Digital marketing analysts estimate that the average American will be exposed to a jaw-dropping 4,000 – 10,000 advertisements every single day.
It sounds far-fetched, but as an experiment by Red Crow Marketing’s Ron Marshall shows (he bailed at 487 exposures before he even finished his breakfast), it’s not unfeasible. Even in the age of Netflix and Sky+, where we can fast-forward through those pesky TV ads and choose what we want to watch, we are bombarded without even realizing it: social media, billboards, radio ads, brands shouting from the food we eat and the clothes we wear.
When you’re the person charged with getting people to hear, see and remember your message in all that noise, competition is tough. But what about when the message is an internal business one?
How can you make an impact when budgets are tight and the audience is, at times, rather less interested than they should be?
We’ve looked at some successful marketing campaigns – both external viral campaigns and powerful internal campaigns – to compile 8 innovative internal comms ideas that will make your employees sit up, and take notice.
14 steps to great internal communications
1. The mystery / tension builder
We like to talk about the value of transparency in internal communications.
Be open, include employees, don’t be caught out ‘withholding’ information or keeping employees in the dark. And yes, admittedly, there are more than a few PR disasters that have broken out on social media after senior management have neglected to keep employees in the loop (HMV’s famous internal hack of its Twitter account during a mass firing continues to hang over the music giant’s employer brand).
However, there are notable examples of when a hint of mystery and suspense is proven to work in our favor.
Apple are famous for deploying this tactic, choosing to cloak their product launches and announcements in a dramatic secrecy that creates media frenzies and second-guessing for months ahead of the big day. The hype they create is scorned by some, but it’s undeniably effective. When Apple announce a press conference date, the world knows about it.
They’re not the only ones withholding on customers to create anticipation, as the campaigns below show:
While it’s more commonly seen in external marketing, introducing a ‘hint marketing’ or teaser campaign into your internal communications plan can prove highly engaging and lucrative in terms of employee buy-in.
If you have a positive forthcoming event, such as a new product line launch, a new office opening or a new initiative, consider trying to build tension and speculation before you make the big announcement. “Coming soon” hint communications are effective; better still, add a hint of mystery by utilizing something ambiguous or difficult to decipher, such as a logo, image, icon or object.
Placing hints across multiple communication platforms over an extended period will pique interest and water cooler talk, getting employees guessing and anticipating. When you make the big announcement, you’ll have more interest than you would when simply sending a memo.
2. Piggyback marketing
Following on from BMW’s not-s0-subtle copycat efforts above, there’s a case to be made for piggybacking on successful campaigns, trends, news or concepts that have captured audiences externally.
While marketers may occasionally be constrained by copyright infringements when promoting externally, there are some fantastic examples of brands who have pulled off piggyback marketing to their advantage – many content and communications marketers are recognizing this accepted form of plagiarism as an art form in itself.
There are many quirky and effective examples.
We love this more regional example, when the Stone Roses launched a teaser campaign utilizing their iconic lemon motif in the form of posters around the UK city of Manchester, 20 years after their last release. While fans began second-guessing and speculating on social media, German supermarket chain Aldi were quick to respond in kind.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be someone else’s ad campaign; newsjacking is common in the marketing circuit, and can prove highly effectively internally also. If you’ve got something to say, why not use a topic everyone is already talking about to get your message heard? Lego pulled it off with a timely, visual and funny ad during the Oscars:
Next time you have a dry subject to promote and you’re struggling for inspiration, consider borrowing someone else’s ideas to get your message noticed!
14 steps to great internal communications
3. The people’s campaign
Though you may not realize it or utilize them effectively, you have a powerful internal comms resource at your disposal: your people.
One of the greatest marketing trends in recent years has been the shift of power from organizations to consumers. Review sites, word-of-mouth marketing and user-generated content are highly valued and trusted by would-be consumers, with a report published by Nielsen Global identifying that 83% of respondents across 60 countries agreed that they trust the recommendations of friends and family. Not far behind were consumer opinions posted online, at 66%.
