By: Lauren Dellarocco and Caitlin Gibson
When you think of ‘marketing’, you may picture a Super Bowl commercial or a looping social media ad promoting a company’s product or service to millions of potential consumers. This is considered “external marketing”, and it’s extremely prevalent in our everyday lives.
In fact, you can spot instances of external marketing anywhere you go. From billboards, to t-shirts, to digital display ads that pop up when you’re checking Facebook or reading an article—external marketing is everywhere.
Another form of marketing, one less considered but equally important, is “internal marketing”. An internal marketing strategy communicates a company’s story with its internal employees. Effective internal marketing strategies can improve the customer experience and employee engagement, and ultimately—increase profitability.
So what does an effective internal marketing plan look like? Why is it important to market to your employees?
What is Internal Marketing & Why is it important?
Though it may seem intuitive that marketing to external customers is the focus of any company, marketing to internal customers has significant value.
Internal marketing is the promotion of a company’s objectives, products, and services to its own employees. It’s about giving employees an authentic brand experience, so they can delve fully into the product or service their company provides. This enables employees to experience the customer perspective firsthand.
Internal marketing champions the idea that you must communicate your company’s brand message with your employees (or internal customers) as avidly as you do with your external customers. Internal marketing efforts entrust employees as the voice behind the brand message, which enables them to become much more invested in the company’s purpose.
It’s inarguable that the customer experience drives business growth and ROI, so seeing the company product/service from the customer’s point of view is extremely valuable. This type of marketing strategy cultivates a closer connection between employees and their organization’s mission, allowing employees to experience their work and understand their contribution from a different perspective.
There are numerous ways to go about an internal marketing plan, such as:
- Educating employees on the company’s mission, vision, and value.
- 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
But what effect do successful internal marketing efforts have on a company?
Increased Employee Engagement & Retention
Your employees need to believe in the company brand if you want them to genuinely sell the product or service. As employees everywhere become increasingly purpose-driven, they want to understand their company’s goals, but they also 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 fully invest ourselves in our job. In fact, when employees understand their company’s values, they’re 51 times more likely to be engaged at work.
A similar Gallup poll concludes that nearly eight in 10 employees agree that “if they know what their company stands for and what makes it different from competitors, they plan to be with the company for at least a year”.
Internal marketing is the practice of employee-centric enterprises. These are organizations that see the value in putting employees first. These enterprises recognize that when employees are prioritized and fulfilled, they work better together; they invest more thoroughly in their work; and when serving customers, they’re much more likely to go above and beyond. This marketing initiative cultivates a shared company identity and culture, which ultimately leads organizations to financial success, industry recognition, and growth opportunities.
For example, Southwest Airlines is known to put its employees first—even before their customers. For an industry that relies so heavily on customer satisfaction, putting the customer behind the employee might sound counterintuitive, but it’s actually a spot-on marketing strategy.
Southwest believes that if they treat their employees right, their employees will treat their customers right, and as a result, business and profits will increase. Because of this internal marketing plan, it’s no surprise that Southwest Airlines has been voted one of the best places to work by its employees. The airline continues to rank first in customer satisfaction, and has been profitable for 45 years in a row.
How have they done it? An enviable internal marketing strategy. Specifically, in 2013, Southwest Airlines 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. The airline continues to rally its employees 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 with numerous recognition programs and awards, and they leverage the power of live-action video to share authentic, inspiring employee stories. Simply put, they have a multi-faceted internal marketing strategy that works.
How to Develop an Effective Internal Marketing Strategy
After hearing of Southwest Airlines’ success, you may still wonder, “how?” How are these employee-centric companies so successful in their internal marketing efforts?
Here’s how to develop an effective internal marketing strategy:
- Make sure your internal and external marketing strategies are aligned.
How can you craft an effective internal marketing strategy of your own? You have to understand how your external marketing strategy operates first. Internal and external marketing efforts need to be connected and synergistic to each other. This means 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 dissonance can have a negative impact on your employees’ perception of the company’s integrity. Recall Southwest Airlines’ approach; their vision encompasses both internal and external employees.
- Create a dedicated team to execute the strategy.
Once your internal and external marketing strategies are aligned, you can 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 encourage employees of different departments to get involved. This is key. An internal marketing strategy created without comprehensive employee input or feedback isn’t going to be successful.
Consider collecting information through focus groups, in-depth interviews, or surveys. You can then use those results to identify how information flows through your organization.
Next, 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 for launching. 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. If you sense that your employees don’t share a connection with the company’s identity, you may need to strengthen your core values communication first using an aid like a talent management software.
- Identify Your Internal Marketing Goals
Establishing goals at the outset is crucial. Without goals, 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 a team like Human Resources and a dedicated Marketing department, in collaboration with other stakeholders. 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.
Multi-channel software-powered content should come in a variety of formats:
- Digital documents
- Mobile-ready apps
- Text messages
- Even posters and print vehicles for deskless workers
And then, couple your multi-platform employee communication messages with robust analytics that will help you to decipher the best mediums.
No matter what mix of tools is right for your team, HR and marketing have to realize that both what you present – and how you present it counts. When trying to reach a diverse group of employees, engaging content – presented in multiple formats – is the only way to capture their attention and their mindshare.
- 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 managers or different departments. You can also reach your segmented audiences through unique combinations of communication channels. The best way 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 an executive or other leader typically introduces new employees to the company, its mission, vision, and values, you’ll want to ensure that this onboarding 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, which makes it easier to spot areas for improvement. An employee communication software is an ideal way to collect these kinds of analytics that help you spot opportunities to adjust and improve.
- 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.
A successful internal marketing strategy starts at the base — identifying areas where the organization directly reaches customers. Effective internal marketing will strategize alongside these touch points:
- Identify internal marketing goals, such as emphasizing company mission and unique brand identity
- Develop a campaign-oriented approach, spearheaded by HR and created in conjunction with other stakeholders
- Target your messages to resonate with staff at all levels of management, customizing them for different departments and different mediums
- Determine the best ways to roll out your internal marketing effort, from onboarding programs to ongoing education initiatives, maintaining a steady link between HR and marketing
- Encourage employee feedback to continually update and improve messages
- Utilize advanced performance analytics to determine which tactics to adjust
The Bottom Line
Today, a company’s external marketing strategy is only as effective as its internal marketing strategy. Even with innovative external marketing strategies, many companies are quickly finding that they’re missing a piece of the puzzle—internal marketing.
When employees feel connected to their company’s brand and understand the company’s mission, vision, values, and goals, they’re more likely to remain with the company and engage with their work. Employee engagement, by extension, will ensure 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, as well as the strength and reception of your internal communications. Set specific goals and establish collaboration strategies between team members.
Look to companies with effective internal marketing strategies for inspiration. Places like Southwest Airlines, Zappo’s, and Apple are leading the way by implementing internal marketing strategies that improve the employee experience, and as a result, cultivate powerful internal brand ambassadors.
To develop an effective internal marketing strategy, 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 are in sync. It ensures consistency between internal and external marketing communications, and that helps employees trust that their workplace values integrity.
Be sure to take a campaign-oriented approach. You want your strategy to take root and feel well-considered and genuine. Remember, you’re treating your employees like internal customers. That means you have to understand their motives and what they value.
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 internal marketing efforts will be well spent.
Use the marketing tools and resources available to you. An employee communication software can be really helpful. 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.
If you prioritize your employees and encourage them to act as brand ambassadors, they’ll invest in their work, represent the company in a positive manner, and provide customers with the best possible experience—which all leads to increased profitability. Everyone really wins with an effective internal marketing strategy.