Thinking Differently: What HR Can Learn from Marketing

This article continues the series on Thinking Differently.   For the first article in the series click here:  Thinking Differently:  What HR Can Learn from Not Focusing on HR and Thinking Differently:  What HR Can Learn from Sales

Why us?  This question rests at the core of every marketing campaign.  There are many ways to create space between your offering and the competition but at the heart of every advertisement is a core message of differentiation for a customer.  

Differentiated messages are only part of the unique customer experience that marketing dreams of creating.  Alignment of those messages across all the go-to-market channels are at the core of a successful marketing campaign.   The irony is thick:  you need to simultaneously drive differences and similarities.

However, nothing destroys a brand faster than not doing what you say you are going to do.   A differentiated brand, aligned across all go to market channels, is just the start.  Delivery of the messages to the customer is still the ultimate measure of success.  The brand shrapnel of organizations failing to deliver is everywhere these days.  Volkswagen and United Airlines both had high profile failures that are eroding their brands.   Starbucks, recognizing this potential sink hole, responded quickly after a high-profile customer issue to help protect their brand.

This basic marketing recap was not intended to educate – the goal was to refresh, with a twist. When you re-read the previous three paragraphs and replace ‘customer’ with ‘employee’, the intent is clear.    Looking through the customer lens is an easy way to make decisions about your employment brand. 

Employee value propositions, the expression of the employment brand, are clearly in fashion.  What is also equally hot is finding out what other organizations are using as an EVP.  This effort is fine to make sure you aren’t copying a competitor’s EVP – but it is not fine as a source of inspiration.  It is more effective, and much easier, to meet up with your marketing team and partner with them to design and deliver a holistic employment brand. 

Here are 3 lessons from marketing that HR can apply create and sustain a differentiated, aligned and delivered employee experience.

Customer – Employee Expectations Alignment

Here is a little thought exercise. Think of your favorite luxury fashion brand.  Got it. Now think of what it would be like to work at one of those boutiques surrounded with the latest, cutting edge shoes, clothes or jewellery.  Now think of your favorite IT gadget – the one you can’t live without.  What do you think it is like to work at a company that produces such dynamic, game-changing products?  Understanding customer expectations is a formidable challenge because customer needs are based on personal history, tastes, interests and daily moods.

Expectations for employees are no different.  Employees wants and needs change based on life stages – they get married, have children, care for a parent – as well as their daily interactions outside of work.   My ability to have a tailored, end-to-end, and mobile enabled service through Amazon, Uber or Airbnb, including making payments and filtering through their suggestions, sets new expectations for my employment experiences.  I don’t forget those experiences when I use three different log-in passwords on a Monday morning.  This begs the question:  Why aren’t all my employee services this tailored, efficient and dynamic? 

To understand if you have a compelling EVP, ask yourself 3 questions

  1. What is unique about the employee experience we offer?
  2. Do all leaders, managers, employees consistently say what is different about the employment experience?
  3. Are the key employee messages effectively and consistently delivered though the people programs?

As you chew over these questions, spend time with your marketing team to understand how they (a) set differentiated messages, (b) align those messages with sales teams and channel partners, and (c) ensure that the operations and service delivery teams can deliver on those messages.  

Go Micro and Get Personal

We’ve all received the personal emails with our name at the top of the letterhead or email.  They help get our attention – but when the rest of the text quickly devolves into boilerplate nonsense, we often lose interest.   Now think about your last experience on a website you frequent.   They know your history, have your core data (name, address and phone are pre-filled), and often make recommendations (people who chose X product also chose Y product).  This occurs regardless of which of the 5 devices you are using.  The marketing concept is simple – go personal to increase stickiness.

How personal is the user experience for your employees when they log into your intranet?  Does it push the latest thought leadership or product information sheets to employees?  Does it remember your last log in to check your annual leave balance – or remind you of days left?  Does it highlight new training courses that might be of interest? 

These are the expectations that marketing sets (and manages) every day with customers. 

Bring the Messages to Life

Enough with the EVP posters.  Enough with the PowerPoint slide that tightly summarizes the 3 key reasons to join the company.  And enough with the generic video showcasing employees enjoying work at an organization charity event.    Make it real for people through stories, guerrilla campaigns and digital media. 

Inspiration for how to bring messages to life should come from your marketing teams – don’t just look at how other HR organizations deliver their employee messages.  If you were starting a new football league, would you model it after your Wednesday after work football league or the Premier League?  

A few key questions to start with are

  • What lessons can we learn from marketing’s transition to digital marketing?
  • How does marketing tailor messages and delivery channels for each customer segment?
  • How often does marketing refresh or ‘tweak’ the messages and channels based on feedback?
  • How does marketing create viral videos?
  • How does marketing make decisions on social media – usage, delivery, advertising?
  • How does marketing architect a campaign for the launch of a new product or services?

Leveraging internal marketing capabilities is one of the best inspiration sources to deliver compelling employee messages.   So, on a regular basis, spend time with your marketing team to understand how they differentiate and deliver your products and services. Buy them lunch or a coffee – but you need to know the underlying messages of differentiation they are sending through the multi-million dollar advertising campaigns with those catchy tag lines.  

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