5 marketing tactics for bolstering employee engagement

Think of your colleagues as consumers, and you’re off to a great start. Listening to what they want and tapping into the power of influencers will build on that initial momentum.

Engagement tips via marketing

The value that employees bring to customer relationships is becoming ever clearer.

It does, however, raise important questions: Why don’t internal communicators and marketers work more closely together? Aren’t employees basically your internal consumers?

A recent Gallup study revealed that two-thirds of employees are disengaged at workActively disengaged employees cost U.S. companies $483 billion to $605 billion each year in lost productivity.

Here’s what HR pros and internal communicators can learn from their marketing colleagues:

1. Listen more.

Marketers know the biggest competitive advantage in business is a greater knowledge of consumers. For communicators, the biggest cultural advantage should be a greater knowledge of employees.

Consumer marketers obsess over emotional insights: What makes our audience tick? What motivates them, inspires them, turns them off? The smartest brands have access to thousands of data points.

By comparison, most businesses know very little about their employees, and what they do know is mostly rational, factual information. This leads to segmenting and engaging people by seniority, tenure or discipline, rather than behavioral values such as readiness for change, belief or influence.

Imagine how differently you would approach employee engagement if you had a deep behavioral picture of your employees. That lack of insight is nicely captured in this recent study on mismatched expectations for incentives and benefits by Robert Half.

2. Make people care.

As we focus on family, friends and other elements of our busy personal lives, there’s not much room left for other things.

Most marketers ignore this and overestimate the level of consumer interest in their brands. A quick look on many brand’s social media feeds will tell you that they’ve forgotten the role they play in people’s lives: instant gratification at the whim of the consumer. Why be something different on social media?

Most businesses do the same with their employees, mistakenly associating a paycheck and benefits with genuine engagement. The money is often seen as an exchange for a commitment of time, not emotion. It means you can mandate that I attend, but not that I care. Caring comes from a deeper place.

“Engagement” has been misappropriated to mean commitment and compliance to company goals rather than true belief in the mission and my role within it. What if we reclaimed it for employees?

3. Focus on impact.

As consumers demand more interactivity and involvement from brand relationships, smart marketers are providing continual feedback for consumer activity.

For employees, the most important question is, “Does my work matter?” Can they feel the impact of their labors on customers, the company, the world?

As we design smarter, faster, more efficient systems for how people work, we are engineering out the reason why people work. Humans work to make things better—to create, build, deliver, repair. Impact on others is how we measure our contribution; we all need to know we matter.

It doesn’t take a change revolution to help employees find and feel impact—just a revolution in mindset. What if we connected head office employees to attribution data that shows how their work helps customers, or if we helped employees craft their own missions?

4. Tap into internal influencers.

Influence is not just for Instagram. Advocacy, or “word of mouth,” has long been a powerful driver for brands. Set aside high-profile celebrities; today, micro-influencers drive the conversation in smaller networks built around niche passion points.

The same is true inside companies. Employees gather in small networks around disciplines, work location and areas of interest. Inside these groups, micro-influencers steer perception and play a meaningful role in culture. If these network leaders believe in the company vision and mission, then their “followers” will probably do the same. If not, you’ll find implementing change vastly harder.

A small group of influential employees can trigger a movement across the business. How can you build your next change program around them and harness their influence?

5. Know when to rebrand.

Misunderstanding clouds the cultural role that communications, HR and marketing play and the key capabilities they share.

A marketer’s view of HR and communications tends to be about compliance, governance and formal training. Communicators view marketers as disengaged from the business and focused on making a splash out in the world.

The three share a role in deepening the business’s understanding of human behavior and unlocking the intrinsic connection and impact that employees have on the customer experience, and vice versa.

Marketing is often confused for advertising (which is an outcome of a marketing strategy). Consider this definition of marketing: “the orientation of everything we do around our customers.”

What if internal communicators took a similar approach: “the orientation of everything we do around our employees.”

A call to arms for every communicator

If you believe customer experience will continue to be a primary driver of brand and business value, then you must make a deeper commitment to the employees who deliver it.

If you believe in the power of employees to drive this value, it demands new, broader capabilities and a more central, more collaborative role for HR, communications and marketing.

That internal collaboration could be your next engine of growth.

Neil Bedwell is a founding partner at Local Industries. A version of this post first appeared on TLNT.

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