Practicalities of responsible marketing – connect internal and external markets

In most companies, the external and internal channels of communications are funded, developed and managed independently, creating a disconnect between their internal and external markets. This undermines  the responsible marketing quotient of the company.

In the previous blog, I emphasized the importance of richer, authentic conversations with our consumers. Here I extend the idea further by suggesting that we need to create better connections between our internal markets – our employees, suppliers, distributors –and our external markets – our customers.

I was influenced into this line of thinking by three observations almost a decade ago.  The first one was discovering the conversations – on blogs, in chat rooms, on review sites – about specific products and brands. There were a substantive number of dedicated fans who would devote their whole blog to one brand and set of products!  The second discovery was that almost everywhere I looked the external company website and the Intranet were developing independently, with different emphasis on features, functionalities and experience. The inevitable outcome was disconnected, parallel conversations taking place internally and externally. The third influence came when a colleague leant me his copy of The Cluetrain Manifesto written by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Weinberger.  Their assertion that “markets are conversations” was a singularly inspiring idea.

In my opinion, The Cluetrain Manifesto’ (a call to action based on a set of 95 theses on how to connect internal and external markets) articulates very forcefully the change companies need to embrace in order to thrive in the digital marketplace. As a forum for communication, the Internet has inevitably shifted the nature of business communication and marketing. However, the authors argue that companies will have to break down corporate barriers so that a conversation can occur between those within and those outside the organization.

Certainly, not all companies have recognized this. Marketing, communications and employee engagement are still managed traditionally in silo structures and the technology infrastructures are being developed independently. Internal digital development gets less attention, less creativity and less investment. ‘Command and control’ structures and processes still exist around how employees are connected with the business strategy and its marketing and brand work. Risk aversion to employees talking to each other or to outsiders still remains, often wrapped up in policies and punitive language.

The relevance of the “markets are conversations” message for responsible marketing is huge. It recognizes that the information available in the marketplace maybe superior to that available from ourselves. We tend to hold back, customers do not. Better employee-customer connections create  the potential for holding richer interactions around messages that both sides want to share about what goes into the production, the distribution, the use, the disposal of the products the company makes or about the assets and resources it uses to deliver its services. Both consumers and employees can utilize the Internet and Intranets to establish a previously unavailable level of communication. Employees can follow and contribute and be better informed about the conversations in the marketplace, helping add value to viral marketing and reputation building work.

In terms of practicalities, as marketers, there are several changes we can make: make online marketing more about holding conversations with people rather than merely broadcasting dry, factual material about our products and services. We can make our communication less about mission statements, consumer or product segmentation and other marketing or brand speak, and more about open dialogues between businesses and consumers.  We can look at different ways of communicating the brand in digital media. We can make our web sites less static, more interactive, and friendlier – but not gimmicky – as that could easily slip into lack of authenticity and sincerity. We can make better use of social media, connecting with the mavens, the connectors and all the other ‘voices’ in the marketplace.

Internally, we need to begin by aligning the investment in the Intranet with the overall investment in IT development and infrastructure. CIOs, CMOs and heads of communications, who typically develop their strategies and make investments in isolation, need to combine marketing and IT effort to help improve the customer experience across all channels.

I remember the day when I asked an astonished (and enlightened) CTO if I could hear his long term plans and how we could collaborate on making sure that our needs for investment in employee communications, corporate communications and marketing were factored in. It set up an important internal partnership. It certainly helped us develop and deliver plans where the networked Intranet could be as interactive and creative as the Internet.  Making – and knowing how to make – important internal connections and partnerships is an important prerequisite to bring about change.

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