Take It Inside: Successful marketing begins internally

Take It Inside: Successful marketing begins internallyMichelle Broom2003-09-019The Centrefalse

Often marketing is considered to be just promotion. However, promotion focuses on the end user—in this case the student. Promotions are rarely directed toward an internal audience. But this is exactly where your marketing strategy should start—with your employees. "Selling the brand on the inside is more important than selling the brand on the outside" (Webster, 2000b). As frontline representatives of your organization, full-time employees and student staff are advocates for your brand, or the image you want your organization to present. Your brand includes the organization's values, the impressions it makes on people, and the experiences people associate with it (Webster, 2002a). How important is creating and communicating a brand? Very important; as Kristine Kirby Webster (2002a) says:

Think about it, people don't say they need an adhesive bandage, they say they need a Band-Aid. They don't ask for a tissue, they ask for a Kleenex, they don't want a cola drink, they want a Coke. A brand at its strongest 'owns' the concept of the generic product in many consumers' minds…

Educate the organization about the brand. Once senior personnel have sat down and defined the brand, make sure all employees and volunteers understand the brand, why it is important, and how they are a part of the brand building and maintenance process. Integral to success is the support of all, from board members to junior staffers. Like all big initiatives, the senior management must be on board to ensure success! (¶ 3, 12)

Major companies are beginning to realize the benefits of internal branding. A 2001 United States-based study by Hewitt, a global human resources outsourcing and consulting firm, revealed that 50 percent of companies allocated resources for internal branding in the 2001 financial year. California Polytechnic State University–San Luis Obispo's Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) also has made a concerted effort in the past two years to increase internal marketing efforts including awareness of the organization's mission, vision, programs, services, and student-centered philosophy among full-time and student staff. Cal Poly ASI has a global strategic plan with four pillars, one of which is "to implement a comprehensive communication plan that creates the recognition of ASI as the provider of the ultimate college experience" (ASI, 2003a, p. 7). Objectives to achieving that pillar include the implementation of the ASI Integrated Marketing Communications Plan, within which one goal is "to increase internal awareness of ASI's mission, programs and services, and student-centered philosophy among full-time and student staff" (ASI, 2003b, p. 6). ASI has developed a firm commitment to brand identification, recognizing that a step toward achieving that identification begins with internal marketing.

In its internal marketing efforts, Cal Poly ASI has used tactics aimed at increased organizational loyalty and career longevity, offering a vision that provides purpose to the workplace, and better service to the students because employees understand the brand. One such tactic has been the public relations and marketing office's publication of two quarterly e-newsletters, one for its full-time staff, The ASI Buzz, and one for its student staff, The ASI Student Buzz, in an effort to increase internal awareness. The newsletters always include a lead article that focuses on internal marketing. Sometimes this is done explicitly (e.g., discussing results from a recent survey related to the organization's newest campaign), and sometimes it is done implicitly (e.g., discussing changes in employee benefits that may affect their overall quality of life). Each newsletter also contains a short feature that updates the entire organization about the activities or achievements of one department. Because students do not distinguish between the unique departments, these features keep everyone apprised of what is going on throughout ASI, so staff members are better prepared to answer questions, give directions, or boast about various accomplishments if the opportunity presents itself.

Information for newsletter articles is gathered from representatives throughout all levels of the organization, not just upper management, to ensure all programs and services are represented. "One of our biggest goals," said Dwayne Brummett, ASI director of business services, "is to provide employees information about new programs, services, benefits, events, and projects organization-wide that they wouldn't normally hear about in a weekly staff meeting" (personal communication, July 2003). ASI strives to avoid recycling information previously disseminated. Further, to ensure the internal audience is hearing the company's messages, there is an annual readership survey conducted to measure the effectiveness and awareness of newsletter topics.

