Brands have a problem. A people problem. But it’s not the people you may think.

It’s a hyper-competitive global business landscape. And breakthrough brands aren’t sustained by great consumer marketing alone. The really good ones — think MailChimp, TOMS Shoes, Google, and REI — tap into the collective consciousness of their employees.

Brands like these have become adept at creating authentic company culture that attracts and retains the best talent. Culture built around purpose and caring that makes work meaningful and rewarding. Culture that becomes an engine of growth.

Employee engagement is a key driver of performance. And passionate employees are a company’s most potent ambassadors. One study found that employee satisfaction created an advantage in long-run stock returns of 2.3–3.8% per year — 89–184% cumulatively over the 28-year study period. Ultimately, engaged employees lead to a healthier bottom line.

Brands that struggle with employee engagement undermine their consumer marketing gains. And according to a Gallup poll, two-thirds of U.S. employees are disengaged. Consumers pick up on the dissonance. Doubt the sincerity of the brand story. Notice the diminished details of the customer experience. When employees don’t believe in a company, customers won’t either. This is deadly to any brand.

The solution is already available within.

Most organizations already know how to build belief in people. It’s what brand marketers and their agencies do every day with consumers.

We listen and study our audiences. Craft compelling stories that speak to the heart as well as the head. Tell those stories strategically and consistently across many relevant platforms. Motivate customers to take action. Then we listen again, find new insights, and keep adapting.

The same skills and techniques are the solution to engaging employees. Because employees are people, too. With hearts that must be moved as well as minds to convince.

People as brand consumers. People as brand employees. They’re all people. The same people. And marketing is all about connecting people to brands.

Here are three ways brands can market to employees.

Partner your HR & marketing departments

HR teams have the expertise to translate a strategy for change into clear policies and concrete practices. And they usually own internal communications.

But how do you build belief in a new strategy? How do you persuade employees to adopt a new way of doing things? How do you inspire them to take ownership of a brand?

In a report based on interviews of over 2,000 Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs), the IBM Institute for Business Value and Oxford Economics suggest the answer. “Ultimately, the biggest challenges CHROs could confront in creating mass personalized learning experiences may be similar to those faced by Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) in designing a personalized customer experience.”

HR and marketing need to partner up. Bring consumer-grade marketing to internal communications and change management. Integrate their expertise to build more meaningful engagement with employees. Advocate for employee marketing budgets proportional to the consumer spend.

This approach is gaining momentum as more companies move toward cross-functional collaboration. Charlotte Rogers writes in Marketing Week that “marketers and their HR colleagues are collaborating to define company culture and project a consistent brand image all the way from the recruitment process to interacting with consumers.”

More companies need to do the same.

Include employees in the marketing brief.

Ask the marketing department and agency to treat employees like any other important audience segment. Craft content and experiences that bring them into the fold and give them a role. Build shared values into the narrative and campaign experiences.

Companies that do so win instant brand ambassadors and advocates. From engaged employees, brands gain more insights into their customers, faster than the other guys. They open opportunities for more innovative products and a happier consumer experience.

Listen to your employees.

You would never launch a new consumer brand, product, or service today without gathering deep audience insight first. Data analysts and planners craft a rich picture of the lives of targeted consumers. Creatives hone a unique story to capture their attention. Programmatic technology delivers the story in hyper-contextual bites that optimize in real time.

But what about when a new vision, tool, or process is launched to employees?

Ask and articulate: “How does the new tool help employees? Why might they reject it? How might we persuade them to adopt it as their own?”

Inspire your employees to love your brand.

When you believe in your employees and treat them with love, they’ll believe in you and love your vision in return. They will help your brand break through.

As French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once wrote, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”


A digital-native and strategic leader with 15+ years running work, teams and businesses in London, Amsterdam and San Francisco. Now in Atlanta, Neil is a Founding Partner at Local Industries, a Change Marketing consultancy focused on using consumer-grade marketing techniques to design and implement meaningful organizational change. The Local team works with a wide variety of clients including P&G, Delta Airlines, Capital One, Zurich Insurance, eBay and Coca-Cola.

Neil has been lucky enough to experience life on the agency side — as Head of Strategy and Managing Director at Isobar — and as a client — leading digital strategy and content for Coca-Cola’s Global Content Excellence group. His work included leadership of the digital program for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, developing new ways to create and publish content in real-time across multiple social channels and managing global digital agency relationships.

Neil is an advisor to multiple start-ups, a General Assembly Instructor, and a regular keynote speaker on employee engagement, brand-building, and marketing innovation in the social age, with appearances at The Adobe Summit, SXSW, IAB Mexico, The Economist Big Rethink, DisruptHR, Atlanta HR Summit, Lead Change 2018, HR Daily Advisor’s TalentCon 2019, Association of Change Management Professionals — Atlanta, and Change Management Review.

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Neil Bedwell

Author Neil Bedwell

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