HR and marketing are two distinct areas within any organisation, but increasingly there is a need for them to collaborate and work together. The driver is the increasing pace of technology. Technology and especially social media has drastically changed the world for both functions. It has altered how both customers and employees engage and interact with companies.
The two biggest changes are increased speed and transparency. From a marketing perspective, dissatisfied consumers can communicate their views of an organisation, its products and services in a matter of minutes, which can then be shared by huge numbers of people. How a business reacts to this is open for all to see. Consumers want their issue to be dealt with quickly and clearly. If not it can negatively affect a brand. Conversely, increased speed and transparency offer today’s marketers wonderful opportunities to engage with customers that weren't possible a few years ago.
From an HR perspective, levels of customer service and the workings of organisations are now more transparent. How employees behave and interact with consumers is a crucial part of how a brand is perceived. If customer service and employee behaviour, often under the remit of HR, do not deliver the marketing message there is a problem. Engaging customers is a speciality of marketers and the function should work with HR to develop strategies to engage employees, to ensure the brand and the behaviours it represents are embraced throughout the workplace.
HR has a major role in helping recruit and retain the right people for the technology-focused age we live in. Marketers still have to possess the fundamental skills of their profession; analysing a market, telling a story and building a brand. But they need more than that. So much of consumers’ interaction with a brand is online. The technology behind it is constantly changing and produces a wealth of data – a luxury previous generations of marketers did not have. Having an understanding of and skills in data science, analytics, social media management, and basic coding are skills marketers need to have if they and their employers are to be successful.
However, I think there is a skills gap. In some organisations marketing practice is not keeping pace with rapid technological change. How can these new skills be developed? The approach should include everything from in-house training programmes, to working with business schools, to secondments with organisations in different sectors and markets.
However, we are all marketers now. Social media gives anyone the power to disseminate messages and engage with an audience instantly. We are living by a new set of rules where an organisation's social media presence isn’t just built by the marketing function. Employees across all functions have a huge influence.
This emphasises why employee engagement, driven by HR and marketing, is so important. The tools and channels for employees to share information about a brand are freely available, so how engaged they are with the brand is critical. In a world where anyone can communicate with huge audiences at the touch of a button the HR function, business schools and other educators have a responsibility to make sure that current and future leaders understand and are comfortable with technology-enabled marketing and the effects it can have.
At the same time, we must not forget the fundamental purpose of marketing. Marketing has been and always will be about delivering value and growth – to organisations and the people within them, consumers, and more recently wider society. Rapid technological developments are things we can utilise for this purpose, but we should not fall into ‘shiny new toy’ syndrome. Technology is a tool and it needs to be used because it will have a positive effect, not because it is new and exciting.
Andrew Stephen is L’Oréal professor of marketing at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford