More on engagement and marketing

Jennifer Rice responds to my blog on Employee Engagement, sparking further thoughts about the purpose of marketing - I suggest it needs to break out of trap of focusing only on customers.
Johnnie Moore

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together

Jennifer Rice commented on my entry on employee engagement:

The fact is marketing is usually not allowed to participate in creating engagement for its stakeholders. The employee stakeholder is in HR’s territory and all too often the HR director/team is busy with paperwork and not with engagement. The other problem is that employee motivation is often at the bottom of management’s priority list. A C-level client recently said to me, “Why should we motivate employees to do what they’re already paid to do?” Ouch. Employee engagement happens during the brand-building process, when the brand promise is actively infused throughout the corporation by the entire leadership team.

This certainly reflects my experience and I think marketing people need to challenge the kind of pigeonholing that limits them to addressing customers. Julie Anixter in her chapter in Beyond Branding (Transparency or Not) suggests that HR and marketing should merge budgets, an idea I’d go along with. And/or marketing might want to reframe its purpose.

Which coincidentally, Jennifer also comments on today. My thought on this is that marketing might think of its task as resolving the conflicting needs and interests of stakeholders. I suggest this because a focus on the word customer risks oversimplifying the real challenge. (I really hestitate to accuse anything of oversimplification as I think mostly business folks makes things too complicated, but I think I’m right to in this context). And as Jennifer’s comments suggest, if marketing is limited to pleasing customers, without having either the power or responsibility for squaring that with everyone else at the party, then it is likely to waste resources.

Does this mean I am against customer evangelism? Not necessarily, because actually over time the best deal for customers comes from businesses that make a decent fist of creating win:wins for all their stakeholders.

My thinking on this is strongly influenced by doing marketing work with independent schools. They start with an interesting challenge defining customers anyway – are they the parents (who pay) or the pupils (who get the education)? And obviously, they would have a very hard time if they simplistically sought to give customers what they want (which might be: 45 weeks of holiday). Actually, successful schools have always managed to balance a whole range of competing interests.

I also think my suggested redefinition of purpose is better suited to the much more fluid world of a networked economy where conventional distinctions blur. For example, in Open Source work, the customers and the makers often overlap. It seems to me that what Linus Torvalds has managed to do is to conjure Linux out of a web of overlapping interests and needs.

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