Practicalities of responsible marketing – make it everyone’s business in the company

If you want to make real strides in responsible marketing, then take marketing beyond the marketers and brand managers to everyone in the company.

This will sound like heresy to some! It smacks of marketing and brand managers giving up control, removing the mystique surrounding marketing, endangering secrecy of product development or marketing campaigns, enfeebling competitiveness advantage and much more.

I favor a more inclusive viewpoint because, in my experience, an elitist stance which segregates the marketing and brand management function from the rest of the company is outmoded.

We have to recognize that it is not just about ‘marketing’ (function or people). It takes pros in CSR, product creation, corporate communications, brand management,  sales  and  distribution, customer service, as well as advertising and marketing agencies, PR agencies, suppliers, distributors , retailers to make the customer experience come alive. It is the richness of contribution that each of these players brings and how this diversity is aligned and combined that creates something far greater than the sum of its parts.  But do we really tap into this diversity when we come to developing our marketing plans? Or is it that your colleagues  first hear about your plans when they are done and dusted?

When it is done well, the benefits of having employees as our partners in responsible marketing far outweigh any risks. The single most important outcome we seek from our relationship with the public is trust.  The work to build that starts internally before it can stand any chance of success externally.

I am not, however, advocating an unbridled free-for-all. As with everything else, it depends on the time, place, content and value of employee engagement. It begins with defining the realistic role employees can play as product testers, crowd sourcers, storytellers, viral agents, intelligence gatherers and consumers.  The aim is to improve knowledge, engagement, interaction and behaviour – to tap into employees’ personae and experiences as consumers, citizens and as web and technology users; to optimize the opportunities for them to help tell a coherent, cohesive, consistent and compelling story.

Once we know where employee engagement will make the biggest impact, we can adapt the existing marketing effort accordingly for internal consumption. It is about taking what we already have and customizing it for employees at marginal cost and making use of existing communications, training, and marketing channels and structures. For instance, we can share a tailored version of the training programme we use for marketing and brand management purposes more widely, so it can raise employees’ knowledge of what the brand is about, how it is being managed, how they influence and are influenced by it and what responsible marketing entails.  Relatively easy to implement given that most companies already run comprehensive online and classroom training programmes with modules on business ethics, environmental management and other aspects of CSR management. Or we can create opportunities for employees to ‘road test’ products and campaigns; they are consumers after all and can tell us where the responsible marketing content can be improved.

A key element of opening up employee engagement with marketing and brand is that it will require change. Not only in the marketing function but also in other functions from R&D to manufacturing to HR practices.  Inevitably, change will touch some aspect of analysing, planning, developing, organizing, implementing, evaluating and controlling our marketing effort. It will need alignment and innovation – incremental and disruptive – in policy, product, process and people management across many other areas. Such wider transformation can be supported in several ways: through role modeling leadership at the executive management level, formation of innovative and effective internal partnerships, access to innovation and change management experts and techniques, and through training.  What’s more, change will improve the status of the marketing and brand managers – far from shrinking their power base, it can widen the options and opportunities they have from energising and mobilizing better informed and connected employees as their allies in the marketplace.



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