The impact our employees can have on the credibility of our brands and how our businesses are viewed is in a phase of significant acceleration. We have long understood the importance of how employees in customer facing roles represent our brands, but far less considered the impact and reach of what our employees have to say about our businesses.
I’m confident you could accurately tell me what some of the hot topics of discussion were at Cannes a couple weeks back...brand purpose and social change, the nature of truth, and technological advancement. I imagine you could also tell me what thought and change you’ve actioned this year in your role against at least one of these topics. I’m less confident that the majority reading this could tell me how much of their time this year they have spent thinking about or taking action against the role that the employees of their companies play in positively influencing all of these topics.
When it comes to brand purpose, our employees hold our authenticity to account. Increasingly we are seeing brands tackling big societal issues, such as gender equality, diversity and climate change. Back at Cannes last week, research was shared that highlights 57 percent of global consumers buy or boycott products because of a brand’s stance on political or social issues. This is an exciting time to work in the marketing industry—we have an opportunity to make significant improvements to the quality and equality of the world we live in. BUT, authenticity and credibility is everything, and we hear time and time again, you will only succeed if its aligned to the values and the actions that you demonstrate as a company—externally and internally.
Which brings us to truth. Does it matter more what a CMO or CEO are saying about their internal agendas and how aligned they are to their brand or corporate purpose, or what employees are telling us about their experiences of the company? In the age of transparency, employees provide a window for us to look in. The Edelman 2017 Trust Barometer found that employees are the most credible and trusted source of information within a company. This becomes increasingly relevant as we also learn that the credibility of CEOs is at a record low with declines in all 28 countries surveyed. Hong Kong has seen the biggest drop and Japan has the lowest level of trust in what a CEO has to say. Trust in media has also plunged to an all time low.
Employees are an authentic trusted voice of the business, and social networks provide them with their communications platform. Whilst we are all busy thinking about how to cut through the clutter of messages that consumers are bombarded with every day, our employees have a direct and respected ability to speak right into people’s newsfeeds. Through the amplification of social media they can play a part in influencing how people think, how they feel, and in turn how they act.
Clearly employees are not a replacement for other communications channels (although some of the biggest brands of our time are more renowned for their corporate culture than their TV commercials, if they’ve even made any), but they are a powerful channel that is under-valued or perhaps taken for granted. Internal Communications professionals in Asia are the least well-paid of communications professionals (Prospect and Public Affairs Asia State of the Industry Report 2017), and are less likely to be in a direct reporting line of senior leadership than their external communications counterparts.
It’s important to remember that communication is defined not only as the imparting of information, but also the exchanging. Where employees can hold us to account, and be a positive window of truth to our businesses, we must first hear them so we can understand how truly authentic and credible we are in our messages. It’s far better to hear it from them directly than on their blog post, as Uber has recently discovered.
The worlds of external and internal communications are blurring. Through powerful communications you can build employee engagement—an emotional commitment to your company and brand, and a willingness to work not only towards a bigger paycheck or a promotion, but towards the goals of your brand and company. This fosters an environment where employees are happier, more effective, and a highly engaged communication channel.
Jennifer Woollford is the founder and director of Neon Marketing, and acts as a senior consultant for Theblueballroom, an internal-communications agency that recently set up shop in Hong Kong. She was previously UK marketing director and global brand director for Mars Chocolate.