Fast Company

How HR Can Evolve Into Effective Marketers

Mitch Hershkowitz never thought he would see the day when HR and marketing teamed up to drive higher profits.

But that day came in 2009. Dimension Data, where he is National Practice Manager, Consulting Services, was under pressure to standardize on a single internal instant messaging platform to eliminate employee silos--a daunting task for a global company with over 14,000 employees. Marketing's clever "Rule the Waters" boogie boarding and beach-themed internal campaign for the new system triggered a tsunami of support.

Why should HR care about marketing in today's wired economy? Because a holistic marketing approach that crosses departmental boundaries leads to greater brand repute, predictable growth, and market value. In the past,the marketing department was actually in control of their brand and collateral, and B2B marketing was primarily a "push" activity replete with fancy corporate presentations, outbound marketing, and direct selling. Social media and the erosion of command and control cultures has changed that model forever.

Today, marketing encompasses processes and strategies that educate, inform, and inspire an organization’s entire ecosystem.This definition takes into account both "push" marketing (telling your community about how great you are) to "pull" marketing (sharing your thought leadership in your given domain and attracting people into your healthy web). 

HR plays a critical function in driving thought leadership because they are heavily involved in guiding the company's culture, hiring, and retention. Every person they attract to the organization could potentially play a thought leadership role.

John Robak, EVP and COO of Greeley and Hansen LLC in Chicago, leads the HR-marketing marriage trend. Greeley and Hansen is a mid-sized civil engineering company with about 300 employees across 18 geographic locations and help clients handle complex water and wastewater issues. Robak's deep HR background is unusual to find in the executive suite, particularly among mid-sized B2B firms.

Robak wanted to improve the way they hire and grow people when he accepted the COO role. He immediately deployed a marketing communications approach. Says Robak, "We launched the “Living the Brand” initiative to ensure everyone communicated a unified message. We needed this message to cascade across all of our hiring, recruiting, sales, and marketing efforts." 

His commitment paid dividends. Within three years, voluntary attrition plummeted from 14% to less than 6%. 

If you are looking for similar results, here are 7 ways that your HR leaders can incorporate marketing strategies into key initiatives:

  1. Be true to your culture. Work closely with your marketing team to ensure every message aligns with your brand and identity. Hershkowitz's successful collaboration with marketing led to a 90% adoption rate and a 50% drop in business travel expenses within one year.
  2. Know your market. Study the internal and external pressures that force your customers to buy from you. Invest just 15 minutes a week reading industry trade publications to flex your industry fluency muscles.
  3. Watch your language. Greeley and Hansen's marketing communications team works alongside HR to design their annual kickoff meeting messages and recognition announcements. 
  4. Invite key customers to provide input. They may have tried similar approaches in their own organization successfully, and appreciate being heard.
  5. Get in their face. How can you ever be marketing savvy without spending time with customers? At a minimum, observe sales calls or customer webinars at least once per month. For bonus points, attend at least one industry event per year where your customers gather.
  6. Engage marketing in every step. Don't wait until the last moment to ask for their input.
  7. Implement reverse mentorship. Jeff Rutchik, EVP of engagement marketing firm George P. Johnson, leads monthly town hall meetings with interns and younger hires. They discuss trends, media and its impact on storytelling, and content. Rutchik shares that "opening up the ideation process for everyone helps ensure that ideas flow from top to bottom."

Peter Sander, author of What Would Steve Jobs Do?, reminds us that Jobs intentionally hired pirates in the early days at Apple. "If you’re bright, but you prefer the size and structure and traditions of the navy, go join IBM. If you’re bright and think different and are willing to go for it as part of a special and unconventional team, become a pirate."

Marketing strategies are the diesel fuel needed to navigate stormy competitive seas. Travel safely, and don't forget your eye patch.

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--Author Lisa Nirell helps companies grow customer mind share and market share. Since 1983, Lisa has worked with Sony, Wells Fargo Advisors, Adobe, Microsoft, and hundreds of entrepreneurs in nine countries. Lisa is also an award-winning expert speaker and author of EnergizeGrowth® NOW: The Marketing Guide to a Wealthy Company. Download your sample chapter and business energy booster survey at energizegrowth.com.

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