Internal marketing is the key to creating a company culture where employees “live the brand.” What does it mean to live the brand? It means embodying brand values and visions in such a way that arises authentically from the employees—the brand resonates with them, and the employees embody the brand. In this way, brand messaging seems to arise from, as the Harvard Business Review puts it, the “very soul” of the company or organization. In turn, customers respond to the authenticity and have interactions with the organization that are consistent with branding strategies. Sounds good, right? It is!
What’s the problem? Most organizations pay little attention to internal marketing. They have no strategy, a poor one, or fumble the deployment of it. That’s a significant opportunity loss.
This article will give you a broad overview of internal marketing: what it looks like, why it’s important, how it works, and the essentials of a winning strategy. By the end, you’ll know what to do and which people in your organization you should ask to join your cause. Let’s get started.
What is internal marketing?
Internal marketing promotes the company’s values, culture, and goals to its employees. Broadly, it encompasses all the communications between the organizational leadership and its workforce.
Workplace memos? #General Slack channels? Those are part of internal marketing, whether you realize it or not. Another way to think about internal marketing is through employee touch points or moments and spaces where employees interact with their workplace.
Internal marketing is used to achieve many kinds of objectives, but at the heart of every target is employee engagement. You want your employees to connect authentically with your company, so every time you prepare a campaign, consider how you want them to engage. Here are examples of internal marketing campaign initiatives:
- Inform employees about changes to company procedures or benefits packages.
- Provide support to inspire work-life balance or other values culturally crucial to your organization.
- Monthly acknowledgments of employees who went above and beyond.
- Ask for and encourage employee feedback.
- Update teams about progress on employee-led initiatives.
While none of the above are directly related to sales or other KPIs traditionally associated with company success, it’s easy to see how vital each bullet point is to a person getting up every day to come to work.
Examples of internal marketing touch points
Internal marketing happens at touch points—physical or virtual—where employees come into close contact with the company. Break rooms, intranets, and Zoom chats are all examples of touch points. But touch points are also:
- Training and career development opportunities
- Communications of company mission, vision, and values
- Details of short and medium-term business objectives
- Social media policies, guidelines, and standards
- Employee benefits packages
One thing to note is that these touch points are, for the most part (but not exclusively), internal. That means only people within the organization experience these touch points. As touchpoints are mostly hidden from public view, it’s easy to see how these places of internal messaging can easily fall out of line with public brand messaging. And that’s a bad thing (maybe even really bad!) Why? Let’s talk about purpose to find out.
What is the purpose of internal marketing?
Internal marketing is all about employee engagement. Deep engagement occurs when employees feel connected to each other and the organization through a shared sense of purpose. In an ideal state, employees feel they are living their values when they come to work. They collaborate with colleagues to reach big goals, making the organization’s accomplishments personal.
Engaging your workforce starts with research
So how do you know if your internal marketing will vibe with your employees? You’ve got to ask your employees, and you ask by using the same techniques any marketer would use:
- Employee surveys
- Employee interviews
- Employee focus groups
There is no point in guessing what’s meaningful and authentic to your workforce, especially when you can just ask. And though it may seem like company values and vision come top down, that’s not the whole picture. Company culture creates an organization’s real or actual value and vision. Let’s look at an example.
Company Z claims its core values are integrity and respect. Every month, the leadership team schedules an organizational meeting to keep everyone up-to-date on what’s happening across groups. These meetings rarely happen as planned. They regularly run way over time and often devolve into discussions between leadership that should be private. Rarely are members from non-leadership positions asked to participate other than listening. Worst of all, though the meetings happen every month, the time and day of the meeting can change at a moment’s notice, even minutes before it’s supposed to start. For example, last month, the entire team received a “meeting postponed to tomorrow” email ten minutes before it was set to begin.
Does this sound like a company that lives its values by respecting its employees? Not really. Even if the leadership is kind and respectful in person, the way they schedule and conduct their meetings shows no concern for non-leadership team members.
Research uncovers these kinds of problems and provides an opportunity to address them.
Who does internal marketing?
