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The “Marketing” Connection to Internal Communications

There’s a brewing problem in marketing, and the solution to it might be staring back at us across our desks at the office.

When you’re making a decision about a product to buy or service provider to hire, how do you do it? For years, if you knew someone who worked at the company, you’d ask them. Social media has expanded that network from your first-level contacts to people around the world. Sites like GlassDoor, Great Places to Work, Indeed and many others offer first hand reviews from the people behind the scenes.

In response to this development, some companies are trying to bring marketing techniques to bear. They launch campaigns to encourage social sharing by employees, going so far as to script tweets and Facebook posts. They might target specific sites and ask employees to write reviews about how terrific the company and its products are. This is a mistake.

The connection between “marketing” and internal communications needs some work. At a regional bank some years ago, we reported to the marketing department, and our principal internal client looked at a newsletter one day and exclaimed, “These are like, articles!” Patiently, we agreed. They indeed are articles, collections of sentences and paragraphs that inform, inspire and motivate. What she wanted were ads. Brand-connected images with cutlines, graphical illustrations…things that evoked mood rather than information.

We wound up somewhere in between, but the lesson I took away from that experience was that marketing and communications weren’t the same thing. Marketing is based on an exchange relationship – you give us money, we give you stuff. That dynamic lends itself to the high-visual, low-detail world of advertising.

But internal communications needs context and detail alongside the motivational, emotional feel of marketing.  That’s not to say it always is textual, or that it’s always lengthy. The sort of relationship IC is about is a communal relationship – the sense of getting people to identify with the organization, its mission, its vision and its values. When that sense of identification is well established, employees are more satisfied, happier at work and more fulfilled. They tell others. Organically.

Developing identification relies on building comprehension, understanding and commitment, and that means managers and supervisors play a crucial role. Manager communication effectiveness is highly correlated to those factors, according to research Dr. Julie O’Neil of Texas Christian University and I conducted a few years ago.

What marketers should be doing instead of thinking of employees as one more set of influencers to exploit is to partner with internal communicators to support managers and supervisors with solid tools, techniques and information to help them lead, guide and better understand their employees. Improving the communication environment will help expose issues and problems, develop solutions, innovate and generally make for a great place to work

If that happens, organizations will reap the rewards of a motivated, engaged workforce – which helps the organization win in the market.