Human capital strategies can benefit from strategic marketing

11 July 2017 8 min. read
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Gianluca Bregoli, an independent consultant with nearly twenty years’ experience in marketing, reflects on why HR needs strategic marketing to help develop a holistic framework that meets the needs of employees and businesses. 

A lot has been written on the close collaboration between HR and marketing. Considerable attention has been devoted to the cross-functional approach to the development of an employer brand built on the overall brand strategy and integrated with the customer brand to ensure the internal and external faces of the brand share the same core proposition. The interrelation between corporate brand and employer brand is clearly represented by the integrated brand model developed by People in Business (Simon Barrow & Richard Mosley, The Employer Brand); the model recognises that there need to be a set of brand qualities common to the experience both customers and employees have with the brand, whereas other benefits and differentiators should be specifically developed for “the brand people purchase” and “the brand people work for”. 

The relationship between HR and marketing has strengthened with time to drive internal and external communications through different channels and platforms, including digital. However, the cooperation has often been fragmented and on ad hoc projects rather than a strategic partnership part of a holistic framework. Generally speaking, the contribution given by marketing has been more at tactical level.

What is the next stage of the “alliance” between HR and marketing, and why? My opinion is that the alliance should be pushed to the upper level where (strategic) marketing becomes one of the key stakeholders designing the people strategy. A people strategy that embraces in an integrated way “all the contributors to worker satisfaction, wellness, and alignment”. 

Human capital strategies can benefit from strategic marketing

According to the 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report from Deloitte, “most companies have not assigned responsibility to a senior executive or team to design and deliver the employee experience,” do not have a full understanding of what “the talent they employ expects and values,” also “remain focused on ‘point-in-time engagement’ and have not yet pulled together [various] disciplines … into an integrated framework.” To me, this shows there is a gap and an opportunity for marketing to step in and fill that space.

People aligned with strategy

The end goal is to draw up a people strategy, aligned with the brand and business strategies, that creates growth, competitive advantage and a better customer experience. To do so, you need a roadmap which, starting from the assessment of where you are now, defines where you would like to be, how you are getting there and provides monitoring and control mechanisms. 

What I am suggesting is tailoring the steps of the strategic marketing planning process to the design of the people strategy. This is why HR needs marketers with strategic skills. 

A people strategy cannot lie outside a deep analysis of the external environment with its opportunities and threats. Factors such as globalisation, digital transformation, disruptive technologies, innovation, social trends, work-life balance, the growth of agile talents as opposed to full-time permanent employees, to mention only a few, affect organisations, their ways of working and thinking about their workforce. If we take technology, for example, we should consider how it is impacting businesses but also what types of employees those businesses need to attract and retain to manage technology transformation. 

In a very competitive market, you are out of the game if you do not stay on top of your competitors. How do their employer brands compare to yours? What makes your competitors attractive? What employee experiences have they created for current and potential hires, and how do you stand against them? Priority questions whose answers require an accurate market assessment.

People Strategy

With the workforce becoming more diverse and segmented, time should be spent to understand what potential recruits are looking for in relation to values, culture and the whole employee experience as an “integrated experience that impacts daily life in and outside the workplace, including overall physical, emotional, professional, and financial well-being” (2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report). Like the customer experience is centred around customer insights and journey mapping, the employee experience should be founded on the same marketing research system. 

Geography also matters. Global organisations cannot disregard the analysis of the local markets in which they operate because there are factors, such as culture and language, that influence consumer behaviour as well as the employee experience.

Equally important is the evaluation of the internal environment to diagnose strengths and weaknesses of the organisation. A good start is the brand reality model aimed at checking how the employer brand is perceived and experienced by its current employees (Simon Barrow & Richard Mosley, The Employer Brand); employee feedback captured through surveys and other sources of information are part of the tool mix. Again, it is about listening, collecting and analysing data to get insights into employees’ needs and expectations and how the organisation is performing with regard to its people strategy. 

We are seeing how HR should work hand in hand with marketing to conduct a comprehensive SWOT analysis that will shape the next steps of the process, starting from setting SMART objectives for each area of the people strategy.

The insights generated should be used for segmentation, targeting and persona development of current employees and potential hires. It is sufficient to mention just a few reasons for that. From a targeting perspective, for instance, the recruits that a fin-tech start-up wants to attract are usually quite different from those of a formal large corporate. Secondly, once you have clarity of your segments and personas, you can develop both overarching and specific messages, tone of voice, channels and campaigns depending on the audience to reach. Thirdly, because here we are examining the broad people strategy, segmentation will determine the receivers of learning and development programmes, different induction modules and many other HR services. 

The findings of the external and internal environments will also set the foundations for developing and communicating the desired positioning strategy. Perceptual or positioning maps will help the organisation decide where it wants to position itself in relation to opportunities. 

HR collaboration can provide employee with more holistic experience

From an employer brand angle, the brand vision model comes into play to define the kind of employer brand the organisation would like to develop to improve your appeal to potential recruits, and lead to higher levels of employee engagement, retention and brand advocacy. 

Looking more widely at the end-to-end employee experience, from recruitment to retirement, this is the key stage where employers define their differentiators and position their HR services and unique value proposition in the market place. Objectives set the direction, define what the organisation wants to achieve, but that is not enough; the next step is what Kotler calls the “game plan for getting there”: a strategy with its programme of actions.

Finally, HR needs the help of marketing to establish control mechanisms and measurement metrics to ensure the successful execution of the employee experience capabilities. 

With the people strategy becoming a priority, but also a challenge, for many organisations and talent expecting an integrated employee experience across its multiple dimensions, there is pressure to design and deliver innovative solutions. Solutions that are user-centric and, given the equation between employee experience and customer experience, developed applying the strategic and integrated approach of marketing. If marketing is brought in only to advise on the tactical aspects of social media, content, advertising, look and feel of collateral or careers website pages, the risk is to keep the collaboration with HR very fragmented and outside that holistic employee experience that seems to be essential.

In conclusion, strategic marketing could represent the ring joining the different stakeholders involved in shaping a people strategy which is differentiated, supporting talent’s expectations and business needs.