Why Employees Are Your New Marketers

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg


40 is the new 30, orange is the new black, and HR is the new marketing. We spoke to Michael Brenner, CEO of Marketing Insider Group who believes employees represent the greatest opportunity to create meaningful marketing programs.

Have a listen to our chat below, keep reading for a summary and don’t forget to subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.

Tell us about Marketer Insider Group and your approach?

Marketing Insider Group helps companies of all sizes reach, engage, and convert new customers, largely through content marketing and employee engagement programs.

We believe your own employees represent the greatest opportunity to create meaningful marketing and to develop human resources programs that increase sales whilst also finding and retaining top talent. I think there is still a very traditional mindset inside most companies that if we talk about who we are, what we sell, and why we’re better, we will make more sales. And what I think one of the biggest impacts that digital has had on the economy, especially from a corporate perspective, is that that doesn’t work anymore. It used to be that we ignored brand messages that we didn’t want. We’re actually seeing consumers punishing brands for advertising in the form of lower sales, and in some cases bad press and PR, and marketers.

The only thing that we really have left is authentic engagement, and the only group of individuals that can provide authentic engagement are a company’s own employees, but it has to be authentic. I want to lay out the business case that companies that get this counterintuitive sense that activating their employees to share what they know and what they love, can drive massive impact and business results for the company itself.

What is the link between content marketing and HR?

They’re inextricably linked. I used the word authentic. I think there’s a lot of people that actually get tired of that word because it’s starting to lose meaning. But the reason that content marketing in HR is so inextricably linked is because we’re all looking for real content experiences, and we want to hear real stories from real people. Employees provide an opportunity to tell those stories. That’s on the one side. On the other side, how do we get that content, those stories in front of other people? And employees represent the greatest opportunity to share those stories with their audiences on both the creation and the distribution side, which are two major components of a content marketing program. You have employees who are in some cases the best creators, and also the best distributors of those stories.

What do employees gain from being company marketers?

You see it in kids today that are taking selfies and trying to get as many followers as they can on Instagram and Snapchat, it’s true of professionals as well. We all want to build our personal brands. We maybe don’t think about it intentionally but all of us want to have the largest impact on the world that we can. We know that we can do that if we have larger social followings whether that’s connections on LinkedIn or friends on Facebook. What’s in it for them is essentially growing your personal brand, making a greater connection and impact in the world, and ultimately find your dream job or move on to another company or whatever that dream may be for each individual employee. It’s ultimately about career success for them.

There is a possible risk that the employee might leave because their personal brand gets so strong, but I think the benefit outweighs the risk. HR is trying to create talent brands. They want to create companies of people who want to join, want to stay, and want to see it thrive. What we’re seeing is that there’s an inextricable link between the organizations that are encouraging their employees to be authentically telling stories and sharing stories that matter to them, and the companies that people want to be a part of. We all want to work for a company that supports us as a person. So there’s positive feedback cycle that can take place.

How can you activate HR as your new marketing department?

It starts from a marketer’s perspective, with identifying what I call a content marketing mission statement, but when you’re talking with other employees all you need to do is just call it a mission statement. And the mission statement has to be very clear and simple. There’s three very simple recipe ingredients to a successful mission. It needs to identify the audience that you’re trying to reach, so for companies its anyone who would potentially be interested in the category of stuff that they sell.

Number one is who. Number two is what. And number three, is what value does it bring for them? For example, there’s a financial services company here, American Express, who is targeting small businesses, and they have this great platform called American Express Open Forum.

Their mission statement is to help small business owners grow, that’s the most simple mission statement I’ve ever seen, they identified the who, the what, and the value they provide to that audience. So step one, is identify a very clear customer-focused mission. Step two, is you then need to go out and sell it to your employee base “Hey, we’re creating this platform. It’s targeting our customer base. But we won’t be talking about our products and services, we will be talking about the things these people care about.” In American Express’s example it was business growth. “Would you like to contribute? Do you have stories? Do you have tips?” Every employee inside an organization has some expertise, and if they have a passion for contributing and telling a story then that’s part of the pitch.

Number one, mission statement. Number two, the activation and the pitch to employees. The third piece is, you have to define what’s in it for them. What employees don’t want to do is they don’t want to pitch promotional messages about products. No employee wants to do that. If you ask employees to tell a story or share what they know on a platform that you own, what you find is the creators inside your organization start to raise their hand, and you can build what I call volunteer army of content creators.

How long has American Express Open Forum been going?

It’s one of the oldest modern examples of content marketing and it’s been around for about 10 years. They started with that very simple mission statement. They also started with hiring a number of influencers in the small business community because they realized they couldn’t just hire a journalist to write content. They needed people that already had an audience. The lesson there is that your company has employees that already have audiences. Ask them to help with your marketing efforts and it’s a win for everybody.

Should the content platform be owned by the brand?

The difference between content and content marketing is that brand-owned platform. The reason for that is that there’s no way to measure. It’s very difficult to measure the success of a program unless there’s a single destination that’s owned by the brand. That doesn’t mean that you don’t want them active on Snapchat, Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook, but to utilize those platforms to bring people back to the brand-owned content marketing platform, where the power really can demonstrate itself and in the form of business results.

What are the pitfalls to avoid when embarking on employer marketing?

The biggest one, is that traditional mindset of “We need to talk about who we are, what we sell, and why we’re better”. We need to be able to explain (especially to executives who are in higher positions), that not only does it not work anymore, it actually can cause a decrease to the client and the actual end goals that we’re looking for. But companies, especially in B2B spaces will always need sales people, and salespeople are there to help buyers buy. The days of taking people out for dinners and convincing them to write a cheque are over. The biggest pitfall is convincing executives to stop asking employees to promote the products and services of the companies we work for.

The second one is to make sure that you position these requests in the form of value for the employees. Build your network, create greater connections, propel your career in whatever direction that may be. We’re here to support you. The power of delivering that message from an organization can’t be understated in both the form of employee engagement and employee activation. It’s really remarkable when you see companies that do that.

What companies are doing it right?

SAP is where I learned this example, I was asked to build a content marketing platform for SAP, and I had no budget. I had a little bit of money that I was allowed to use to create the platform but I had no money to create the content. I started by finding folks around the company that were already writing and contributing on other platforms, and expanded out from there and built essentially this pitch deck that I was using across the organization. It was almost a full-time job for me where I was going out and was saying, “You guys have all the knowledge and all the passion that we need, and it can help us to create some impact as an organization.” Today the SAP Content Marketing Platform is called Digitalist Mag. It has thousands of contributors, hundreds of SAP employees are writing and really building their own personal brands in the process. I still look to that platform as a great example of success.

What is the next big thing for HR and content marketing?

In content marketing we’re talking a lot about influencer marketing right now. In HR, we’re talking about talent and employee engagement, and the future of work. These two things will come together. You’re going to see employee activation and influencer marketing come together and you will start to see organizations and functions within companies start to direct these programs strategically.

Follow Michael on Twitter @BrennerMichael.


Our newsletter is exclusively curated by our CEO, Jörgen Sundberg, for leaders who make decisions about talent. Subscribe for updates on The Employer Branding Podcast, new articles, eBooks, research and events we’re working on.


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