The recent CMCE Next Gen series of discussions on the post-pandemic world of work addressed very important questions that will certainly define the future business environment. I am sure that those who followed these conversations would agree with me in saying that they have been extremely insightful and though-provoking, especially due to the fact that they provided a great platform for business leaders from different countries, sectors and backgrounds to come together, share their experiences and knowledge, and contribute different perspectives and opinions on these key topics. In particular, the third conversation in the series focusing on whether every employee can contribute to an organisation’s marketing efforts resonated with me and prompted further reflection that lead to the observations captured below.
Employees as organisational champions.
It is widely agreed that over the last few decades, employees have been playing an increasingly significant role as champions of the organisations they work for. Even though this is often unconscious and not deliberately planned, employees can influence the perception of a company by using their voice and expressing their opinions through one of the multiple channels that are now at their disposal. Their role as champions is manifold; firstly, they can help develop a strong brand identity that often results in attracting more customers and improving their experience with the brand. When a company can count on a diverse workforce, they are also more likely to tap into multiple target groups across geographies, generations, genders and so on, and they create client loyalty that goes beyond the value of their specific products/services. As some research shows, the “new dominant logic for marketing” states that customers do not buy goods or services, but instead, buy the intangible “value” that goods and services provide (e.g., Vargo and Lusch, 2004)(1).
Another - often overlooked - point is that employees have also become instrumental in helping companies navigate the war for talent successfully. By sharing their positive experiences, they are the best advocates for an employer and in many cases prove to be key in attracting the right talent, especially for companies that don’t have a strong identity yet or are not as well-known as powerhouses like Google or Apple. Newer generations are particularly aware of the importance of finding an employer whose values they can align with and they often look for their peers’ opinion to make a decision.
Organisations should develop an overarching, consistent approach.
Because of technology and social media, organisations are generally under an ever-increasing degree of scrutiny and clients, suppliers and potential employees all expect high levels of transparency. Every output from a company or one of its employees may contribute positively - or negatively – to building a strong credibility and reputation and, as a result, to strengthening a brand. People expect authenticity, integrity and open communication and this should be conveyed at all levels and in each interaction. Therefore, all employees, across all business units have a part to play and should be engaged from the start. This is a great opportunity for organisations but it can also be its downfall if not handled appropriately; as Kenty Lichtenberg, Founder & Director, Marketing Consulting Agency - Be Your Own Brand, St Maarten, mentioned during our Next Gen discussion, we should, for example, learn from the lessons of Amazon's idea of using its staff as online influencers and then deciding to dismantle the programme at the first sign of failure. Kenty thought that the company missed an opportunity to empower employees as value contributors.
In order to do so successfully, organisations need an overarching, consistent approach that encourages employees’ involvement throughout the process, increases their awareness of their value and important role as champions and fosters discussions on how they can and would like to contribute. A genuine effort to involve each individual should be made, and it should not be only limited to client-facing, more visible people. Particular attention should also be given to coordinating and aligning online and offline marketing initiatives and approaches. Nowadays, there is a tendency to focus on online activities because they are the ones that most likely make the headlines but there should be consistency and coherence of message and behaviours across all channels - and in-person interactions are still a very important part of them. The general rule should be that you behave online in the same way that you would offline: digital communication does not equal lower communication standards.
Every strategy should be different and tailored to a particular organisation.
As previously mentioned, it is very important to create and implement a clear strategy and allocate dedicated financial and non-financial resources to the education, engagement and retention of employees who also act as brand ambassadors. However, the approach should take into account
the size, nature and set-up of an organisation, and realistically reflect its budget human capital availability as well as its specific identity and requirements - as opposed to adopting a top-down, generic employee engagement strategy.
As someone who works mainly with family businesses and SMEs, I am particularly mindful of the fact that employees’ role and engagement in marketing efforts may change considerably and what is suitable for one organisation can be completely inefficient or inappropriate for another, even though they operate in the same market and/or sector. It is particularly insightful to observe the role of employees as marketing champions within the family business sector, where in most cases a company’s reputation and credibility are even more rooted in the people who represent that company; as a result, interaction need to be even more personal and emotional.
Combining two identities in one voice.
Employees’ advocacy also poses questions on how individuals use their voice and express their personality while championing the work of their organisation. There is often a blurred line between professional and personal profiles, and what and how is appropriate to share an opinion from a professional perspective. Unlike what happens with in-person interactions, we still lack a set of rules, an “online etiquette” that defines what is considered professional and acceptable in specific situations. Some thought should be given to how this could reflect on a company’s brand, once an employee becomes a champion of the organisation. And vice versa, it should be taken into consideration how individuals can be given the freedom to express themselves and use their voice freely.
This shows the importance of aligning the individual’s and the organisation’s voices. We can really see it with next generation professionals, for example, who would often choose the company they work for based on whether they share its values, purpose and vision of the world. Both organisations and individuals therefore need to work together to find a voice that is respectful and true to both identities, and allows them to communicate any message respectfully and appropriately. Only by addressing this need, there will be a long-term, mutual engagement and a true collaborative effort that does not detract from the message that they want to convey externally.
Internal marketing: a useful tool to turn employees into brand ambassadors.
Over the last few decades, the concept of internal marketing (or employee marketing) has been researched as a new aspect of marketing and human resources management strategies. Its underlying value can be found in the idea that, in order to have satisfied customers, a company has to have satisfied employees first(2). Their contribution to the success of a company is increasingly being acknowledged and all organisations should include it in its marketing strategy.
The main aim of internal marketing is to increase employees’ awareness on a company’s culture, vision, values, strategic objectives and target customers as well as the employees’ knowledge of products and services. By communicating these aspects clearly, the company improves employees’ engagement and awareness which will ultimately result in improved performance, higher levels of satisfaction and retention. In this way employees are empowered to communicate efficiently with stakeholders and promote the business externally.
This will also have a positive effect on making employees aware of the value of their contribution, increase their loyalty to the brand, encourage them to share their input and ideas, and foster internal communication and collaboration. This will also result in the attraction of suitable talent and its successful integration in the workforce, avoiding or mitigating any issues and costs connected with employee disengagement and dissatisfaction.
Specific relevance to next gen management consultants – and more experienced professionals alike.
How are all these considerations relevant for us, as management consultants? Even though we are not technically employees of the client organisations we work with, we should familiarise ourselves with these dynamics when we start working with a company and we should be mindful of them when we make decisions that might be affected by them. In addition, while collaborating with a company, we can in turn become ambassadors of that brand and we should be aware of how we communicate and portray our work externally because it may reflect not only on the client but also on our own brand identity or that of our employer.
Personally, I think that it is extremely useful to discuss these topics that, like many others related to intangible outputs and soft skills, are often overlooked and not actively addressed. Conversations like the ones that took place during the CMCE Next Gen series should be encouraged because they are excellent opportunities to exchange ideas and opinions as well as to discuss practices with peers who might have a completely different experience and perspective from ours. It is also a way to question our approach and learn how to continue to adapt our practice to the changing business environment.
1 Orr, Linda M ; Bush, Victoria D ; Vorhies, Douglas W (2011) Leveraging firm-level market capabilities with marketing employee development, Journal of business research, 2011, Vol.64 (10), p.1074-1081
2 Yu-Ting Huang (2020) Internal Marketing and Internal Customer: A Review, Reconceptualization, and Extension, Journal of Relationship Marketing, 19:3, 165-181, DOI: 10.1080/15332667.2019.1664873
Valentina Lorenzon is a member of the CMCE Coordination group and editor of the CMCE newsletter.