Also on a quarterly basis are staff development days in which ASI's human resources department, in conjunction with the public relations and marketing department, brings in professional and motivational guest speakers to further develop internal communication, team-building skills, and brand advancement. These team "play" days include employee-only activities organized by the ASI Fun Committee, a committee composed of employees representing all areas of the organization. Among these play days have been a campus-wide scavenger hunt, holiday-themed Pictionary® game, family bowling night, and summer barbecues, all in an effort to strengthen ASI's internal marketing goals by composing the teams of people who do not work with each other on a daily basis. Feedback has demonstrated that employees value the opportunity to grow professionally and enjoy taking time to "play." September's activity will be "ASI Family Feud" in which teams composed of individuals from different areas of the organization will work together to try to answer questions relating to ASI. To guess what the "survey says," staff members will need to know the goals and facts about the organization as a whole and the individual departments. Through this simple activity, employees will have fun while learning about the organization and each other.

Similarly, corporations such as Southwest Airlines employ an internal marketing program to prepare employees with the skills and knowledge they need to perform while at the same time emphasizing team play; motivating individuals through measurement and rewards; and ensuring that organizational management understands the internal customer (Czaplewski, Ferguson, & Milliman, 2001). Southwest Airlines' internal marketing practice won the company five "triple crown" awards in the '90s for low customer complaints, most on-time arrivals, and highest quality baggage service. It also has one of the lowest turnover rates in the industry.

ASI also views measurement and reward as one of the key components to its internal marketing and branding plan. ASI recognizes its best performers with financial incentives as well as noncash rewards. Each year prestigious Outstanding Service Awards are given to one or two deserving full-time employees who have been nominated by their colleagues and students. These awards include $500, the recipient's name engraved on a perpetual plaque, a desk ornament, and an ASI shirt and are built into the annual budget as part of ASI's staff recognition program.

Another piece of ASI's internal plan is the newly introduced concept of "developmental coaching" in lieu of supervisory roles. All managers go through a training program in which a consultant teaches them how to be "coaches" who understand the importance of open, supportive communication, different learning styles, and the interdependence of coach and employee. Recent modification to the ASI Performance Evaluation Tool now uses the performance review as a time to motivate all staff members toward achieving the organization's strategic goals. A developmental coaching guide, personalized to each employee, shows how that person's job responsibilities fit into the overall plan for the organization. Not just the employee's strengths and weaknesses are discussed; an emphasis is put on how the coach and employee can work together to be successful. Employees are empowered to receive the resources they need to do their jobs well, such as publications, seminars, or supplies. This shift in philosophy at ASI places responsibility with the supervisors or coaches to help employees and the overall organization succeed.

Combined, these strategies provide staff members the tools they need to excel as well as ownership of their niche and role in the organization. Employee training and nurturing individuals' strengths is a continuous process rather than a single event. And retention is a high priority for ASI. In today's difficult labor market, internal marketing is seen as an important way to find, grow, inspire, and keep skilled and enthusiastic employees who, in turn, provide high-quality service.

Another reason why organizations need to market themselves effectively to employees is that … today's employees are seeking greater purpose and meaning in their working lives. Competitive pay and fringe benefits—such as cars and laptop computers—are still highly attractive benefits, but a shift is occurring in professionally skilled workplaces towards making work more meaningful. This is reshaping the entire social contract between employers and employees. The employer presenting a value proposition that captures the spirit and culture of this movement will win. (Hewitt, 2001, ¶ 5)

At service provider Aramark, Roy Pelaez led a workforce of 426 people that cleaned airplanes for Delta Airlines and Southwest Airlines (Byrne, 2003). His workers were not loyal to the company and there was a high employee turnover rate. Pelaez decided to make a shift in his supervisory approach, similar to the new mode of thinking at Cal Poly. Pelaez said:

Managers are not supposed to get involved with the personal problems of their employees, but I take the opposite view. Any problem that affects the employee will eventually affect your account. If you take care of the employees, they will take care of you and your customer. (in Byrne, 2003, p. 62)

To help take care of his employees, Pelaez brought in a guest speaker from the IRS to talk about taxes and arranged for federally subsidized child care among other things. As a result, the turnover rate fell to 12 percent and revenue in his area increased to $14 million annually, from just $5 million in 1998 (Byrne, 2003).

