The CBI has recently published its latest research on business reputation and how businesses can visibly demonstrate their value to society.
The headline fact is that “treating their employees well” is the most important contribution businesses can make to their reputation. Sixty per cent of respondents (the public) put it first—above more contentious and, you would have thought, more emotionally powerful issues such as being transparent about tax, which came second with 47%.
Meanwhile, the research has also confirmed that the public, and business, believe that employment is businesses’ biggest contribution to society.
Coupled with recent evidence from Harvard Business Review that companies with engaged employees generate twice as much revenue, four times the profit, and have double the client satisfaction of those that don’t have them, it’s now a business imperative that companies engage with and communicate effectively with their employees. It’s critical to business reputation and performance.
So what has this got to do with marketing?
Marketing Needs To Focus Internally
First, marketing needs to square the circle between internal and external communications. For too long, marketing’s external focus has resulted in a blinkered approach to internal engagement. Omobono’s on-going research with senior decision-makers in major B2B organisations has shown that although “ensuring employees live the brand” is on marketers’ radars, it is the lowest of their priorities.
But the CBI and Harvard data suggests this is a hugely missed opportunity. Employees are the people who actually deliver the brand to customers, not just in B2B but in retail, in hospitality and leisure, and utilities. Without an outstanding customer experience, customers will not return or act as advocates. In addition, employees are more powerful voices than marketing.
Other research studies have shown they are better connected than the brand, and their content is more shared than that of marketing. So it’s imperative that marketing reach out to people within the organisation to ensure that they are, at the very least, aware of marketing initiatives.
But the real opportunity is to look closely at the intersection between internal and external messaging and show how an external initiative connects not just to company goals, but to the goals of individual employees. If employees understand both how to contribute to an initiative and how that will benefit them personally, there is a huge opportunity to uplift the impact of external campaigns.
HR & Marketing—Critical Allies
Second, marketing is no longer in sole charge of external perceptions of the brand. HR is now the second most powerful digital voice in the organisation, not just through its internal communications, but also by putting out its own messages externally. Seventy-five per cent of respondents to Omobono’s most recent research agreed that HR’s digital communications had a direct impact on corporate reputation.
In short, HR and marketing are critical allies. As customers are, in fact, more likely to hear from someone else—sales or customer service, for instance—rather than marketing, it’s imperative that everyone within the company should understand both the internal and external agendas. Integrating the digital approach across the organisation means better outcomes all round—delivering more consistent messaging (87% of respondents agree), more effective communications (82% agree), and a stronger brand (82% again agree). It also delivers a better customer experience (61% agree), which, as other studies have shown, will make its way down into profit and business growth.
Connector, Not Just Communicator
Marketing needs to know how to respond to this new scenario, particularly given that it is no longer necessarily seen to be in charge. The lack of leadership over digital integration is a major barrier to success for organisations, but marketers still retain an advantage. They are seen as being more expert in digital than their colleagues, particularly by HR, who have only been catching up with digital investment in the past four or five years. Being the digital expert means that marketing is more likely to be consulted in the process of rolling out digital programmes—and more likely to be the department that helps senior management, a critical audience, understand the importance of digital channels.
Marketing’s real opportunity is, therefore, to build connections across the organisation, not just with HR, but the other departments involved in the customer journey. It may no longer be responsible for every interaction along the route, but it can be the drawers of the map, advising on how every step of the customer experience can be improved. And HR, in turn, can play a key role in ensuring that everyone within the organisation signs up to its contribution to that experience.
It’s clear that marketing and HR now need to come together to ensure that the company puts a consistent and powerful narrative forward both internally and externally. This should include increasing the levels of transparency and authenticity with their staff, who will carry that message out into the market place, and ensuring that their external messages are understood and resonate just as powerfully with their employees as with their customers.
Companies that recognise the critical role that employees play in this, and structure their communications accordingly, stand to gain reputation and financial benefit in the future.