Marketing Can Teach You How to Improve Engagement

The two most valuable assets in any business are actually the same thing. Humans. Our customers and our employees. Yet, in most companies there is a huge gap between how we treat these two groups of people.

The value employees bring to the customer relationship is becoming ever clearer, which prompts an important question: Why don’t HR and marketing, the two disciplines responsible for these two groups, work more closely together?

I’ve been lucky enough to see the world from both perspectives, as a consumer marketer and now founder of a company focused on driving cultural change. Across every category I’m continually fascinated by how little collaboration happens between these two disciplines and how we continue to over invest in the promise we make to our customers and underserve those we task with delivering it.

Customers have never demanded more

Today, every category is crowded. Traditional leaders in CPG, travel, automotive and every other sector are feeling the snap of disruption. To stand out, a unique, powerful brand has never mattered more. But customers, the human force driving this disruptive change, have messed with the rules there, too. They want more meaning and more proof behind the promises their chosen brands make.

This awakening has seen an overlooked discipline rise as the most powerful driver of brand value. Customer Service. Remember “United Breaks Guitars”? That small incident and subsequent ambivalence from the brand wiped $180 million of the company’s value.

A wicked problem

A recent Gallup study revealed that two-thirds of employees are disengaged at work. The impact of all this unhappiness can be felt in every service interaction. Eroding brand value. Costing the business revenue and repeat customers. Misery is expensive. Very expensive. Actively disengaged employees cost the US $483 billion to $605 billion each year in lost productivity alone.

This engagement gap is the next wicked business problem for every leader to tackle. The solution lives in reframing the role and relationship between marketing, responsible for CX, and HR, for EX. As a marketer, here’s what I think every CHRO and people leader could learn from their marketing colleagues.

#1. Listen more

Marketers know the single biggest competitive advantage in business is a greater knowledge of your consumer. For HR leaders, the biggest cultural advantage should be a greater knowledge of your employees.

Consumer marketers obsess over emotional insight: To understand as much as possible about what makes our audience tick. What motivates them, inspires them, turns them off. The smartest brands have access to 1000s 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 different you would approach employee engagement if you had a deep, behavioral picture of your employees. Our lack of insight is nicely captured in this recent study on mismatched expectations for incentives and benefits by Robert Half.

#2. Making people care is hard

Humans have a limited capacity for caring. With a 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 CPG brand social feeds will tell you that they’ve forgotten the role they play in people’s lives. Small, instant gratification at the whim of the consumer. Why try to 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 time commitment, not an emotional one. It means you can mandate my attendance, 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. The impact loop

As consumers demand more interactivity and involvement from brand relationships, smart marketers are catching on to game theory and building compulsion loops into marketing programs, providing continued feedback from consumer activity.

For employees the most important question is, “Does my work matter?” Can they feel the positive 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 primarily for impact. To make things better. To create, build, deliver, repair. Impact on others is how we measure if our contribution matters. And we all need to know we matter.

The good news is that 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 helped employees craft their own missions rather than all adopting one nebulous common vision?

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#4. The diffusion of change

Influence is not just for Instagram. Advocacy – or word of mouth as it used to be called – has always been a powerful driver for brands. Beyond high profile celebrities, in recent years a new trend has emerged which offers real insight for HR leaders — micro-influencers. Millions of smaller networks built around niche passion points. Within these networks, micro-influencers – those with specific expertise and credibility – drive the conversation.

The same is true inside companies. Employees gather in small networks around disciplines, work location and areas of interest. Inside of 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 likely do the same. If they don’t, you’ll find implementing change exponentially harder. The behavior and subsequent adoption usually follow a traditional diffusion of innovation bell curve.

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. It’s time to rebrand HR & marketing

I believe there is a genuine misunderstanding around the true cultural role HR and marketing play and the similarities in the capabilities both need to be successful.

A marketer’s view of HR tends to be about compliance, governance, formal training.

HR practitioners view marketers as disengaged from the business and focused on making a splash out in the world.

If both groups took a long, hard look at the value they bring to the business, both would see that they 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 smart marketing strategy). My favorite definition for marketing is this: “The orientation of everything we do around our customers.”

HR is often confused for compliance (again an outcome). What if HR took a similar approach in defining itself: “The orientation of everything we do around our employees.”

A call to arms for every HR leader

If you believe CX will continue to be a primary driver of brand and business value, then a deeper commitment is needed to the employees that deliver it.

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

If you believe in this bigger role for HR and marketing, then this collaboration will be your next engine of growth.

Neil Bedwell is a digital-native and strategic leader with 15+ years running work, teams and businesses in London, Amsterdam and San Francisco. Now in Atlanta, Neil is a founding partner at Local Industries, a change marketing consultancy focused on using consumer-grade marketing techniques to design and implement meaningful organizational change. The Local team works with a wide variety of clients including P&G, Delta Airlines, Capital One, Zurich Insurance, eBay and Coca-Cola.

Neil has been lucky enough to experience life on the agency side - as head of strategy and managing director at Isobar - and as a client - leading digital strategy and content for Coca-Cola's Global Content Excellence group. His work included leadership of the digital program for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, developing new ways to create and publish content in real-time across multiple social channels and managing global digital agency relationships.

Neil is an advisor to multiple start-ups, a General Assembly Instructor, and a regular keynote speaker on employee engagement, brand-building, and marketing innovation in the social age, with appearances at The Adobe Summit, SXSW, IAB Mexico, The Economist Big Rethink, DisruptHR, Atlanta HR Summit, Lead Change 2018, HR Daily Advisor’s TalentCon 2019, Association of Change Management Professionals — Atlanta, and Change Management Review.

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