Earlier this year, I chanced upon an interesting study by Gartner, listing the potential risks marketers could be facing in the near future. Changing consumer behaviours, organizational shifts and disruptive automation were highlighted as factors that could impact whole organizations.
Beyond such studies, the more oft quoted phrase is “customer is king”. This one phrase describes all the tests and trials organizations go through as they work hard to retain customers they acquire (e-commerce), battle it out in price wars (telecom), get aggressively digital (FMCG), personalize offerings (hotels) and offer value-added services (retail).
Why does this sound familiar to any HR professional? Because if you substitute “customer” for “talent”, I have just described exactly what any organization is also going through when it comes to talent – getting the attention of easily distracted candidates, battling it out to make the best or most optimal offers, engaging through digital channels, offering market leading benefits, providing personalized attention, and retaining more than hire!
Which is why, as HR leaders build strategy presentations for the future, it would be wise to add marketing tomes to their usual reading material besides making it a practice to observe and closely imbibe the tactics and mindsets of their marketing or product management colleagues.
Yes, it’s time that HR reinvented itself as a Marketing function.
Because marketing can make or break your brand. Tracing history, from the home grown Hamara Bajaj campaigns to the Amul girl, or the Cadburys and the Vodafone branding, – companies have leveraged effective marketing to build iconic brands that have stood the test of time and shifting preferences of our customers. Similarly, organizations ranging from Indian conglomerates like the Tatas, to the global ones like GE to new-age companies like Airbnb, have used very similar strategies to build a unique culture and employee loyalty. Think Marico’s Uncommon Sense campaign and what it did to attract the right talent and achieve business growth.
To get started, it’s probably time to go back to what can be easily considered a bible for the marketing function, something that all B-school students are thoroughly familiar with – Philip Kotler’s 4 Ps (now seven) of marketing.
The 4 Ps
Product, Price, Place and Promotion were Kotler’s marketing Ps. To really see how this can play out in our world, let’s replace “Place” with “People” and apply the principles to the learning function within HR – a field that has possibly generated the largest reams of content ever in corporate history, not to mention innumerable conferences.
Product: If the buzzword is product thinking, then it’s for a valid reason. Usually referred to as the “creative problem solving”, product or design thinking is what elevates HR professionals from being ‘process specialists’ to ‘experience designers.’ And to design a learning solution is truly a test for this – because you can decide whether to optimize for the company or the individual. Keeping the individual and their needs right at the centre of that design means extensive research about their demographics, learning preferences and career aspirations and then using these insights to create a product that’s differentiated and compelling and relies less on push selling vs pull.
Price: How many times have you reached the end of a program or reviewed the payroll budget, compared it with actual business results, and asked yourself “was this worth it”? HR professionals now need to be equipped with strong data orientation and drive tough decisions on what the right price point is, whether to pay salaries or create learning solutions. Combine that with the intent and skill to actually measure the ROI (return on investment). ‘Great Place to Work’ surveys and “feedback scores” don’t cut it anymore. A learning solution needs to translate to actual impact to either the top or bottom line. And the faster the HR teams learn to measure that impact and take decisions accordingly, the more in line with business they are. Literally millions of dollars are at stake here.
Promotion: As much as doing good work is important, it’s probably even more important to package it right. Our consumers’ (i.e. our employees’) mindspace is cluttered with the detritus of modern lives and workplaces and HR teams need to work hard to cut through that clutter and make an impact. To launch a learning program for example, or invite nominations for a new training, it would do us good to substitute genteel, wordy invites with a snappy ad or a funny comic strip!
People: This is at the core of our whole business and pretty much the reason for our existence. Yet it sometimes gets lost amongst the fresh jargon and buzzwords that emerge every couple of years. The efficacy of a Learning solution need not be judged only the beauty of its architecture, or whether it’s cloud-based or its cool gamification. It is meaningful only if it’s able to truly engage and empower and create meaning for its user. Similarly, each process, each benefit, each tool deployed by HR needs to be assessed from that angle. Sometimes the simplest solutions can be the most effective too.
This is of course just the beginning. As we master the basics, it would be time to get familiar with more contemporary tools like Customer Experience Journey Maps and start applying them.
To start with, these are some things that all HR professionals could do to successfully adopt these approaches:
- Ask for feedback: Be proactive in getting deep, unvarnished feedback from all stakeholders – employees, candidates, leaders and even peers in the industry. Keep the formal surveys & focused group discussions (FGDs) aside, and figure out the equivalent of what “impromptu market visits” are in the FMCG or retail industry.
- Remain Agile: As everyone knows, the key to success in today’s world is agility. So how willing are we to let go? Be open to re-visiting every single product and process based on the feedback you receive – and reinventing them, even it means bringing back some basics which you may have discarded a while ago!
- Make Data your best friend: If you are one of those who run away from numbers, you are in trouble. At each step in the talent/consumer journey, there is vast amount of data to be gathered and analysed that can help us sharpen our People strategies. Having a data analytics/BI expert sitting within HR is a common practice now.
- Be content-led: As much as communication professionals, HR folks have to be content creators and content curators as well. Always be on the move to create content which employees can share and feel interested to go through. Be where your employees are, rather than asking them to follow you. And finally, take out time to build bridges and mentors with communications and marketing folks – you can always exchange notes and tricks over a cup of coffee. As HR becomes the new marketing, it will be the emergence of a new, robust, and powerful business function.