Magazine article Marketing

Inner Strength

Magazine article Marketing

Inner Strength

Article excerpt

You can advertise, you can add value... but are your staff equipped to deliver on the promises made? Internal marketing has arrived and it's time for British companies to catch up.

When Kevin Thomson joined Trusthouse Forte as marketing director in 1980, he discovered a memo sent to the firm's 3500 demotivated roadside staff instructing them not to talk to customers.

Times, and Trusthouse Forte, have both thankfully changed, but it is difficult to escape the notion that many UK companies still cling to the thought that staff only get in the way of their brands. The truth is that, increasingly, the staff are their brands.

"We've moved from a product-based culture to offering service, added value, and image as USPs," says Thomson, who now runs his own internal marketing consultancy, MCA. "But all of those ways of doing business can be replicated. The only thing that can't be replicated is people and the brand now has to be about people."

The people who represent the brand are the ones who will deliver on the promise made by the millions spent on advertising. It is the bank teller or the checkout operator who has to live up to a service promise or who has to handle the loyalty card in such a way that the consumer wants to use it - a fact central to the success of Clubcard, for instance, when Tesco chairman Sir Ian Maclauren sent personalised letters to each member of staff at home explaining the card prior to launch.

Personal services

As the consumer becomes more media literate, advertising that fails to deliver only does more damage. The consumer is becoming more demanding about the service he or she receives and, if that service isn't up to scratch will take their business elsewhere.

Banking is a good example of the need for improvement in this area. One that has moved in the right direction is NatWest. When Raoul Pinnell joined the bank as marketing director nearly 18 months ago, the first thing he did was to pull it from TV advertising to concentrate on getting the 'in-branch' brand right.

"I wanted to preach the philosophy of the staff as brand ambassadors," he says. "Our customers have face-to-face contact with staff 850 million times a year and it's vital that it's right. People now want humanity out of brands."

Richard Vary, a specialist in corporate communications at the University of Salford, which will run its first MSC on the subject this year, agrees with Pinnell. "Internal marketing is a prerequisite to external marketing, to make, sure it achieves what it sets out to do," he says. "Marketing departments swear allegiance to the customer but then come across barriers in their own companies. They can't deliver because everyone works to different priorities."

Most brand owners appreciate what is, after all, a simple sentiment. Recent research from the Marketing Forum claims that 32% of companies have dedicated internal marketing budgets to get staff behind the brand, while qualitative research threw up a broad recognition of its merits. "It turns your people from staff into advocates," says one.

But personal experience as consumers tells us that few companies yet take it really seriously. No doubt one reason is that proper internal marketing means a difficult and fundamental shift in the way a company does business. Far more difficult, at least, than spending big bucks on glossy TV ad campaigns that impress the chairman.

Internal marketing is not just about sending out internal magazines, e-mails or videos, though all have their place; it is about a shift in attitude that allows staff to take ownership of the brand.

"It's about treating everyone within an organisation as customers," says Thomson. "It's completely different to employee communications but no one seems to have twigged that yet. Employee communications is just about happy bunnies, internal marketing is a business discipline. Current marketing thought is all about relationships but our staff are still in the old mode of telling and selling. …

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