and their employees.
Once your internal and external marketing strategies are aligned, you can then create a dedicated team to work on the mechanics of your internal strategy. As a team, you’ll need to evaluate your specific internal marketing needs, and then get employees involved in its development. This is key. An internal marketing strategy created without employee input or feedback won’t be set up for success. Consider collecting information through focus groups, in-depth interviews, or surveys. You can then use those results to find out how information flows through your organization.
Then, you can use these best practices to develop and ultimately launch your campaign:
- Choose Your Timing Wisely
Before you launch an internal marketing strategy, evaluate the timing. Times of change or company turning points, like a change in leadership or strategy, are actually ideal times for a launch. That’s because you can harness the power of people’s curiosity, even their uncertainty about change, to rally your employees around your campaign. During these times, employees are looking for guidance and direction, and an internal marketing campaign can provide just that.
If you’re not planning to experience a company-wide change any time soon, you can still launch your strategy. Take the time to really understand the company culture and climate that will be on the receiving end of your campaign. In other words, determine if you need to spend some time establishing or enhancing your culture first. For example, if you sense your employees don’t share a connection with the company’s identity, you may need to strengthen your core values communication first using something like a talent management software.
- Identify Your Internal Marketing Goals
Establishing goals at the outset is crucial. Without them, you won’t know how to measure the success of your campaign or know when to make adjustments. Again, make sure these goals are aligned with the goals of your external marketing strategy. Examples of such goals can include employee adoption of your company’s vision or creating a meaningful connection between your employees and brand identity.
- Develop a Campaign-Oriented Approach
An internal marketing campaign should be spearheaded by both a people team like Human Resources and a dedicated Marketing department, in collaboration with other stakeholders as applicable. Approach your campaign as a journey because that’s exactly what it is. You should be offering your employees an experience that evolves gradually.
Design your rollout as a consistent, steady drumbeat of bite-sized information, shared in a variety of content formats that runs the gamut of communication channels. By taking your time and rolling out your strategy’s initiatives and communications slowly, you’ll give your campaign a chance to gain traction and momentum with your employees.
- Use Internal Communications Tools and Software
When it comes to internal marketing, one size doesn’t fit all. What resonates with one employee won’t necessarily capture the attention of another. It’s vital to drive your campaign using different communication channels (e.g. email, intranet portals, social collaboration tools like Slack, push text, etc.), powered by employee communication software, and a variety of content, including short-form video, stylized infographics, and posters and print vehicles for deskless workers.
- Segment Your Audience
Even if you seek to reach and engage all of your employees, you won’t be able to connect with everyone in the same way. So, consider segmenting your audience when sending campaign communications. To do so, understand the demographics and psychographics of your audience. It’s not enough to only identify factors like average age, gender, location, or profession. You also have to uncover the values, attitudes, interests, and lifestyles of each group. By understanding these psychographics, you’ll be better positioned to develop and send communications that feel personal and relevant to your employees.
Once your audience is segmented, you can then direct different messages to specific groups, like people managers or departments. You can also reach your segmented audiences through unique combinations of communication channels. The best way, for example, to connect with your people managers may be a combination of email, Workday inbox messages, and push text reminders.
- Embed Your Campaign into Existing Priorities
From onboarding programs to ongoing education initiatives, you’ll want to find places to embed and connect your campaign. The most obvious example is an existing onboarding experience. If new employees will be going through any type of designated onboarding training or mentorship program, that’s an ideal place to incorporate elements of your internal marketing strategy. If, in an onboarding training, an executive or other leader typically introduces new employees to the company, its mission, vision, and values, and what the experience of working there is like, you’ll want to ensure this training is aligned with the messages of your internal marketing campaign.
- Adjust as You Go Using Data
To set up your campaign for success, you have to be prepared to adjust it along the way. Even if you take all the right steps to set up and develop a winning internal marketing strategy, you can’t simply launch it and leave it. You’ll want to evaluate how it’s performing, including, most importantly, how it’s resonating with employees.
How do you figure out how your strategy is performing? Collect both quantitative data (e.g. open rates, click-throughs, attendance, etc.) and qualitative data (e.g. polls, check-ins, and sentiment surveys). This data will show you what’s working and what’s not, so you can more easily spot areas for improvement. An employee communication software is an ideal way to collect these kind of analytics and help you spot opportunities to adjust.
- Solicit Employee Feedback
Through regular check-ins, such as those between employees and their direct supervisor, surveys that collect sentiment, and short polls, you can find out how your employees are responding to your internal marketing strategy. Remember, employees are your target audience, so it’s crucial to check in with them regularly and get their feedback. Collecting feedback will also boost employee engagement overall.
Today, a company’s external marketing strategy is only as effective as its internal one. When employees feel connected to their company’s brand and understand the company’s mission, vision, values, and goals, they’re not only more likely to stay; employees will be more dedicated to being their best selves at work and, by extension, provide a stellar customer experience that drives ROI and business growth.
In order to go about developing, launching, and managing a successful internal marketing campaign, you have to first understand your company’s internal marketing needs. Evaluate what type of company culture you have, the strength and reception of your internal communications, set specific goals, and establish a collaboration between your people team and your marketing team.
Look to companies with effective internal marketing strategies for inspiration. Places like Southwest Airlines, Zappos, and Apple are leading the way by utilizing internal marketing strategies that give employees a better work experience and, as a result, make them powerful internal brand ambassadors.
To develop an internal marketing strategy that works, look to your target audience for guidance. Identify your employees’ current connection to the company, so you know where you’re starting. Be sure to choose the timing of your campaign’s launch wisely. Times of change are ideal opportunities to start rolling out an internal marketing campaign because employees are already looking for direction and connection during these times.
Make sure you set specific goals that are aligned with those of your external marketing strategy. It’s crucial that the two be in sync. It ensures consistency between what’s being messaged inside and outside the company, and that helps employees trust that they’re working somewhere that values integrity.
Be sure to take a campaign-oriented approach. You want your strategy to take root and feel well-considered and genuine. Your employees will be able to sense if it’s not. Remember, you’re effectively treating your employees like internal customers. That means you have to understand them, what they value, and what motivates them. It’s about cultivating a positive, shared belief in your products and services. There’s no expedited path to generating this type of buy-in, but your time and efforts will be well spent.
Use the numerous marketing tools and resources available to you. An employee communication software can be really helpful. Having something that’ll help you deliver a variety of content over multiple communication channels and collect data and analytics you can review and act on makes all the difference. You’ll be able to identify what’s working and what’s not, so you can adjust along the way. Make soliciting employee feedback on a regular basis a priority, so you can ensure your marketing plan remains relevant, engaging, and effective.
As companies continue to evolve into employee-centric enterprises, internal marketing will continue to become more important and essential for a company’s success. As Southwest Airlines reminds us, if you prioritize your employees and help them become brand ambassadors, they’ll invest more thoroughly in their work, represent the company well, and provide your customers with the best possible experience, helping your business and profits grow. In this way, everyone really can win.