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The Inside Scoop on Inward Marketing

Inward marketing began as a branding buzz phrase, brought into marketing use by integrated marketing communications expert Robert Lauterborn. In an article published in Brandweek, Lauterborn noted that the primary marketing targets in any business are that business’ employees. If the employees don’t believe in the brand—and the internal culture isn’t built from the ground up to support the brand—then the customers won’t support it either.

This thinking applies to any marketing effort that requires employee and sales/distribution channel support to succeed, not just branding efforts. From a brand perspective ALL marketing efforts should be brand-related, therefore inward marketing should become a tool for all marketing efforts.

Colin Bates, author of How to Build Your Total Brand, often writes about the “brand-led culture, stating this new business focus “…requires that an entire organization thinks, feels and acts in unison.” It is just like integrated marketing, where the brand message is coordinated across many media to direct a unified message to our target audience—except that the message is directed at the client’s internal culture rather than to end users.

We participated in a team that helped launch an inward marketing program for a regional bank. It was a remarkable process that included discovery, analysis, brand development and an internal marketing push. Here is what we learned about inward marketing.

Start at the Top. To succeed, any brand or marketing effort must have the full support of company leaders. The top tier of management must fully embrace and support the internal effort and lead by example so employees will fearlessly and enthusiastically follow.

Every Opinion Counts. Bring the employees—the brand builders—into the strategic development process. Representatives and/or teams from each department should be part of the process from day one. They will bring surprising insight to the company’s strengths and weaknesses, and help focus a strategy that is exactly right for the company—then they will get behind that strategy and deliver consistently. Involvement brings ownership, and a stronger emotional investment in the program’s success. (See Win Hearts and Minds below…)

Yes, This Means You. Every department and function takes part in the inward marketing process. It only takes one small group rowing against the current to disrupt the flow of the process. Get everybody into the water and swimming in the same direction. To do this, you must show each department, workgroup and individual how the strategy should affect how they work and think, and especially, how they interact with customers.

Win Hearts and Minds. Inward marketing cannot succeed based on a series of memos and a few meetings. Everyone in the company needs to understand the strategy. Inward marketing is all about emotion; if people are vested in and proud of their company, they will see the importance of the strategy to their success and the company’s strong future. Train people so they are able to act and speak appropriately without being coached. True believers can move mountains.

Train for Change. We repeat, memos and meetings aren’t sufficient to launch and execute a marketing plan. Companies must also set up training for existing and new employees; provide the necessary tools from online training materials to new software and equipment; and rethink internal processes to support and deliver a cohesive message, from the CEO’s desk to the janitor’s locker. This includes crisis communications training for at least a crisis response team, with spot training for all customer-facing employees as needed. It is the agency’s job to figure out what will be needed and where company dollars can be best invested for the strongest internal support.

…Then Tell the World. Inward marketing is a long-term process, not a “concept today, on the street tomorrow” project. Investing time in developing the strategy means employees will perceive the strategy—and their part in delivering on it—as important. The process itself gives the program extra weight. Only when the entire company is ready to deliver a strong message to customers should the external marketing program be launched. Every message intended for the public should first be introduced to employees—accompanied by information and training regarding that message’s application and impact on each employee’s daily job responsibilities.

Stay Focused.  Outward pressures make it difficult for people to stay on-message and continue the strategic effort. And it is easy to set the process aside to deal with more important matters… except that the branded strategy IS the most important matter, and should be the pivot on which every decision turns. The agency’s function is to help the client/company stay on-message and push the plan forward. Ongoing brand “plan vs. actual” reviews should occur at regular intervals, so adjustments to materials, training and processes can be made; and employees should be rewarded for being strategic champions, reinforcing company support of the strategy and the importance of employee participation.

Helping clients with their internal marketing programs is a tremendous growth opportunity just waiting for your agency. This is a big undertaking for any organization. You have the skills and market knowledge to help your clients facilitate external and internal strategic plans. The world is waiting for your message.

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