Marketing Your Way to HR Success

The parallels between marketing and human resources are impossible to miss. While most HR departments use one-off marketing concepts, they overlook the campaign strategies that evolved because of our culture of digital overload and distraction.

I’d like to discuss what I’ve learned from running HR campaigns with a marketer’s mindset. There are untapped opportunities to improve engagement and reduce churn in our workforces.

Employee experience

The work of building a brand, offering a value proposition, and prospecting are similar in marketing and HR. But whereas marketing departments have evolved to focus on “customer success” and “experience” after acquisition, HR departments have not.

Instead, we tend to see a letdown in the post-hire phase. As Jobvite’s 2018 Job Seeker Nation Study found, 30% of job hunters have left a job within 90 days of starting. To them, the employee value proposition fell short, a mismatch between what they expected and what their employer delivered.

That has consequences. Employees who feel disappointed won’t recommend their workplace to others and they begin to opportunistically job hunt. They won’t put much effort into winning and satisfying your customers either. Simply put, a bad employee experience works against everything your company aspires to accomplish.

I’m preaching to the choir when I argue that better employee experiences are critical to long-term innovation, a healthy culture, effective recruiting, and a successful business. The difference is that I’ve begun to use more marketing tactics in the world of experience.

Follow the marketing playbook

Neither marketers nor HR people can take for granted that audiences will listen to us or care about what we say (even when it’s in their self-interest!). However, we can win attention and create more engaging experiences using four marketing principles.

Know your audience — Even better than marketers, HR leaders can segment their audiences and personalize their content. We might do that based on age and generation, desk versus field, manager versus employee, and more. We can also segment based on channels like email versus text, preferred time of day for communications, and rich media versus plain text.

Word of mouth — Both marketers and HR people care about word of mouth, people’s willingness to promote a brand because they passionately believe that friends and acquaintances will appreciate the recommendation. Advertise your employee referral program and have employees share about your company on social media outlets.

Community and culture — Just as marketing brands put out content and events that provide shared experiences for customers, good HR leaders do the same for employees. These experiences reinforce the values and culture that appealed to employees in the first place.

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Click-worthy content — Let’s face it: very few B2B marketers or HR people put out content you’d read for pleasure. No employees want to read a 13-page memo about compliance, but if you make engaging, personalized, digestible chunks of content, people might just dig in.

How we put it together

In February, my company, GuideSpark, launched a performance management and career development initiative called the Spark Performance Excellence Program (SPEP). At first, we sent one-off emails about it. The average open rate was 56%. We wanted people to fill out a survey with feedback, which few ever did.

So, we switched into campaign mode. The mission was to educate people about SPEP, and then get them to draft career development goals. Based on our audience, we knew the opening campaign email needed to be brief and visual. My team recorded me in a 90-second video explaining SPEP. After employees clicked the video link, the landing page would recommend related videos, visuals, and written content about SPEP. All the content was delivered, published, and personalized on GuideSpark’s own platform.

What we learned

The SPEP campaign became a personalized, choose-your-own adventure experience and it reached 96% of GuideSpark employees. While it was a success, our built-in analytics helped us course correct along the way. Here’s what we learned:

  • We found in A/B tests that emails from a generic HR alias didn’t get as many opens as emails sent from my personal alias.
  • To improve our “word of mouth” technique, we had to include directions for managers on how to follow-up about career development goals with face-to-face feedback and coaching.
  • For click-worthy content, we learned we needed to provide more examples of how a good career development goal reads.
  • Go beyond emails as a communication channel and leverage posters, mobile messaging or collaboration tools such as Slack.

Campaigns work

Campaign-style HR is a positive change in the way businesses communicate with employees. Marketing, for all its flaws, still has much to teach us. By applying marketing principles to an HR campaign, we raised the engagement rate from 56% to 96%, which means we’re onto something here.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Colleen Blake is SVP of People at GuideSpark. Colleen is passionate about helping GuideSpark customers develop outstanding company cultures that enable employees and increase revenue.  Colleen has extensive experience in HR, Marketing, Sales, IT, M&A, Operations and Professional Services. Her previous leadership roles include VP of Marketing at ServiceRocket and Senior Director of Global People Operations at Brocade Communications.

Colleen has been the recipient of the Silicon Valley Women of Influence Award Winner and the Journal’s “Top 40 Under 40” Award. As an advocate and mentor for girls and women in technology, Colleen frequently speaks on panels and at conferences to promote the need for and retention of women in STEM careers.

Colleen is a San Francisco Bay Area native and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing and Communications from Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business.

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