Thirty years of conversation around internal marketing

It must be thirty years since I delivered my first talk on brands to an audience of senior executives. My message then was, if they switched 20% of their marketing investment to internal marketing – which nobody was really doing at all back then – they would get a better ROI than were it to be channelled to the usual external media channels.

All these years on and I’m still having the same conversation with senior people in businesses around the world, who continue to struggle to understand what internal marketing really is. The thing is, these days, the issue is more relevant than ever and there’s an urgent need to focus on this massively ignored corner of marketing.

Internal marketing is no longer optional

It’s essential that every executive now understands why, in the digital economy, brands are essential to your very survival. Even if you have neglected to manage your brand until now, you simply can’t afford to any longer.

Whether you have realised it or not, brands have always been critical to the success of any business and internal marketing is your primary tool in building a brand.

Understanding what brands are

Brands are not logos, culture, products or personality. These may be accoutrements of a brand, but the brand itself is a community of people who share values, beliefs and a common purpose.  

Greg Satell’s new book Cascades, explains why communities like this are essential to driving any kind of change in every area of our lives. This makes brands critically important? In fact, experts generally agree on the role groups of people with a common objective play in affecting change.

Meeting the demand for change

Constant change is one of the key characteristics of the digital paradigm. Transformations isn’t a one-off event it’s a transition to a different way of working that requires change and innovation, literally every day, to stay in the game.

If change is driven by groups of people, then every organisation needs these groups. But, you don’t have to create them, they’ve been under your nose for ever. Your brand is the community you are looking for. You just need to learn how to manage it effectively. That’s where internal marketing comes in to play.

Brands are the communities we need

Most people think of brands solely as devices that connect companies and customers. However, if you think of them as communities you begin to realise they involve a far wider range of relationships. 

As well as customers; investors, distributors, suppliers, partners and employees are all stakeholders in your brand. What binds them together is the promise that is inherent in every brand. It may mean something slightly different to each of them, but it’s the same promise they all sign up for.

Brands “happen” at the convergence of elements like character, beliefs, purpose … I call these elements “coordinates” and I incorporate twelve of them in the brand models I create. 

Creating your brand model

Your brand model should be the focus of your organisation. It’s essential your every word and action is consistent, so your brand model provides an essential point of reference, against which every decision by everyone in your organisation is made. 

The structure of a modern organisation is flat and it falls to employees, rather than senior managers to instigate change, so they need to have a common understanding of what the community is attempting to achieve. A target to aim at. This is a key function of your brand.

Central to this is an understanding of the brand promise and how it has been arrived at. All stakeholders should sign up and commit to playing their part in delivering it, not just to customers, but to every other stakeholder.

Internal marketing is the tool for the job when you want to bring all your stakeholders on-board. 

Your internal marketing tool box

Like any other campaign you should choose the channels you incorporate in your campaign strategy according to your business’ unique requirements and circumstances. This includes your budget.  There are however, two components common to every internal marketing programme – a brand book and an Intranet.

Creating your brand book

Your brand book is the outcome of your brand modelling process. You can create an electronic file, a loose-leaf folder or a bound book. Either way, it’s supposed to do three things:

  • Set the technical specifications for your brand identity
  • Present your brand narrative – the why and how of your brand.
  • Engage the reader – It needs to be easy to read and attractive

Building your Intranet

Your Intranet will also be designed around your specific needs, but there are four must-have areas:

  • Induction – This is where you drive home the message of your brand book
  • Training – On-line programmes designed to fill the skills gaps exposed by every transformation
  • Social – Where silos are dismantled through social sharing
  • Operational – Everyone’s desktop, file vault and the parking place for all collateral, process maps and procedure manuals.

Your internal marketing campaign

By orchestrating e-mail marketing, messaging, internal events, office branding gamification and incentives and building in data collection and analysis you can create an integrated internal marketing programme that will align all your stakeholders behind your brand. Once you are gaining momentum it will be easy to see how you can use this community to affect change in your organisation.

Another feature of organisations that are successful in the new paradigm is the absence of silos. Silos are an outcome of out-dated management practices and one of the most commonly-quoted reasons for transformation failure.

Internal marketing creates unity

A well-run brand community encourage factions to unite, but if silos remain a feature of your organisation you can be sure you will not survive the digital revolution. Even the process of transformation is itself dependant on unity and one of the most commonly-quoted reasons for transformation failure is the existence of silos.

The brand modelling process usually has the effect of awakening business leaders to the need for unity. It will also help them understand the importance of your internal marketing in facilitating delivery of your brand promise. Most importantly it help them understand and adapt to the new role of leadership in the digital age.

Who should manage your internal marketing?

The rational answer to this is your HR department, but the reality is, HR people aren’t marketers. It takes a lot of strategising, familiarity with media routes and communications skill to design and run an effective internal marketing campaign.

This is another example of the need to eradicate silos and your first test of the principle of unity. Marketing and HR have to work together to create and run your internal marketing campaign. If your HR people aren’t accustomed to the internal communications role it’s something they are going to have to get on board with pretty quickly if they want to remain relevant in the digital paradigm.

I have encountered surprising resistance from HR professionals to the notion of internal marketing management. It’s an issue that hinders many transformations. Everyone in a modern organisation is involved in marketing because every contemporary business is, first and foremost, a marketing organisation.

Creating partnerships

The internal partnership between HR and marketing may well be the first you create in the course of your transformation. As such it’s both a test-bed and an exemplar.

You just have to be grown up about this. Marketing people can awaken their HR counterparts to new possibilities and the different demands that fall on them in the digital economy.

You’ll get the results you need by sharing. In one business I was involved in the HR team saw the marketing team as a service provider and launched into briefing them on initiatives that were wholly inappropriate. In another the HR team resisted the efforts of marketing to introduce the social area of their Intranet, a new approach to external recruitment events and the use of artificial intelligence to process on-line recruitment. None of this was helpful.

Generally, I find that innovations and ideas can emerge from anywhere in this partnership, but, in the early stages at least, the marketers tend to set things up and the HR team manage them … maybe with a little mentoring. Marketers should be used to taking briefs, so they are usually good at listening and identifying issues and, of course, they are the business’s communicators. HR people have to learn to explain their concerns and ambitions and work with marketing experts to come up with innovative solutions and initiatives. It’s all part of the changes prompted by digital transformation.

Phil Darby
October 1, 2019

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