Internal communications – the marketer’s friend
Internal communications is often the poor relation in marketing but a well-planned campaign can influence a number of areas from new product development and launch programmes to how well a merger/acquisition is received throughout the workforce.
Mention marketing and a number of ‘traditional’ topics will spring to mind - mailshots, websites, press and so on. All of these are fine but, usually focused on reaching the outside world, they can often leave out one terrific opportunity – using internal communications to enhance the more mainstream activity instead of viewing it as a second-string initiative.
If we look at its potential in some detail, there’s more to internal ‘promotion’ than the odd message from the Board - not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course (just in case they’re listening!). Actively communicating with your workforce and key partners has a lot to offer, providing a terrific vetting process before going to a bigger audience.
So how do we harness this strand of ‘marketing’? First off, unlike an ad campaign, we need to acknowledge that not all internal messaging has a positive beginning. The project may be anything from news of an acquisition or merger to a forthcoming change of working practice or, in one project I worked on, the closure of a number of sites. Whatever the theme, it will need a high degree of sensitivity if it’s to meet the needs of the entire workforce.
Unlike a regular promotion to our clients and prospects, this multi-layered audience will be everyone from senior execs and office staff to delivery drivers and trainees straight from college. This gives rise to our first challenge, that of delivery.
Let me use a previous project to explain myself. I spent two years as consultant to a major multi-national as it implemented an ERP system in over 50 sites around the world. Straightaway, this presents the inevitable challenge of language and an early decision on how much is to be spent on translation when delivering the message. This not-inconsiderate cost can be offset if you have the luxury of locally based staff available to do the translation, especially as they have the advantage of knowing the company’s ethos and product better than any agency.
Next is the actual delivery mechanism and here we must consider the conditions of all employees. In other words, some will be email aficionados while others won’t have regular, if any, access to a computer. Another consideration is that some staff will be based at a head office and can just walk down the corridor to clarify a point with Human Resources. Many more colleagues located in the field may only visit their local branch once a year, leaving them ill-informed on developments and possibly feeling a little neglected.
By analysing all these variations, we can start to devise a series of tools that meet the needs. Referring back to my ERP client, we not only had the language, location and I.T. differences but also shift workers to consider. Being one of the world’s largest manufacturers in its field, hundreds of its production line staff worked through the night, with minimal access to their local HR team during office hours.
Also, with a two year roll-out, the project also needed careful time management. Without it can give rise to a number of problems – tell them too early and they will have ‘cooled down’ when it matters, inform them too late and they haven’t enough time to buy into the messaging.
In my case study, I had to develop methods to reach a multi-lingual, geographically dispersed workforce with wide-ranging I.T. skills, varied access to content and differing messaging schedules – plus find and generate the material. No problem!
Researching and writing the content is not a five minute task as it will have to fit anything from an Intranet and email alerts to hardcopy newsletters, local awareness campaigns and more. This can often be the most difficult part, as not everyone can, in effect, translate corporate-speak into something meaningful to every member of staff.
So, having presented internal communications as such a challenging project, you can be forgiven for asking ‘why bother?’. One reason is the impact a carefully planned campaign can have on staff understanding, their morale and creation of a two-way dialogue. The resulting feedback alone helps clarify the messages before taking them to the wider audience (customers, prospects, media, etc.).
This means that a marketing team can use a well-planned internal comms project, maybe prior to a new product launch, to add excellent intelligence to the follow-on end user promotion.
It’s obvious that, in a short article such as this, I can only skim over many elements that contribute to a successful internal communications campaign. But, having managed projects for a variety of clients, I firmly believe that if this often-neglected tool is taken more seriously, the outcome should be a more coherent marketing plan, supported by the most influential of people – your staff. For more tips on internal communications or to give feedback on this article, please feel free to contact the author.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Based in the UK, Glyn Yarnall has over twenty years marketing experience, including ten years as an Interim Head of Marketing/Consultant for multi-national B2Bs, not-for-profit and government, particularly for US-based companies wishing to improve their European presence. More case studies are featured at www.reveremarketing.co.uk, along with further examples of interim projects.