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There is marketing, and there is internal marketing. Internal marketing strategies can take many forms, but they focus on employee engagement and developing positive employee relations to improve productivity, retention of top talent, efficiency, collaboration, and innovation. The internal marketing efforts also build a positive organizational culture, and by pursuing these goals, your company is on the path to staying union-free. There is a direct connection between positive employee relations and avoiding unionization, and a proactive internal marketing strategy is the key to pushing your organization’s positives.
Internal marketing efforts pursue promoting the company internally so that your employees embrace company values, mission, goals, and brand, making an emotional connection to your company’s purpose, products, and services. Frequently, we discuss topics like leadership empathy, emotional intelligence, happiness, and leader-employee relationships because emotions play just as big a role in employee satisfaction and commitment as the job duties or responsibilities assigned.
You can hand someone a job description, but if the person doesn’t understand the contribution their efforts make towards business success, or doesn’t feel connected to the company’s goals as having value, one of several things can happen. That person will either stay and be less productive than otherwise possible; stay as a disengaged employee who actively foments unhappiness in the workplace; or quit. If the person stays and is actively disengaged, the chances of that person turning to a labor union as a means of finding support increases.
There are many possible dimensions to internal marketing. So many of them say you are “selling” a message to employees, but effective internal marketing is not really about selling. Think of it like this: You can buy a product and still not feel a connection to it or want to buy it again. Internal marketing inspires people by informing and involving them in the company brand, so a commitment to corporate values and purpose develops. They become internal brand ambassadors to coworkers and customers.
Why is this important? Employee engagement is something that needs consistent nurturing. Employees committed to your brand have an emotional commitment, deliver better customer service, are more collaborative, and are more engaged. In 2021, a Gallup survey found that employee engagement dropped from 36 percent to 34 percent year-over-year, and 16 percent were actively disengaged. This was the first decline in a decade.
It’s tempting to blame it on the pandemic, but during 2020, employee engagement continued to trend upward. As Gallup writes, “…engaged employees are involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace. Actively disengaged employees are disgruntled and disloyal because most of their workplace needs are unmet.”
Internal marketing engages employees through effective internal communications to develop a powerful emotional connection to the brand. The key word is “communication.”
Despite the importance of internal marketing, companies tend to approach internal marketing haphazardly or make only a weak, inconsistent effort. They don’t think in terms of marketing their brand. Most communication in these cases focuses on things like keeping employees informed of changes in benefits. Companies use newsletters and emails that push information out but are not meant to deepen connectedness. They don’t use their communication to excite employees. Think of it this way. When you market to customers, you want them to brag about your products, customer service, and dedication to environmental sustainability and to share the good news about your company.
Imagine how attractive your company would appear to job candidates if your employees voluntarily showed excitement about your company’s products and services and the great relationship between the workforce and management. Your internal marketing strategy should have a similar goal – inspiring employees to the point they are committed to your company and want to share their work experience and your brand on social media or in other ways. Internal marketing can help you increase employee engagement, stay union-free and contribute to becoming an employer of choice.
Getting down to basics, what does internal marketing include, and how can you take it to the next level? If you treat internal marketing like external marketing, you need a marketing plan. The first step is assessing your communication system and how you connect with employees. If you were marketing to customers, you would utilize various communication tools to promote customer interactions with your brand. The same applies to employees. You can draw upon consumer best practices to identify the best communication tools.
Your company most likely has multiple communication channels. They include email, text, in-person and web-based meetings, newsletters, employee apps, and digital platforms. One of the best ways to connect with employees is through custom video. The use of video as an employee engagement tool is an excellent way to communicate with a hybrid workforce because it uses images and audio. MIT neuroscientists found the brain can identify whole images within 13 milliseconds. The researchers said the study indicates that high-speed recognition by the brain points to the brain finding concepts to try and understand what vision is seeing. The rapid processes likely direct the eyes to the image, which gives video extraordinary power to keep employees focused even as the images change in the video.
