One of the truly exciting things about living in the Ozarks is discovering local businesses. Don’t misunderstand, I welcome corporations that want to invest in Springfield’s growing economy. Indeed, I think we have room in the Ozarks for both. However, I admit to making a special effort to support local businesses when I can.
Let’s face it, a small local business will seldom be able to go toe to toe with the marketing budget of a national chain. External marketing efforts (e.g., advertising, sales promotion, digital marketing, etc.) are expensive when you cannot spread the costs over multiple outlets through economies of scale.
Numerous strategies exist for local firms to decrease their external marketing costs (e.g., local search engines, local advertising, etc.). However, I’m going to suggest looking internally at a complimentary strategy for boosting the effectiveness of external marketing efforts.
Word-of-mouth has pointed me toward some of the best businesses in the Ozarks. However, traditional external marketing seldom generates word-of-mouth. What are these businesses doing differently? They are presumably taking care of their customers by providing customer satisfaction and quality service. It’s also likely, however, that they are really good at marketing internally. In other words, they treat their employees as if they were customers.
Employees may be your most important customers. Here’s what the research tells us: Happy (satisfied) customers result from employees who are happy (satisfied), empowered, and share the company’s vision. After all, how can we expect customers to buy goods and services from a business whose employees don’t believe in the company, the brand and the products?
To the external customer, your employees are the brand; they are the “face” of the business. Savvy business owners market internally to their employees. They don’t advertise to their employees in a traditional sense. Instead, they carefully recruit, hire and train employees who are inclined to believe in the company’s products and the benefits those products provide to the customer. So what is internal marketing?
Internal marketing means clearly communicating your company’s mission and purpose as well as how the products and services benefit customers. Moreover, your employees should understand how your firm contributes to the community it serves. It’s not surprising that employees are happiest when they believe in the company, its products and its commitment to serve both the customer and the community.
Internal marketing means empowering employees. Well-trained employees should be empowered (i.e.; given decision making authority) to serve the customer, because a well-trained employee can be trusted to make decisions that are mutually beneficial to both the firm and the customer. Studies show that customer satisfaction is higher when customers are served by empowered employees.
Finally, internal marketing means making sure that your company’s vision is shared by its employees. That means that employee input on how to best serve customers must be continually solicited and considered. Research shows that employees whose opinions are sought for strategic purposes will feel invested in serving the customer.
Ultimately, internal marketing should be aimed at all employees, not just those with marketing titles. After all, marketing is too important to be left entirely to the marketing department.
Ronald Clark is an associate professor in the Marketing Department at Missouri State University.
This article appeared in the June 12, 2015 issue of the Springfield News-Leader. It is available online here.