Give your internal comms campaign more gravitas and weight by giving it to your employees. Getting ideas and input from your employees can be an uphill struggle in some instances; but if you create the right motivation and culture, the results pay for themselves.
For example, if you have a new product line or initiative launching, consider offering selected employees a ‘sneak preview’ or giving them the product in question for free as an incentive. Then, charge them with producing the review or supporting on internal comms collateral.
Particularly if your employees are used to reading information from management or the internal communications team, a more informal blog or review from one of their peers will make a refreshing change – and be more likely to be engaged with.
4. Tell the story
Storytelling has dominated the communications and marketing arena for the last few years, and with good reason.
We’re wired for stories. We absorb information better when there’s a context around it, or a human element we can identify with. Stories are powerful.
It’s a psychological connection that many organizations have successful deployed in their marketing campaigns. Nike are famous for their ability to leverage this approach: it formed the foundation of its 2016 “Nike: Unlimited” video series, all of which feature an individual story aligned with a value, such as “Unlimited Courage:, “Unlimited Will” or “Unlimited Pursuit”:
Airbnb have an entire dedicated area of their website put to this very concept: www.airbnb.com/stories brings to life the very spirit of what it attempts to promote by demonstrating both hosts and guests experiencing the joy of wanderlust from around the world.
Introducing the human aspect to your internal communications efforts brings the message to life. A simple example is recognition communications: if your organization has recently won an award, an account, or is celebrating an accomplishment, shift the focus from the achievement to the people behind it.
Who was the champion in getting it off the ground? Consider an ‘interview style’ blog, rather than a formal press release or internal email. Get the individual(s) to talk about the highs and lows, the challenges and how they overcame them. Introduce personality and real life.
“Stories spark emotions. We have an intuitive, emotional side as well as a deliberate, rational side to our character. Too often in business we only try and connect with people on a rational level but this isn’t enough to actually change how people behave. Storytelling gives leaders a way of inspiring colleagues in a way that appeals to both sides of our character.” (Source: The Storytellers)
Alternatively, consider going out to your customers. When your product or service has an impact on a business or individual, telling their story and experience brings your company mission to life for employees: increasing engagement, motivation and innovation.
14 steps to great internal communications
5. Capture the reaction
There is a strange but undeniable fascination amongst modern-day audiences (and particularly the millennial generation) in watching other people – particularly “ordinary” people – and enjoying their reactions or interactions on-screen.
The rise of reality TV shows and popularity of flash-mob videos testify to this fact: although there is a hook in watching the set-up, the real pull of these campaigns is how the individuals respond. We are audiences, watching an audience.
Capturing this fascination and using it for marketing purposes is increasing amongst organizations globally, with some of the most successful viral campaigns focusing on surprising, shocking or scaring everyday people and filming the subsequent reaction.
Disney pulled this one off brilliantly with a public stunt involving its widely loved and recognizable characters in a shopping mall, filming the reactions of innocent passers-by. The video triggered a great reaction, clocking up 5.5 million views (at time of writing).
Or for something a bit more full-on, you can’t help but marvel the efforts of TNT in this ‘push to add drama’ campaign that took place in Belgium. It’s tallied up a jaw-dropping 54 million views since first being published – and with good reason. The co-ordination of the carefully choreographed actors is one thing; the reactions of onlookers is another thing entirely.
Admittedly, we rarely have the resource (or film set) required to pull off a full-scale ‘flash-mob’ style campaign. However, a scaled-down version for internal communications purposes is surprisingly achievable.
If you have a new office opening or a regional event, why not consider capturing the reaction of staff and broadcasting that via your company intranet? This gives global teams, who may not have the ability to attend things in person, the chance to feel ‘part of’ the occasion and enjoy the authentic reaction of their peers and colleagues.
Alternatively, ‘fly on the wall’ capturing of staff or customers interacting with new products, receiving surprises, recognition or awards are all powerful internal comms ammunition – and will get your employees logging on, opening, engaging and responding to your efforts.
6. The treasure hunt
Who doesn’t love a good treasure hunt?
Introducing an element of ‘gamification’, competition and an activity that will get employees thinking outside of their day job can generate huge levels of engagement.
