There was a time in the not-so-distant past when the only way an employee could meaningfully represent his or her company was to:
• tattoo the company logo or product to his face
• wear a uniform and staff a booth at a trade show
• sit through hours and hours of media training and then hit the TV circuit
• make the evening news
This was pretty much it. (Some techniques were more preferable than others.)
But social media has changed all that.
The future of employee-based branding—what is being called Workforce Marketing—is not shocking, demeaning, difficult, or sensational. Just the opposite: it’s genuine, authentic, empowering, and small. It works exactly like product placement.
The key to the future of branding is for companies to look inward and ask how they can win over their own employees. Do this, and they position themselves to massively amplify their brands through the combined, additive power of all those internal voices.
In 2011, Ajax Workforce Marketing researched 51,608 employees of the top 50 digital ad agencies. We found the about 10% of all employees had any mention of their company on their LinkedIn profiles. In 2013, a similar study, also done by Ajax, showed that no more than 20% of employees at the top 25 Best Places to Work (according to Fortune) engaged with their companies’ brands.
These companies, on average, spend $3,300 to recruit every open position—despite filling 40% of open jobs with internal candidates (Bersin by Deloitte, 2013). On the other hand, Zappos recently announced that they’re doing away with job ads—by empowering employees to engage with their networks, Zappos has been able to build a pool of available and interested candidates they can draw from for their hiring needs. The savings possible from shifting from $3,300 per position to an organic process for filling open jobs is significant, and is just one example of the financial gains companies stand to realize by engaging their employees.
Whether or not companies will be successful engaging their employees depends on their ability to bring marketing and HR together. For decades, marketing has been developing an expertise in turning total strangers into customers, fans, and advocates; HR, meanwhile, has developed an appreciation for how to approach different employee segments. Both sides own an important part of the Workforce Marketing puzzle.
What happens if these two groups don’t come together? Panera found out the hard way: when its marketing team started calling bakers “artisans,” minimum wage-earning bakers revolted and started a union drive, their logic being, “If we’re going to be marketed as artisans, then we will be paid as artisans.”
As social business reaches critical mass, the dawn of Workforce Marketing is just beginning. Where it ends is anybody’s guess.