Generally speaking, internal marketing is done by everyone, but internal marketing objectives are usually designated to HR teams. While an HR member might act as a project manager, bringing people from multiple departments together is a great idea. Each department has a unique vantage point, and seeing through various perspectives is useful.
It’s common to bring in a person from your marketing department because you need someone who understands research and messaging. If your marketing team doesn’t have the bandwidth, try someone from the user experience (UX) team—especially a content designer. A content designer often has experience with messaging and user research.
Internal marketing campaigns are successful when deployed using traditional marketing strategies. Just like external marketing, these campaigns are about persuasion. You want to sell the brand to your team. Depending on your company’s culture, you might even use the word evangelize. No matter what the campaign is about—new processes for customer care, changes in benefits packages, you name it—internal marketing works best when people are vibing with the messaging.
This is where your marketing (or UX professional) can be the most helpful, especially one who is obsessed with branding. Often it’s not the content of what is said but how it’s said that makes all the difference.
Benefits of internal marketing
There are many benefits to intentional internal marketing. Exactly how your company will benefit depends on the peculiarities of your organization. But for most, successful campaigns result in:
- Strong company culture reinforced and enriched by employee engagement
- Higher employee satisfaction and retention
- Better customer service provided to external customers
- Higher productivity and profitability
- Employees who become brand ambassadors
These kinds of benefits can produce gains in the long term. The gains can also become self-perpetuating, creating wins repeatedly with little direct input from the organization.
Internal marketing in a changing workplace
Unprecedented might be the word of the decade. Never before has the workplace changed so rapidly. Even organizations that adopted remote work, hybrid scheduling, and cloud-based workspace tools before the pandemic had to redefine themselves in new ways in a virtual space.
Add to that the rise of social media, where everyday people often have a broad reach. You may discover some employees have a large following rich with potential customers or potential new hires. Building a trusting relationship between the brand and employees makes it possible to tap into this resource. But it only works if that relationship authentically exists.
Touchpoints in a remote workplace
Remote work has changed how employees interact with organizations. But, many of the touch points in the past are still in play in virtual workplaces. You and your team must uncover which touchpoints are present in your organization. Some common touch points include:
- Employer Branding
- Managers, supervisors, and mentors
- Slack, email, and other workplace communication tools
- Asana, Monday, and other workplace organizational tools
- Scheduling and vacation processes
- Paycheck and benefits
- Evaluation and talent management
- Company events and gatherings (including meetings)
Twenty years ago, when the concept of internal branding was taking off, employee impact stayed within the general orbit of the company. Disillusioned employees could complain to friends and loved ones about issues with their company, but word of mouth traveled slowly over short distances by today’s standards.
Today’s employees have a much larger reach—their reach is potentially unlimited even—through the internet. With nowhere to place their critiques internally, employees may disparage their company in virtual spaces, such as:
- Message boards (Reddit, Quora)
- Social media posts (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram)
- Job board sites (Glassdoor, Indeed, Vault)
The good news about employee reach
On a positive note, you can begin your research by reviewing public information employees have posted online. Consider this anonymous information a gift. Even if it’s brutal, it’s honest. And it’s a huge opportunity to connect with your staff if you tailor your internal campaign to the needs presented in these spaces.
Moreover, you can identify and collaborate with employees with unique positions due to their social influence outside the workplace. Do you have employees who are active on social media? Even people with modest followings can have a significant impact and help you achieve a symbiosis between internal and external messaging.
Elements of an effective internal marketing strategy
There is no one-size-fits-all strategy your team should develop and deploy. Everything should be tailored to your team and can be affected by several factors, including your company’s size, industry, and location.
But one universal thing is that internal marketing is a collaborative process. You are relying on the collaboration between your internal marketing team and the employee body. In the best-case scenario, a call and response should arise.
Your team will create a campaign and launch it (call), your employees will give you feedback (response), and you will refigure your strategy based on that feedback. This process repeats itself for as long as your company prioritizes internal marketing.
Let’s look at an overview of the internal marketing process.
