We are in an era where “employee engagement” is both extremely important and horribly misunderstood. Organizations know they need to find new ways to energize their employees, yet they seem unable to break their old habits. They continue to pile on more details, more information and more priorities without changing their approach.
Many of our clients have internal communications teams to manage the flow of company information and priorities. Accordingly, when a company is looking to mobilize their workforce around a new strategic initiative, they look to these teams to “get the word out”. Their job is to inform people of how these initiatives will impact their roles and what (if anything) they need to do. They provide supporting documents or information resources. Ultimately, internal communication departments are to employees what the Public Relations team is to the public. They share pertinent facts and position the news as positive.
While well-intentioned, oftentimes these efforts fall short of achieving the levels of engagement companies desire. If the internal communications team is internal “PR”, then companies need a marketing equivalent to win over employees. In short, marketing needs to focus on drawing in employees in the same way they look to win over customers. Following are four comparisons between the two approaches to winning employee hearts and minds:
1. Marketing is Meant to Persuade, Communications is meant to Inform
Most companies assume their employees don’t have all the information they need. The thinking is, if they “know” the information they will do what they need to do. The solution? Keep piling on information through emails, intranets, meetings, and the list goes on. From research we have conducted through our Brand Transfer Study process, my team has found that front-line employees don’t lack information. In contrast, they have too much of it. Moreover, they are not necessarily buying the information they are receiving. Adjusting the messaging approach forces employees to think, to evaluate a concept and to draw their own conclusion about a new initiative. Marketing is persuasive. It gives people the freedom to choose whether they believe it. If it is good marketing, the belief goes up and the engagement rate is much higher.
2. Marketing Stands Out, Communications Conform
Internal communications teams use traditional channels to get their messages out. Intranets are a great example. If a company has big news to share, they post it on the intranet site! Check! Task accomplished. Think about the last time your company’s intranet inspired you. Did it grab your attention and make you think? On the contrary, marketing focuses on engaging the external marketplace in new and creative ways. Marketing needs to innovate. If a message gets lost in a sea of noise, it can’t persuade. For this reason, companies are finding new and innovative ways to reach their customers because their business depends on it. They should be approaching their internal audience with the same sense of urgency.
3. Marketing is Emotional, Communications are Transactional
Marketing wants us to feel something, so we can make a connection to the concept being pitched. Research shows that the emotional approach can lead to significantly better business results. Compare this to typical internal communications efforts. Companies distribute information to their internal teams, but it is up to the employee to find the content, invest time to review it and sift through the details to find out what (if any) is useful to them. Most employees won’t do that. The exchange of information is transactional and functional (I’ll find what I need”). The result, employees simply ignore what is produced.
4. Marketing is a Dialogue, Communications is a Directive
The typical internal communications strategy isn’t designed as a dialogue. Instead, leadership determines what is “important” and then distributes the information. When the information requires employees to act in some way, the documents tell them what to do. “Make your open enrollment selections” or “Tell all your customers about our great new product.” This approach assumes that giving a directive will lead to action, but it does so without input from the employees. In comparison, marketing needs to understand their audience intimately. That is why U.S. companies spend $24 billion each year on market research. If marketers know their audiences needs and interests, they can build messages that are compelling. Marketing is in constant dialogue with their audience so they can adapt and shift messaging when preferences change.
Corporations need to communicate with their employees in a variety of different ways. Internal communications serve a valuable function. Companies need to inform their employees about news and initiatives in order for them to feel connected to the company. However, a higher level of engagement, one that inspires action, cannot be achieved with information alone. If internal communications is needed to win their minds, internal marketing is the perfect complement to win their hearts.