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January 21, 2019

Marketing Medicine: Who else is going to deliver your brand?

One of the pleasures of beginning a new career direction is that the old grey matter gets pumped up learning new stuff. New theories, parameters you previously didn’t know existed and more about the human condition unfold. My new role places me at the intersection between marketing and HR. It is an interesting place and as a border it is far from porous. Marketing people do the marketing (broadly perceived as an outward facing task). HR people do the people bit (an inward focus if ever there was one).

But what happens when the CEO wants to make a difference to the way his people behave. And, even more effectively, when he wants them to behave in a way that brings the brand to life?  Wouldn’t the people knowledge of HR be better combined with the communication ability of marketing?

How often does that happen? Very rarely, in my experience. Most marketers think that an internal communications campaign involves getting a PR agency to do some posters or a spot of industrial theatre. Many HR folk on the other hand want to invest in psychometrics and training workshops. And both of them fight over the team building budget.

The truth is that internal communications is not something that can be ‘done’ to staff. It is a process that needs to involve and engage them. So that they internalise it; and promote it themselves.  It is sometimes described as the journey of the 6 A’s: moving staff members from attention to awareness, then from acceptance to advocacy; and finally to action and adherence.

The global recession has certainly taken its toll on employees. And here in Africa the vagaries of pay freeze, short term contracts and layoffs are still a constant concern for employees. Like biblical plagues, you never know what is coming next. One minute you are happily dunking your mandazi in your mid-morning tea, the next you are pounding the streets looking for yet another job. This stress and uncertainty for employees makes it more difficult to achieve or maintain healthy levels of engagement.

Against this backdrop, engaging the right employees with the right behaviours remains the critical ingredient of how companies manage success in the diverse economic conditions facing their organisations today. And in no area more strongly than that of branding.

As Nader Tavassoli, professor of marketing at London Business Schools says: ‘Ultimately it is people, not advertising, that deliver the brand promise and the bottom line.’

At the same time, dynamic employee trends are changing the nature of what employees demand in exchange for their discretionary effort. Anyone who hires and fires in Africa will be well aware of how highly even moderate performers regard themselves, and what money they think they should command. So we have to find other ways to motivate and engage, that take the absolute pressure off the money discussion.

AON Hewitt recently published a study that highlighted the following:

  • Worldwide, four out of 10 employees are still not engaged. While 60 per cent per cent of employees globally are considered engaged, 40 per cent  of employees are passive or actively disengaged—what a terrifying though for a brand owner.
  • The work experience is improving more than deteriorating. Overall trends from 2011to 2013 reveal more aspects of the work experience are improving, and to a greater extent than any decreasing areas. These changes to the general work experience varied by region around the globe. Here in Africa I walk into more and more office and factory environments that offer acceptable conditions and even a sense of community. Not every office can be a Google playground, but little touches of humanity go a long way
  • But pay remains one of the top drivers of engagement. Usually described as a “hygiene” factor of little consequence to employee engagement, pay moved up in engagement driver ranking from  number six in 2011 to number three  in 2013.

My take on all this is that we need a new point of view on employee engagement. And where better to start than with your company’s brand promise? A well-written brand promise is easy to understand (unlike most corporate mission statements). It  is easy to dramatise, which is why so many brand promises translate directly into advertising straplines (Nike’s ‘Just Do It’). It is time we applied this clarity of thought to engaging employees.

Finally, don’t you just hate the word stakeholders? It rarely applies to employees yet they always get lumped in there with shareholders and the browbeaten horde of suppliers. In the world of corporate insincerity, stakeholder is right up there with partner. When anyone says stakeholder to me, I imagine a sullen group of Transylvanian peasants, all waiting to drive a wooden spike through the heart of the nearest vampire.

Chris Harrison has 30 years experience of marketing and advertising. Most of them spent in Africa. He leads the African operations of The Brand Inside, an international company which helps organisations deliver their brands and strategies through their people.

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