Starting the internal marketing processes
The internal marketing process could be broken down into an infinite number of steps, but let’s focus on the big picture. A successful campaign begins with an honest assessment of current internal marketing. Review recent communications: memos, emails, employee handbooks. Consider what messaging the company and its leadership convey to the organization. What does the current communication say about the company culture? Try to look at things from an outsider’s perspective.
As you review, consider the communication style’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. This is known as a SWOT analysis. Let’s look at those pieces in depth:
- Strengths: What is the best part of your current internal marketing strategy, how does it work, and why is it the thing that your company does best?
- Weaknesses: What is the worst part of your current internal marketing strategy, why is it the worst part, and what feedback has been received about it?
- Opportunities: How is the company receiving current feedback, especially negative feedback from people outside of leadership? What support is your workforce asking for, and how is the company delivering? How can employees take advantage of changes in the workplace?
- Threats: What obstacles are between us and creating and deploying an effective internal marketing strategy? Are there any key gatekeepers you need to convince to get on board? What workplace changes present challenges toy our organization?
You may find that you don’t know all the answers. That’s okay because the next leg of the journey is all about research. Research for internal marketing purposes focuses on gathering information about your workforce. Surveys, interviews, and focus groups are just as applicable here as for external marketing. You should use whatever tools make the most sense for your company.
When you’ve gathered information from your team, you should review and analyze the data looking for themes. What issues are coming up again and again? Those issues are probably on everyone’s mind. Conversely, what’s the excellent point only one person pointed out? They could be seeing cracks in groupthink phenomenon happening within the group.
While you may not be able to address everything that comes up in your research, you will be able to narrow your goals down to be able to do something about what people complain about the most and what opportunities are easiest to achieve. Look for the easy wins and the big wins.
The easy wins are the little ways you can show you care. They provide quick hits that prove (for now) that your organization is listening, cares, and is willing to take action based on its employees’ feedback.
The big wins are opportunities that have longer time horizons and multiple stages. You will have to present these initiatives to your team, continually update your team as you work through each step, and ask for feedback.
Developing and deploying your strategy
Once your team has decided on its significant initiative, you can develop a strategy tailored to the interest of your most important stakeholders—team members and leadership. Your internal marketing strategy should:
- Be clear, communicable, and easy to understand
- Outline specific operational goals and processes that support the strategy
The strategy will be created by and shared with members of your team, plus leadership stakeholders. It will serve as a guideline and measuring tool. No strategy is static. It is constantly evolving, and as it grows, you can refer back to your initial plan to see if new initiatives will move the needle for your most important goals. As new ideas pop up, you can see how they complement your initial intentions.
Evaluating and adjusting your strategy
You should regularly review your strategy’s effectiveness as often as it makes sense to your organization. You can run another round of surveys or interviews to understand employees’ impressions of the campaign. You can also look at key performance indicators to measure your progress.
Using your findings, you can adjust your strategy. You may discover that targets originally defined in your plan are not as crucial as they initially seemed. In this case, you might change your targets altogether.
For this reason, it’s essential to keep review times close together. It’s always better to catch a strategy that’s not serving you early. Reviewing monthly, for example, means you’ll see problems two months earlier than a team that checks every quarter.
Integrating feedback into the next leg of the campaign is the heart of a successful internal marketing strategy. When you do this well, the employee body will see how much their organization cares about them. They will feel listened to. Even if you can’t integrate some of the feedback now, you still get the opportunity to understand what’s on everyone’s mind, and you can address it.
Redeploying your strategy works just the same as the initial deployment. You implement, monitor progress, and ask for feedback. Most of the time, you will incorporate minor changes to your initial strategies. Sometimes, you’ll be overhauling large parts of your plan or scrapping your campaign and starting over. It’s hard to know what will be needed until you start reviewing progress and getting feedback.
This process is continual. So long as a business exists and employs people, an internal marketing strategy is essential.
If you have a large team to work with, deploying a successful internal marketing campaign may not seem that daunting. But for organizations with small teams and fewer resources, internal marketing may seem too large a task to tackle. Don’t despair! Even small steps toward more intentional communications can make a big difference to your teams.