Thanks to the viral reach of social media, many companies have successfully pulled this off on a global scale; examples include Nike’s Kobe 11 scavenger hunt, which saw 20 pairs of sneakers autographed by the NBA star Kobe Bryant hidden in 20 cities worldwide. Spearheaded through the sports giant’s basketball twitter account, clues were given to the secret locations and fans were soon scouring the cities in question to land themselves the prized shoes.
Bringing this concept into the internal comms environment is a simple yet effective ploy to tie into a big launch event, for example, or as a team building exercise to get staff working together to solve clues and seek out treasure.
One great example I’ve seen of this tied into a charity event: teams were assigned a ‘scavenger list’ of obscure items to beg, steal or borrow from around their immediate community, with the first team to return with all items back to the office securing individual prizes, alongside a donation to the charity of their choice. 96% of employees signed up and joined in.
If hiding prizes around your offices sounds like a little much, why not consider a virtual version? If you have a company intranet or collaboration platform, setting treasure hunt questions to information “hidden” within certain blogs, content areas, or profiles can be a great way to get your staff logging on and using their communication tools – and understanding them.
Just don’t forget the prize…!
14 steps to great internal communications
7. The ‘plain speak’ campaign
Corporate jargon, management speak, commercial-ese: whatever you want to call it, we’re all guilty of it at some point.
When you’re tasked with developing communications that are professional yet neutral, will appeal to a diverse demographic of employees and abide by the perimeters of compliance, inclusion and brand, it’s only natural you’ll find a standard voice and tone that errs on the side of “business-like”.
While it’s the right approach for certain messages, increasingly consumers and employees alike are calling for a more ‘down to earth approach’. What’s more, when we are continually exposed to a more dry, corporate voice, we can become desensitized to it: we stop hearing it.
So, for your next campaign, why not consider taking a different tone and a different voice?
Ometria describes some familiar brands that have mastered this concept in their external marketing, including fashion site Ayr, who inject personality into the way they talk to customers across all their channels. The feel is informal, fun, approachable: aligned to its brand and beliefs, with a colloquial spin.
If you have a comms initiative that could use a little more fun, shake things up and drop the corporate speak. You can even go as far as creating a specific internal persona; something Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust deployed as the ‘voice’ of their intranet, Flo. The more friendly, approachable voice helped engage users and break down the ‘corporate speak’ barrier.
8. Use your data
We live in an age of Big Data. As consumers, information is constantly being collected about our day-to-day habits and choices, our interactions and patterns of behavior.
Normally within business, those numbers are put to work for customer insights, to drive innovation or product improvements, to improve customer service and identify potential market trends.
But what about our internal data?
If you have a company intranet or business application with analytics, there may be clever ways to use that data to your advantage for unique and engaging internal communications campaigns.
Spotify pulled this one off to perfection for an external campaign called “Thanks 2016, it’s been weird”. Using analytics pulled from the platform, they created a global data-driven campaign that combined quirky data facts with a touch of humor to engage its audience.
Examples included, “To the 1,235 guys who loved the “Girl’s Night” playlist this year, we love you” and the tongue-in-cheek “Dear 3,749 people who streamed ‘It’s the End of the World As We Know It’ the day of the Brexit vote, Hang in there”, alongside the ones below.
Internally, we loved this example by MHS Homes, who utilized data from their Intranet People Directory to create teaser posters about members of its staff, running a competition for employees to solve the silhouettes by searching on their intranet. The campaign was used to get users familiar with their new intranet platform and carried the caveat that those entering the competition also had to fill in their own bios – increasing engagement with the new intranet, which saw the organization reach 85% active users from across its employee pool.
Getting creative with comms
Business communications don’t need to get a reputation for being dry and boring.
Thanks to the huge range of communications tools and inspiration available, we are now uniquely empowered to create engaging campaigns that will capture our audiences – and hammer the message home. If you have something worth saying and sharing, make sure its heard; don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo, and inject some life into your communications.
Have you got any great internal comms ideas that have worked for your business? Anything we’ve missed out? Let us know below!