Why internal marketing is as important as external marketing
And why marketers need to take it way more seriously than we do
In late 2018, Freshworks launched a global marketing campaign titled Hit Refresh. It was mounted on a large scale, with an integrated media blast across billboards, airport properties, social media, even radio.
I was part of the team, handling the social media and content, plus some media planning, but the creative team was the top brass, literally. The CEO, CMO, and Director of Marketing were hands-on with the campaign, even down to the point of copy and imagery.
This was great learning for me, and I lapped it up, but I was confused about something that happened a week before the campaign rollout.
I was in a small discussion at my desk on the ground floor of the Freshworks office when all hell broke loose. A group of people dressed in the new Hit Refresh shirts turned up out of nowhere, screaming and shouting. They snatched a few computers and screens off the desks and threw them down, a couple even had hammers to destroy them completely. There was so much noise, so much movement, so much drama. We were stunned at first, but then I heard what they were shouting: Death to bloated software, the cloud revolution is here, and so on.
This was the internal launch of our campaign. The screens and laptops they had broken were props brought in for the stunt, and the same spectacle had unfolded in all the Freshworks office locations. It was, weirdly, fun.
But the marketer in me was not convinced. What was the point of all this, I thought (and asked). This made no sense, spending money for internal stunts that, at the most, amused us, before we went back to the important work at hand, what we actually needed to be doing. And it wasn’t just me who thought that way.
All of us were wrong. But I was more wrong than most. Because I was, am, a marketer. And I had not understood what this was: Internal marketing done, really, really well.
We marketers have a sense of superiority. I think it’s time we said it aloud and accepted it. This is especially true of us early in our careers. We do not understand, say, the art and craft of sales, we do not get how much goes into the conversations and presentations and arguments. And so we look down on it. We are the only creative folks in the company, don’t you know? Everyone else is just a paper pusher, the real work is marketing, isn’t it?
This is of course amazingly stupid, but this is the thinking that leads to us making the mistake of not feeling the need to communicate internally. Why do I have to explain what I’m doing, why do I have to show folks what this WIP campaign looks like, is the thought process. It’s remarkably short-sighted and hurts our cause.
There is a reason Freshworks’ senior marketing team planned and executed Hit Refresh internally: They were aligning the company to the new brand promise, and making all the other functions part of the process of forging a new messaging.
Colin Mitchell, a marketing and advertising veteran with long stints at places like Ogilvy and McDonalds, wrote about this in the HBR in 2002:
Why is internal marketing so important? First, because it’s the best way to help employees make a powerful emotional connection to the products and services you sell. Without that connection, employees are likely to undermine the expectations set by your advertising. In some cases, this is because they simply don’t understand what you have promised the public, so they end up working at cross-purposes. In other cases, it may be they don’t actually believe in the brand and feel disengaged or, worse, hostile toward the company. We’ve found that when people care about and believe in the brand, they’re motivated to work harder and their loyalty to the company increases. Employees are unified and inspired by a common sense of purpose and identity.
This was what me, and a lot of people at Freshworks at the time did not get. We probably did not have the experience to understand.
So how do we get better at internal marketing?
Firstly, as you can tell by my attitude when at Freshworks, I sucked at it. And this continued for a while. As you gain more experience, you usually always have an idea that what you are doing (or not doing) is wrong. But inertia means that you are content to crawl along, until it bites you in the backside.
We need to change that. We need to acknowledge that this is part of our roles too.
Secondly, we need to add it to our strategy and tactics, even our marketing calendars.
Granted, there are certain environments where this is easier. In small startups, when your team can fit in one conference room and everyone can hear you making calls, taking meetings, and getting into discussions, you don’t need to do this, because everyone know what’s going on, what you are working on. Even then, a small strategy mail every month makes sure that everyone is in sync with your thought process, and can ask you questions if not.
But in the world of hybrid teams, or large organisations, this isn’t enough. There has to be a consistent, planned effort to make colleagues feel like they are part of the marketing hype cycle, and this is what internal marketing achieves. This means that as marketers, our calendars need dedicated spaces for the communication (or celebration) that might entail.
And to do that, we also have to come down from the pedestals we keep our skills and craft on, and understand that if the marketing we do has to be successful, it has to be first understood and encouraged by the folks who are on our side: Our own teams. We need to make it easy for them to cheer for us, to side with us.
And if that means getting a few old laptops and breaking them, it feels like a very small price to pay.
1. My friend Abhash, a much-loved manager, is looking for a product marketer for his team at Springworks.
2. Seek Rewards is looking for a growth marketer and a business and partnerships manager.
3. SalesHandy is looking for a content marketer (growth).
4. My ex-boss at Freshservice, Shihab Muhammed is hiring a product marketer for his startup SurveySparrow. More marketing roles at the company here.
5. Accel portfolio startup Airmeet, an excellent product and company, is hiring a product marketing manager.
6. CloudEagle is hiring a marketing manager.
7. SocialPilot is hiring for a head of marketing and head of content marketing.
8. Accel portfolio startup Chronicle is hiring their founding growth marketer. This is an amazing team and product, and this is a tremendous opportunity.
9. Signeasy, a startup I have been close to for years now, is hiring a senior product marketer, and a senior marketing web developer.
If you want open marketing roles at your company to be featured on the CMO Journal, please send the links to me on LinkedIn.
Subscribe to receive new posts in your inbox