How do companies market to their consumers? Using today’s sophisticated technologies, they use strategies like segmentation, targeting, positioning, and messaging. (This is what shows up in the first Google search for “How do companies market to their consumers?”)

What if we thought about employees as consumers? After all, employees make the largest investment of time and effort in their company and its brand than anyone else, and by extension are its most knowledgeable ambassadors.

As it turns out, some companies are doing just that. For example, given the gravitas of the virtual social community concept, one of the world’s leading oil and gas companies uses a social customer service app to answer employee questions about using outside vendors:

By consulting the company’s community, employees are able to get answers quickly from HR members, who can discuss policy, and from coworkers, who have previously sought outside vendors themselves. Because this particular customer service app plugs into the company’s customer relationship management (CRM), employees can also pull down statistical data on topics such as the most popular vendors at any given point in time and what they’ve been charging.

Professor Nick Kemsley, Co- Director of the Henley Business School Centre for HR Excellence,  outlines 5 key ways employers can change their behaviors towards their employees and engage them in a consumer-minded way:

  1. Look outwards – change your HR approach to look outwards towards the employee, not inwards towards ‘Core HR’. Ask yourself how many major initiatives in the last three years were really providing value to employees, versus value predominantly to your HR department (yes, that recent HRIS implementation, too).
  2. Get transformational, not transactional – if your engagement practices are a set of activities or targets as a result of a survey, then it is reactive and transactional. To be transformational there needs to be a deep belief in the power of people to contribute and that employees are integral to deliver business strategy.
  3. Your strategy must impact employees daily – consumers are fickle and expect great products and service, instantly. Your annual initiatives and programmes won’t work. Employees work in days and hours, not quarters or years.  
  4. Engage managers – managers often get overlooked, but they’re employees too. Too often, they’re not ready for management and don’t have the skill set or experience. Make managers part of the process of developing the strategy and enacting it with employees.  Managers have more impact on changing the organisation positively than leaders or executives.
  5. Get ‘employee-specific’ – ‘one size fits all’ doesn’t work for consumers and it won’t for employees either.  Think about the time you’re being mass-marketed to and you ignore it – your employees are no different.  There needs to be a genuine interest in the individual employee.

Consider Simon Sinek’s idea of the Golden Circle: people don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it. Many companies make similar products or perform similar services, but they don’t all do it for the same reasons. The same concept can be applied to employees: they don’t work for you because of WHAT you do, but WHY you do it.

Give employees a reason to stay and treat them like your best customers. They’ll keep coming back for more. Just like your best customers would.

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