Large companies are recognizing the rewards of maintaining satisfied employees through employee development efforts. Kodak, for instance, dedicates at least 40 hours per year to employee training and development. Each Kodak employee has a supervisor who helps him or her to establish a customized Employee Development Plan. The plans are updated quarterly and are intended to help employees meet individual goals as well as Kodak's business needs (Kodak, 2002).

According to Jack Morton Worldwide (2002), an international marketing firm, "Internal branding is increasingly seen as a cost-effective way to motivate employees to optimize performance and sales" (¶ 1). Jack Morton Worldwide has been collaborating with companies for more than 60 years to help them enhance internal branding efforts and has formulated a list of vital steps for companies to follow throughout the process of winning over employees (2002):

1. Do your homework.

Understanding what your employees are thinking is just as important as understanding what appeals to your target audience. Taking the time to do research will help to ensure that the marketing campaign is tailored to fit the needs and wants of your employees.

2. Recruit evangelists.

Selecting a few employees to spread the word about your brand can go a long way. Jack Morton has recommended that companies hold learning-focused events in which they encourage the chosen employees to "spread the word" to fellow co-workers.

3. Be creative.

Going beyond sending memos will attract attention. The campaign should "stimulate, engage, inspire, and surprise your audience with creative messaging and design" (¶ 6).

4. Be high touch.

Employees need to experience for themselves the brand that they are selling to consumers. This includes being in contact with leadership and seeing their support of the brand.

5. Use appropriate media.

Different audiences respond to different media, so be sure to choose carefully. Sticking with person-to-person contact is often best when dealing with key influencers or individuals likely to resist the message.

6. Reinforce.

Doing research after the initial campaign is a key way to evaluate the impact of the information that reached employees.

To obtain the greatest benefit of your organization's efforts, internal branding must be a dialogue. Employees are a sound source of information about your brand in the form of observation, know-how, and interactions with students. With an internal branding plan, employees connect better to the brand, to the students, and to each other.

California Polytechnic State University Associated Students Inc. (2003, May). ASI strategic plan. San Luis Obispo, CA: Author.

California Polytechnic State University Associated Students Inc. (2003, April). ASI integrated marketing communications plan. San Luis Obispo, CA: Author.

Byrne, J.A. (2003, August). "How to lead now: Getting extraordinary performance when you can't pay for it." Fast Company. Boston: Gruner + Jahr USA Publishing.

Czaplewski, A., Ferguson, J., & Milliman, J. (2001, September). Internal marketing pilots success. MarketingPower.com. American Marketing Association. Retrieved August 18, 2003, from: http://www.marketingpower.com/live/content.php?Item_ID=16181.

Hewitt Associates. (2001, December 13). Internal branding markets employer appeal. Retrieved August 18, 2003, from: http://www.hewittasia.com/hewitt/ap/resource/articleindex/articles/article_reprt12_13.htm.

Jack Morton Worldwide. (2002, March 20). Internal branding: Tactics to build employee brand loyalty. 360¼ Newsletter. Retrieved August 18, 2003, from: http://www.jackmorton.com/360/market_focus/mar02_mf.asp.

Eastman Kodak Company. (2002, March 14). Why join Kodak? Employee development. Retrieved August 18, 2003, from: http://wwwfr.kodak.com/US/en/corp/careers/why/employeedevelopment.jhtml.

Webster, K.K. (2002, April 30). Branding the non-profit. Marketingprofs.com. Retrieved August 18, 2003, from: http://www.marketingprofs.com/2/kwebster1.asp.

Webster, K.K. (2002, June 25). Do your employees understand your brand? Marketingprofs.com. Retrieved August 18, 2003, from: http://www.marketingprofs.com/preview.asp?file=/2/kwebster3.asp.

Updated Nov. 9, 2012