Custom video can be about anything that engages your workforce:
Video is also used as an interactive tool for eLearning. For example, Projections developed an employee eLearning training resource for Trader Joe’s on OSHA-compliant safety policies and procedures. The interactive video is full of images, humor, and powerful content. Extremely successful, the training was able to engage employees in an interesting way with the images, audio, and interactivity maintaining engagement. Companies that want to stay union-free and engage employees find that video is a tool that covers the spectrum of employee engagement, increasing trust between employees and leadership.
All your communication options can build your brand internally. Besides video, they include employee surveys, company newsletters, video conferencing, intranet systems, employee recognition systems, texts, emails, employee apps, and websites. Digital communications have made it easier to connect with all employees.
The Employer Value Proposition (EVP) provides employees with clear reasons to remain with your company. This is especially important in a period where millions of employees are resigning. In December 2021, 4.3 million employees quit their jobs, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The term “Resignation Nation” is about more than just people quitting. It reflects employee unhappiness with their relationships with management. As mentioned earlier, emotions are just as much at the heart of employee engagement as your company’s efforts to address employee physical needs, like safety and work schedules.
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Recognizing each company is different, there is one overriding feature of an effective internal marketing strategy. It involves more than Human Resources or an internal communications function. In fact, it’s important to remember that HR is not a marketing function but is excellent at sharing information, like policy employee policy or benefits changes. HR professionals are great communicators when sharing information about what the company is doing, and they play a key role in employee engagement but are not usually the people who should be expected to be adept at connecting employees to the company’s brand.
The internal marketing strategy should include involving leaders and employees from all levels of the organization. High-level communication will, of course, originate with top leadership. However, remember an effective internal marketing strategy is not just about sharing information. It is meant to inspire and deepen employee engagement. One suggestion by Michael DesRochers, Founder of PoliteMail Software, is to identify a leader in each department and create an employee communications team. The goal of the team is to promote a coordinated communications effort.
Whoever you involve, the intent is to create an internal marketing team that includes employees across the organization and leaders at all levels. One of the internal communications challenges many companies need to overcome is changing top-down only information flows.
Your internal marketing team is responsible for developing and implementing the plan. It always begins with a goal of developing stronger employee engagement and positive employee relations by strengthening the existing internal brand. Developing a plan involves:
When should you implement internal marketing? The reality is internal marketing is an ongoing effort. It can add new communication initiatives when a company change occurs, like rebranding your company in the marketplace or responding to signs of union organizing. But internal marketing should be embedded in your operations.
Initially, you want to reinforce the company’s vision, mission, and values, so employees connect their efforts to the company’s purpose. Purpose-driven organizations achieve higher employee engagement. Deloitte says that purpose is everything, stating, “Moreover, younger generations also want to work at companies with an authentic purpose, with more than 70 percent of millennials expecting their employers to focus on societal or mission-driven problems.” Purpose is a unifier, and your goal is to unify employees around your brand as a purpose.
There are unlimited internal marketing strategies you could develop. It depends on the goals established by the internal marketing communications team for your particular organization. For example, internal marketing strategies could focus on areas like the following with the end goal of creating an engaged workforce that embraces the organization’s brand.
Making employees feel like they are of critical importance to business success is a great employee engagement approach.
Internal marketing is not possible without internal communications. The connection of importance, though, is this: Internal communications should be interesting and engaging in order to get the attention of employees. It can’t seem like a “have to do” or a “forced to do” effort. For internal marketing to be effective, it needs internal communications that are regular, high-quality, attractive, appealing, and informative. Always establish a way to measure results too. It’s the only way to know that what you’re doing is working. Also, never lose sight of the fact that successful internal marketing strategies are addressing the many organizational aspects needed to stay union-free.
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Walter is IRI's Director of Digital Solutions and founder of UnionProof & A Better Leader. As the creator of Union Proof Certification, Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.