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True Marketing Starts with Employees, Ends with the Product

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While delivering a series of leadership workshops across Canada, I was surprised by the response some well-known companies’ values, purpose and vision statements elicited … laughter.

To elaborate – leadership participants were given this list and asked to choose which ones most excited or inspired them. Interestingly, many commented that they were inspired until they saw the organization to which the statements were actually accredited. An example of this was one large international company whose purpose was “to give unlimited opportunity to women” that was called into question because it was in the cosmetics industry and this group perceived the whole beauty industry to run counter to creating better lives for women.

Clearly from our (albeit informal) poll, there is a sweeping disconnect in many companies between their asserted brand promise and it’s actual fulfillment. But where does this begin and who is to blame? Is it the ad agencies pushing hype beyond true promise? Is it the company itself, ‘over-visioning’ and under delivering? Or, is it emblematic of a society overwhelmed by constant big company marketing bombardment? Does any message mean anything anymore?

An abundance of marketing data has given companies the ability to become very sophisticated in hitting the hot buttons that entice customers to buy (to illustrate, ad agencies call customers ‘targets’), yet these techniques backfire dramatically when the product or service doesn’t live up to the claims. Just as broken promises have led customers to become increasingly cynical about “marketing hype,” the disconnect between the claims organizations make to their own employees about being an “employer of choice”, and the degree to which these claims are actually fulfilled, is leading to increasing employee cynicism and turn-over.

A key example of this is the recent trend to tout “work-life balance” as a key value and principle. While I can think of several organizations who make this claim, few deliver as much as much as they promise. In one instance working with a client, I had to applaud the courage of one new employee in the HR department who spoke out in a session on values alignment to state that she felt that her department was one of the worst offenders in terms of not delivering on the work-life balance promise.

Marketing is conventionally thought of as being about building a brand and selling products to customers, but this view of marketing is incomplete. Marketing is really about building trust internally and externally. And, as with building trust in real life, it is built more by what you do than by what you say. It is about integrity. Thus, building trust with customers `begins and ends with internal marketing – that is, the degree to which an organization not only communicates, but delivers on own its “employee promise.

When a company makes false claims about a product or service or does not deliver on the promises it makes, then customers lose faith in the product and eventually the company. When employees experience this same loss of faith as a result of broken promises, a business is doomed. Employees who see that the organization does not value promise-keeping (either externally or internally) will be less inclined to worry about keeping promises themselves. After all, why should they wave the banner of a team they no longer believe in? The result? Compromised relationships on all levels, internally and externally and potentially, eventual ethical debacles on the scale of Enron.

A final thought, as purpose, mission and values statements are meant to be aspirational and call the organization forth to higher ground, no organization is ever perfect on delivering to these promises. Fortunately, perfection is not required – just constant and authentic intent.

A Leadership Challenge:

Leaders – do you know what your organizations’ promise is to your employees? If you can’t readily list the purpose, mission, and values of your organization, chances are high that you are not delivering on them as well as you could. What’s more, if you can’t list at least three regular practices, systems, or habits that demonstrate on a daily basis how these are being lived in your organization, there is plenty of room for growth.

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