How to engage your people: think like a marketer

Becky Hawes Profile Portrait
By Becky Hawes

Internal communication plays a critical role in keeping people inspired, engaged and informed. At its best, it enhances business success, supports talent retention, and builds culture and cohesion, motivating employees to become powerful advocates for the organisation. 

But in our hybrid-working world - with its geographically disparate workforces and its multiplicity of communication channels - creating effective internal communication is more demanding than ever. It requires a strategic marketing approach, which emphasises:

  • Understanding who your people are, how they feel, and what they want
  • Opening a positive two-way dialogue between your people and the organisation
  • Building a long-term, joined-up communications strategy
  • Creating impactful, cut-through-the-noise, content
  • Optimising every communication channel
  • Motivating employees to become key advocates for the company

Here’s how that looks in practice...

1. Understanding who your people are, how they feel, and what they want

From a marketing perspective, the company is the ‘product’, and the workforce is the ‘market’. To communicate effectively, it’s important to listen to what the market is saying about the product. This means gathering insights – for example by running surveys or holding focus groups - in order to understand: 

  • What makes the ‘product’ attractive to the market?

What do employees like and value about the company? 

  • What doubts does the market have about the product?

What aspects of the company do employees question or dislike? 

  • What would improve the product in the eyes of the market?

What concrete actions could the company take to build employee satisfaction? 

Thinking about your people in this way creates a communication mindset in which the imperative is to understand what employees want and need, and to work towards delivering it, rather than purely focusing on the top-down messages that the company wants to convey. 

That sounds simple, but this approach puts employees centre stage and focuses on their needs. That concern for the employees’ opinions builds trust. And that trust is a fundamental cornerstone of engagement. 

2. Opening a positive two-way dialogue between people and the organisation

Once you’ve listened to your people, the next step is to respond to their feedback. This is a multi-level process which requires buy-in from senior leadership. It takes time. So, it’s important to keep employees in the loop: showing that the company is listening and considering what’s been said. That may be as simple as reflecting back what you have learned. “In our recent survey, 76% of colleagues said. By staying transparent, you open a two-way dialogue that builds a culture of trust and allows employees to feel that their voices matter." This pays dividends for the future. It invites employees to keep feeding back about their level of engagement and the reasons for it. That builds your understanding of your ‘market’ and how you should be interacting with it at any given time for optimum results.

3. Building a long-term, joined-up communications strategy

Listening also gives you the insights you need to create a long-term communications strategy to build employee engagement: aligning what matters to people, with what matters to the company.

  • Bringing to life the company’s purpose and values
  • Building pride in what you achieve as a company, together
  • Celebrating your company culture

This alignment between employee motivation and company purpose needs to be embedded and used as a regular touchpoint. Ideally, it will be summed up in a simple, easy-to-remember phrase that can be worked into as many communications as possible.

By weaving the message through your employee experience content you will create consistency and ensure that the message lands. Remember the old marketing adage: a message has to be repeated seven times before it sticks.

4. Creating impactful, cut-through-the-noise, content

Statista estimates that by 2023, the number of emails sent and received every day will have reached a staggering 347.3 billion. This is the age of information overload. And that means it’s critical to make your information stand out from the crowd. 

Use visuals. Create eye-catching headlines. Format your messaging so that it’s easy-to-read and easy-to navigate. Keep the messaging succinct and ensure that the content is of a high quality. Use storytelling techniques to connect people across the company. Above all, think about your audience: what they need to know and why they need to know it. 

A helpful marketing approach to support your communications strategy is to build in metrics to measure the success of your messaging. What are your key performance indicators? What’s the benchmark for success? These metrics are another way to support understanding of your audience, and to see which communications are working for them, and which aren’t. 

5. Optimising every communication channel

Town halls, emails, Teams, posters, Yammer, social media, desk drops, texts, newsletters. How do you use the right channels for your messaging, in order to reach the right audiences? 

The answer is – of course – that this varies from company to company. So, a key part of your listening / two-way dialogue activities is to work out where people go to access information. 

Check your metrics. What’s the open rate for emails? What percentage of employees use Yammer? How many attend town halls? The rules: 

  • You need to meet your employees where they are (and understand why they favour that channel/ those channels)
  • Don’t be afraid to duplicate messaging (whilst tailoring it for different audiences).
  • But...duplicate wisely! Your messaging will have much more impact if it’s delivered in different ways for different formats. Short, punchy posters. Longer, more informative content in emails. Tie them together with key messages and campaign-style visuals.

6. Motivating employees to become key advocates for the company

The end point on this journey is also the starting point. You want to motivate employees to buy into your product – the company – and to become brand advocates: engaged, committed and vocal about why your company’s so great. 

In many ways, this is a closed-loop process. Why? Because the easiest way to get your people to advocate for the company is to advocate for them: inviting and respecting their opinions, working to improve the employee experience, and using internal communications to keep the workforce connected. 

It’s all in the marketing mantra: Listen. Strategise. Create. Repeat...

Becky Hawes Profile Portrait
By Becky Hawes