Marketing is for your staff, not just for your clients

Ex-creative director Ian Whitworth believes marketing isn't all about clients, but can actually help retain staff and help keep morale high.

It’s a wild ride to go from creative director to owner of a non-advertising business. Meeting payroll for 50 people each month will turn any idea-loving aesthete into a cold-eyed, heartless merchant in quick time.

When our payables are way in excess of our receivables, don’t be telling me that Helvetica is the answer.

It’s a wonderful feeling to be your own client. You have the big idea, wait ten seconds, then go: client says yes! High fives!

The biggest lesson? It’s not all about the customers. There’s the old truism that half of your marketing is to bring in new customers and half is to reassure existing customers that they made the right choice. I’d go beyond that. For us, the marketing is as much about our staff, and the staff we want to attract.

We’d do every marketing campaign we ever did again even if it didn’t generate a single new customer, because our staff love that stuff, and that drives our proudest KPI: less than 2% annual staff turnover.

How does it work? Getting those bottom-line benefits is a leap of faith for the “can’t measure it, can’t manage it” brigade. It’s a long game that needs consistency and strong storytelling skills.

Long-term, the single most important factor in your brand is how your staff deal with your customers. It doesn’t matter how good your campaign is, if enquiring customers get indifferent service, undelivered promises or tobacco breath from your staff, it’s no sale for you.

It’s all about trust. Global PR firm Edelman does an annual Trust Barometer research project. It found “Employees rank higher in public trust than a firm’s PR department, CEO, or founder. 41% of us believe that employees are the most credible source of information regarding their business.” This from a business that obviously believes in the persuasive power of PR.

In most companies, if you ask anyone outside the marketing department what sets their business apart, they always say: “Oh, that’s easy! It’s our quality and our service!”. Just like every other company in the world. If all your staff actually ‘get’ your brand, and can say why it’s good in simple words at a barbecue, that’s a very powerful force.

Staff want to be a part of something that’s successful, and interesting. It makes them feel good when they tell people where they work. It becomes a virtuous cycle that attracts more clients and better staff.

I have a rather frail 90-year-old relative who loves her Nespresso machine, and phone-orders her pods to be mailed from the store 10 kilometres away. One time they were out of stock of her favourite variety. Two days later, her doorbell rings at 8am. It’s a black-clad young guy from the store, who decided to personally drop off her pods on his way to work.

There is no procedures manual that could have made him do that. He did it because that’s what George Clooney would have done. To do less would let down the whole magic brand.

Sure, it’s all about the data now. It’s great to have numbers to justify your moves, but nobody ever got inspired by an upturn in click rates, or swapped lists of awesome SEM keywords at after-work drinks.

Just as clients respond to great stories about your brand, so do your staff. Whatever you read about how everything’s changed, people have remembered and retold stories since we all sat around cave fires. That Nespresso story encapsulates the whole brand experience in one paragraph.

This is not an excuse for dropping your digital game. Our experience has been that the big leaps in digital numbers have been driven by a great story, which gets digitally passed along the way stories do. Bigger numbers make your analysis much more productive.

The MBA approach to business is finance first, customers second and staff a distant third. Our view is the reverse. Look after your staff, they’ll do a great job making your customers happy, and the profits come from that.

Ex-creative director Ian Whitworth is the co-founder of Scene Change, a national audio visual company. 


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