Thinking Beyond the Consumer, Part 2: Getting Your Employees Fired Up

“My employees don’t care about the business like I do. So why should I go out of my way to care about my employees?”

As an employer, it’s easy to fall into a downward cycle of discontentment with your employees. You see that their attitude towards the business is lacking, which makes you feel resentful towards them. They feel that resentment and become even more disenchanted with their role in the company. Thus the downward spiral continues.

The good news? There’s something powerful you can do to break that cycle.

Last month, we looked at internal marketing at its simplest level, discussing how you can use classic marketing techniques to find and retain your best employees.

This month, we’ll take the concept of internal marketing further, and show you how to actually market your brand to your own employees as aggressively as you do to your customers.

Yes, the main goal of your company is to please your customers. But who are your customers interacting with on a day-to-day basis? Your employees, of course.

Employees as the Middleman 

At first glance, it may seem like marketing to your own employees is a waste of time. After all, don’t they already know your product or service inside out?

Maybe. Or maybe not. 

Often, owners and upper management are passionate about their jobs, but those on the lower rungs of the ladder view the company from a different perspective. They may be in the job for the paycheck alone, or as a stepping stone on the way to a more enticing career — but they have no real emotional attachment to your company at all.

Kind of like George.

In addition, employees are often left to guess or assume details about your company’s intentions, ideals, and goals. They may have little knowledge of what’s going on in the sales and marketing departments. And since one of the core concepts of business is making promises and delivering on them, how are your employees supposed to effectively deliver if they have no knowledge of what was promised in the first place? 

The first step is simply educating employees so they can be a consistent part of your company’s communication strategy.

Firing Up Your Employees

But there’s another equally important reason to market your brand to your employees. After all, who typically has the greatest impact on a customer’s experience with your brand? Not the CEO, not top management.

Ironically enough, it is often your least experienced employees that interact the most with your customers. How much confidence do you have in these employees’ abilities to represent and communicate your company’s values?

Every employee is “selling” the company through their own excitement about and commitment towards your brand. Employees who are knowledgeable about your brand, as well as excited to share your company’s mission, make the strongest brand ambassadors that you could ever hire. 

Do you want your employees to be pumped or passive? The way you treat them affects how they treat your customers.

Take Harley Davidson, for example. Their employees are all avid Harley riders, actually forbidden from riding any other brand. But it goes well beyond brand loyalty. Their employees are so devoted to the company that many of them attend H.O.G Member rallies, model in the company’s Motorclothes catalogue, and spend their own time leading tours at HD manufacturing plants. Harley employees were so successful in singlehandedly marketing the brand that the company actually closed its branding department in 1995!

Southwest Airlines has also been very successful in turning its employees into its best marketing department. With internal videos like this one, designed to inspire employees and empower them to look for opportunities where they can make a difference for their customers, it’s no wonder that Southwest is known for its “people first” approach.

After all, the customer’s overall experience includes much more than just the product or service that you provide them with. It also takes into account all of the various employees that they interact with in the process of securing that product or service –from receptionists to tech repair teams, and from the team leader down to the newest intern. Internal marketing prepares your employees to shine across the board.

Do your employees care about your company? Are they proud to be a part of your brand? Would they happily sport your license plate, wear your logo, or attend your non-mandatory company events?

Turning Your Employees into Marketers

So how can you market your brand to your employees and turn them into your company’s best promoters? Here’s how to get your people to care about your business… just like you do.

  1. Choose wisely. Make sure that part of your hiring process looks at whether a potential employee will fit with your company’s vision. For example, AirBnB’s mission revolves around making people feel at home even while traveling. That’s why after an initial screening, the potential hire must complete a culture interview to ensure that they are passionate about connecting people through travel, as opposed to simply looking for a job.
  2. Grow them. To avoid burnout and keep employees excited, you need to give them chances to learn new skills. This might mean bringing in industry leaders for speaking engagements, providing workshops on specialty topics, or strategically encouraging employees to attend industry conferences. One company I knew used to hold periodic employee lunch-n-learns. Everyone would eat together while one employee would hold forth on whatever topic they found interesting. 
  3. Give them purpose. We all want to know that what we are doing matters.  Inspire your employees by explaining how their work impacts the company as a whole, and the world at large. For example, do your receptionists recognize their ability to act as the first impression that any visitor has of your company? Think of the legend of the NASA janitor who, when asked by President Kennedy for his job description, said “to help put a man on the moon.” 
  4. Allow them to succeed. Sometimes an employee will attempt to live up to your company’s brand promises, but is foiled due to company rules. For example, many companies require customer service reps to take a certain quota of calls each day, which forces them to minimize the time spent with each customer. Zappos decided that in order to live up to its ideal of customer satisfaction, it was important to do away with any time limit, and their reps take as long as they like to make each customer happy. 
  5. Keep them in the know. Often, employees are the last to find out about any new marketing initiatives. Share developments with your employees, including early comps of updated product packaging, interesting R&D findings, or upcoming ad campaigns. Keeping your employees in the loop helps them to feel part of the journey, while also giving them the knowledge they can use to communicate with customers. These updates can be shared through internal newsletters or webpages, but opting instead for an in-person company meeting can often create a feeling of camaraderie and excitement.
  6. Trust in your employees. Employees who feel trusted won’t be afraid to innovate to get things done. Case in point: Google. This tech giant’s employees have flexibility with working hours as long as they complete their work in a timely manner. Even more surprising, they dedicate a full 20% of their time to doing anything they like — even if it falls outside of their job description. It was during this “downtime” that products like Gmail and Google Suggest (“autocomplete”) were created. 
  7. Where possible, include them in decisions. As a corollary to trusting your employees, take their opinions into account when making company changes. While this is not always possible, finding situations in which it does work can minimize employees’ frustration towards “management” for making unilateral decisions. For example, UK-based retailer John Lewis is known for its high employee engagement. In 2012, the John Lewis Partnership became employee-owned, which means that each of its employees now own shares of the business! Obviously this isn’t the right move for most businesses, but the underlying principle remains the same: treat your employees ideas and opinions with respect, and they will serve your company well in the long run.

Your employees are on the front lines, conveying information about your company and representing your brand. Do you want them to be well-informed? Do you want them to believe in your brand? Do you want them feel like they “own” their position? 

Or do you want them to work on autopilot, clueless about your company’s ideas and direction, simmering with resentment that “all the decisions get made behind closed doors over here?”

The choice is yours.

This is part 2 in a series that examines how companies should look beyond the consumer when considering the use of marketing techniques. This post focuses on how to market your brand to employees so that they can adequately represent your brand to your customers. Part 3 will discuss how your company can use marketing techniques to acquire funding. See all the articles in the series here.