Internal Marketing Best Practices
Published by: Northwestern University
A growing body of research amply demonstrates there is a link between internal marketing and profitability.* The 2006 Internal Marketing Best Practices study identified the six key characteristics that drive successful internal marketing programs. Conducted by graduate students of the Integrated Marketing Communications department at Northwestern University, the study shed light on strategies and tactics that align, motivate and empower employees — at all functions and levels — to consistently deliver a company’s “brand promise,” which, in turn, helps businesses reach their goals.
The six common characteristics of highly effective internal marketing programs are: (1) senior management participation, (2) integrated organizational structure, (3) strategic marketing approach, (4) human resources partnership, (5) focus on employee engagement and (6) internal brand communication.
This white paper explores specific internal tactics deployed by the companies studied in these six categories. The results of the “case study” provide valuable insights for other companies so that they too are able to achieve internal marketing success.
The chosen companies were Chipotle Mexican Grill, Cisco Systems Inc., The Container Store, 3M, Hospira, Kellogg’s, McDonald’s, Oppenheimer Funds, The Ritz-Carlton; Staples, Union Pacific, Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. a canned- and frozen-foods company, a globally diversified information-technology company, a motorcycle manufacturer, a successful biotechnology company, a global consultancy and a fast-growing investment bank. (Not all companies agreed to have their names released.)
Visible support from internal marketing leaders and frequent and direct communication from c-suite executives is necessary for effective internal marketing.
Most of the companies interviewed utilize horizontal integration to achieve internal marketing, believing that it should encompass all communications with all employees to maximize employee involvement and commitment. To encourage employee commitment, most of the companies have a minimized hierarchical management process and empower employees with many key business decisions.
When it comes to marketing internally, best-practice companies market to internal constituents in a manner that parallels how it reaches out to acquire and retain customers.
For successful internal marketing, human resources staff must consistently seek to integrate innovative methodology to train, communicate and foster feedback.
Employee engagement is a result of an efficient and collaborative work environment where employees feel involved and motivated. The organizations use simple, effective tactics to focus on employee well-being through fundamental work appreciation tactics.
Internal branding bridges the gap between promise makers (marketers) and promise keepers (employees). Despite the varying scope and cost of the internal branding programs, all firms shared the basic principle that internal branding should inform and engage employees to consistently support brand initiatives.
While applying metrics used for external marketing (e.g., return on investment) to internal marketing remains a work in progress even for best-practice companies, many are moving in this direction. The authors of this study anticipate an increase in the growing number of organizations that will begin to adopt best practices in attracting and retaining top talent, tapping into the technological revolution in employee communications, linking communications with bottom-line results, and engaging top management with the significance of organization-wide internal marketing efforts. Internal marketers need to step up their efforts to create hard performance measures and assessment techniques that clearly demonstrate how a program or campaign contributes to achieving corporate goals. Hard measures include communication audits, objective evaluation of employee behavior and the impact communication has on company performance. Measurements ascertain whether a change in attitudes and behaviors toward internal marketing has taken place. Though much progress remains to be made, it is no longer difficult to envision a corporate marketplace where internal marketing shares equal status with external marketing.
The Forum for People Performance Management and Measurement, which designed the study, is a research center within the Medill Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) graduate program at Northwestern University. A central objective of the Forum is to develop and disseminate knowledge about communications, motivation and management so that businesses can better design, implement and manage people-based initiatives both inside and outside an organization.
* Research library at www.performanceforum.org.