Why internal communications should think like marketers

Having grazed on both sides of the corporate fence, the author imparts techniques that can help you inform and engage your employees. Here’s how to get started.

I served two years of my career in marketing, and l didn’t like it one bit.

I lived in a sea of numbers, managing a small profit-and-loss team. Nearly every week we presented multi-page PowerPoint slides on how we would increase revenue and what we were doing to mitigate losses.

What on earth was a former internal communicator doing here? I didn’t fit; I was Oscar in a room full of Felixes. Fortunately, I was blessed with a patient and supportive boss, who educated me on the marketing process and tried to get me to understand a balance sheet. He even helped me navigate my career path back into communications.

The gift of that challenging experience was the value of a marketing mindset in my communications world. Since then, I’ve often asked my fellow communicators how we’d operate differently if we reframed employee communication like this: We are no longer internal communicators. Instead, we are marketing experts asking our employee/consumer base for their support and discretionary effort.

What would we change?

Research employees’ thoughts, habits and affinities before we communicated. Would a marketing team ever launch a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign without talking to consumers first? Of course not, but how often do communicators send out information without conducting internal audits? In this new mindset, we’d pay attention to what employees say they want and what they couldn’t care less about. We also wouldn’t send any message without baseline research.

Dig (and dig into) data. Recent studies show that more than 60 percent of internal communicators still are not measuring. That’s at once amazing and bewildering, considering how much there is to measure—and the volume of data sitting un-analyzed. Imagine all the information HR has about employees-and the good we could do if we accessed and analyzed it to customize messages and channels that would spark action. HR knows employees’ ages, years of service, location, who’s excelling, why people leave—and much more. HR also has reams of feedback through annual employee health surveys. What if we could combine our employee research with HR data and find intersections that help improve employees’ working lives?

Stop all mass emails. That goes for generic e-newsletters, too. Because we are data- and consumer-driven, we should customize our messages according to our employee audiences. Then, using market research tools such as A/B testing, we can determine what works, including which headlines garner more engagement, and run more of those. Why wouldn’t we?

Be more creative. If we’re thinking like marketers, we’ll be far more creative, because our employee audience demands it. If we’re doing our jobs the right way, we’re more storytellers than project managers. We don’t want to make employees yawn when we used terms like “leverage,” “paradigm” and “synergy.” Instead, we’ll engage them by identifying heroes in our organization and where the company is heading—all in plain terms.

Go from two-way to 360 . Most communicators seem to understand the need for two-way versus one-way communication, but a marketing mindset forces us to think in 360 degrees. We should examine every channel, surrounding employees with information when they want it, how they want it, where they want it.

Edelman’s Trust Barometer consistently says employees are among the most trusted and influential resources for speaking to consumers—more than the CEO, and more than the company spokesperson.

What do you think? Isn’t it time to embrace our employees as the most persuasive brand ambassadors they can be?

A version of this article first appeared on AndThenCommunications.

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