Thursday, November 16, 2006

Internal Communications & Advertising Engagement

Why is employee engagement left out of the advertising engagement debate? Kevin Keohane and Mike Williams, experts in internal communications, offer a long overdue guest analysis on this important issue:

Can Marketers Learn Something About Engagement From (Good) Internal Communicators?

By Kevin Keohane and Mike Williams

There’s been a lot in the blogger community about consumer / brand engagement lately. The debate more or less centers on whether engagement is a “soft” or hard measure, and whether it can be linked to behavior change – e.g. sales activity, trial, or recommendation.

Max has been kind enough to ask for a contribution about employee engagement to add another ingredient to this most excellent engagement blog. The internal (employee/close stakeholder) engagement part of the equation is an important part of the conversation.

Two interesting points to begin the conversation with:

  1. The rise in linking “employee engagement“ to business performance (as opposed to measuring smiley faces -- employee satisfaction), and
  2. The “best practice” of a more democratized and participative model of employee engagement (as opposed to the delivery of internal corporate messages to captive employees and occasionally asking for their “feedback”).

The first element is that internal communication professionals have been under immense pressure to demonstrate their value to their organizations for a long time. People lose their budgets (at best) or their jobs (at worst) if they can’t point to the ROI of investment in employee engagement. There is a clear corollary to the ongoing marketing and advertising engagement dialogue.

Are there lessons, comparisons, or parallels that can be learned from the employee engagement space, where straight lines have been drawn between engagement efforts and the bottom line? Employee engagement folks have been able to link various communication efforts to explicit behavior change. While there is clearly a difference between an employee and a consumer, I suspect there are enough similarities to be worth discussing.

Internal communicators have developed an obsession for measurement (sometimes to the detriment of the creativity of their actual engagement efforts … which is another conversation). Probably the most compelling example of this is the service-profit chain. The first real case study of this appeared in 1997. In short, it’s a statistical model that allows you to track an increase in employee “engagement drivers” to correlated increases in customer satisfaction and loyalty, and to track this to increases in Total Shareholder Return (TSR), revenue and other financial performance measures. While of course employees are a captive population statistically, in the online environment that barrier is becoming less of an excuse to not create more robust approaches to marketing measurement.

Most of these “engagement drivers” being used internally are also very HR focused, and startlingly ignorant of the employee’s role in delivering the brand/customer experience as an element. Are they even measuring the right things? Interestingly, “Ten Mega Trends Transforming Marketing Measurements” applies just as well to measuring internal audiences (employees) as much as to external ones (consumers).

Since the service-profit chain emerged, it’s been developed, and criticized, but the general consensus is that employee engagement can contribute roughly 20% to an organization’s TSR. Many brand metrics put brand equity’s contribution to a company’s value in the same ballpark. Is there a link?

The second element is the relentless drive that (good) internal communication people have -- and few “traditional” communicators seem to appreciate -- toward interactivity, feedback and getting the employee (the consumer) involved as far upstream in the communication process as possible. This is where there are more visible correlations with the marketing community’s drive to get closer to the consumer and get the consumer engaged – in product development, message development and indeed in the marketing of the product or service itself.

In this area, digitally astute marketers and advertisers are perceived to be well ahead of their internal communication counterparts in many ways – then again, it can be pretty hard to launch a viral video inside the firewall. Or is it? Some speak of “MySpace for the office,” yet somehow there is a lot more to it than this in the world of the modern global organization. Simply transplanting MySpace functionality to the corporate environment seems quite clumsy and disingenuous.

It might be that ‘interactive’ inherently leaves a finger print that you can look at afterwards, particularly if it’s conversational. So the challenge is to help management realize that these things could be indicators of future revenue. Perhaps internal engagement is the space where we can prove that shared decision-making, community, feedback and “engagement” are predictive of success?

But more than this, management would really start to listen if, rather than being retrospective, we could start to use these ideas as real-time indicators to predict external marketing and advertising success.


Anonymous regina said...

I think that one of the things that engagement designers in organizations miss the boat on is identifying the things that truly engage and create good employment experiences for people on a day-to-day basis. It's not a marketing campaign. It's about an authenticity from executives, managers who know how to treat people respectfully and where work becomes a place where people can fulfill their values, contribute and be rewarded appropriately.

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Blogger hobart65 said...

Regina, this same sentiment is brilliantly expressed on the brandgym blog, talking about engagement and Pret a Manger:

'The whole area of "brand engagement" is booming, with companies launching into big and expensive initiatives to help employees "live the brand". However, in my experience many of these are a total and utter waste of money, as they fail to address the basics of making a company a nice place to work. Many of them are more like exercises in "brandwashing".... '

Worth a read for its sheer common sense 'The power of Pret's people'

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Blogger Mike Klein said...

Well said on a number of fronts. Having worked both in internal and external communications (and in political campaigns for a decade as well), internal coordinators know a lot more about audience targeting and the creation and nurturing of two-way and networked relationships than those in the PR/Marketing world.

I also agree about the measurement fetish that has gripped internal communication, largely because it involves measuring the wrong things (eyeballs and 'understanding') and not things that are more effective (percentage of staff who discuss company issues and use internal comms materials as a trusted source, resonance and repeat of key phrases and messages). This measurement fetish has led to a dumbing down of content, and an overreliance on contrived management cascades instead of stimulating real conversation.

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