Effective Internal Marketing: It Starts with Knowing Your Audience

Marketers like to beat the drum of message clarity and consistency, but too often the word doesn’t get through. Our own research shows that 66 percent of marketing executives believe their brand message is lost by the time it reaches customers. And when customers don’t get your narrative, they’re not likely to buy into your value proposition.

The problem is that marketing strategies tend to be myopic – that is, too focused on external audiences. Of course, marketers do communicate new products and campaigns to their employees, but they don’t usually market to them. In overlooking this crucial step, marketers fail to foster real passion and enthusiasm for the brand among employees.

However, to truly connect and make internal marketing efforts successful, you need to know your audience. Similar to identifying different consumer segments and preferences, this means considering the differences among each of your internal teams, from inbound sales to customer service, and distribution partners to technical teams. All play a crucial role in delivering the brand message.

Why knowing your audience is critical for internal marketing

In our view, knowing your audience and recognizing employees’ challenges and motivations is essential to unifying the brand experience. Before companies can win the hearts of customers, they need to win the hearts of employees. With internal marketing, brands can engage employees early and develop them into authentic brand advocates.

Knowing your audience, then, is all about inquiring about the good, the bad, and the ugly across your teams. While this may seem like an intimidating process, employees will appreciate having a say. With the right questions and research, your internal marketing strategies will be successful in building your employees’ sense of confidence and pride in the brand. When employees are personally invested in the brand’s success, they’re more likely to hold themselves accountable, which means they deliver an on-brand customer experience every time.

Higher customer satisfaction, improved conversion rates, and increased sales are all outcomes that can be traced back to employees who believe in the brand and who have internalized the brand story. This is what it means to “win from within.”

A big payoff from internal marketing

What does a company’s investment in internal marketing look like in practice? Ask tech giant SAP. In 2017, CMO Alicia Tillman approached a rebranding campaign for the company’s 40-year-old story by asking its employees to articulate the brand’s central purpose. Through developing a bottom-up branding initiative, the story communicated to customers, press, and others was not only consistent and centralized, but connected with the employees that are paramount to SAP’s success.

“The key to consistency is getting everyone on board. The inclusive nature of our strategy certainly helped,” Tillman said in an interview with Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Another crucial piece for successfully aligning SAP’s brand was identifying its internal audiences through the lenses of its more than 50 employee networks, including women’s groups, LGBTQ groups, and more. SAP asked how they would script the narrative according to their values and purpose. By recognizing the unique experiences of its employees through their affiliations, SAP was able to identify and incorporate their passions, beliefs, and attitudes into the expression of the brand.

The initiative resulted in the highest-performing campaign in the past five years, and it also helped the company move up four spots on BrandZ’s most valuable brands list, to number 17 from number 21. Tillman believes that reaching the top 10 most valuable brands in the world is an important goal for the company to attract and retain top talent, influence decision makers, and serve as a role model for “purpose-driven” brands.

Aligning the employee and company, and vice versa

The story of SAP’s rebranding is an excellent example of why it’s so important to identify the attitudes and values of frontline employees and align their experiences with the expression of the brand. It’s not enough for companies to merely keep employees informed. Everyone inside the organization needs to personally invested in the brand story.

Like SAP, companies have to engage employees early in any initiative and actively encourage them to contribute. Only then will the brand story align with what employees are doing, saying, and feeling.  Marketers need to give their employees a voice in the marketing process if they want to ensure their message doesn’t get lost in translation.

Of course, this is no easy task, and the level of difficulty varies from team to team. Your customer service team brings a different perspective to the table than your inbound sales teams. And getting distributors on board with your brand story has its own unique set of hurdles. In future posts, we will feature some of the most common customer-facing teams to help marketers better understand each of these critical internal audiences. While their roles are different and the internal marketing approach may vary for each, the outcome of engaging them will be the same: You’ll win from within.

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