HR and marketing, as business functions, have a lot more in common than might be apparent at first glance.
The contribution each makes to an organisation is sometimes under-valued as it can be less easy to demonstrate tangible commercial value than in areas such as finance, sales or operations. Yet both are absolutely critical to the success of any business.
Marketing is actively challenging perceptions about its role, making its contribution far more accessible and explicit. Its ultimate goal is to create more 'customer-centric organisations' that are better able to succeed in today's increasingly competitive global markets. Its link with HR is vital in this respect and closer collaboration between the two functions is increasingly important.
For a start, there are some key areas of HR's activities where the principles of marketing can add real value. With the worldwide war for talent more aggressive than ever, the value of an attractive employer 'brand' cannot be over-estimated. Just as marketing seeks to attract and retain people in the form of customers, HR faces exactly the same challenges in attracting and retaining people in the form of employees.
One of the key tenets of marketing is that you put customers at the heart of everything you do and understand their journey from first awareness to purchase, repurchase and advocacy. So HR should look at the similar journey recruits go through and what insights they can obtain.
That means using marketing techniques to look at candidates' attitudes and behaviours during the attraction and recruitment journey. Proposition and communication development then plays a role in engaging and motivating them as employees thereafter.
It's important to recognise that marketing is not just about brand communication - a common misconception. Strategic marketing goes beyond just talking to consumers about the products and services the business offers, to the point where it influences the shape of those offers upfront to make sure they meet consumer needs and wants in the first place.
Similarly from an HR perspective, employee engagement is not just about the communications element. The real challenge is to use insights into employee needs and motivations to shape the design of job profiles, career paths and remuneration packages in the best way possible. An employer brand must be a lot more than a shiny wrapper for the business; it must provide an accurate representation of a work experience that is both appealing to employees and true to life.
The benefit for HR managers in doing all of this is that will lead to better, more committed employees - just as effective marketing leads to more motivated customers. But also, extremely importantly, these two goals are inextricably linked, which brings us to another reason for closer HR-marketing collaboration.
In today's sophisticated business and social environment, it's essential that that there is alignment between an organisation's brand proposition and values externally and internally. If a company is to deliver on its promises to customers, employees must be aligned and committed to doing so in practice. For a company's communication to customers to be credible, it cannot be drowned out by the chatter of discontented and cynical employees on Twitter and Facebook.
Traditionally, the main interface between HR and marketing has been around the narrow functional people and talent agenda within the marketing department itself, i.e. the recruitment, staffing, skills and career development of marketing people. But, as marketing attempts to raise its game to influence the whole organisation's ability to deliver on its promise to customers, its engagement with HR at this same overall strategic level becomes a critical success factor. Only then can the talent and cultural policies of the whole business be integrated with the customer-focused agenda.
So by applying marketing techniques more widely, organisations will become more focused on addressing the needs and motivations of both their customers and their employees. And by working more closely together, the HR and marketing functions face an opportunity to significantly increase their joint impact in driving profitable business growth.
Andy Bird, co-founder and executive director of Brand Learning, global experts in transforming marketing capabilities, and co-author of The Growth Drivers
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