Essential HR marketing

Last week I wrote about the consumerisation of HR, the fact that we need to be obsessive about simplicity and “end user experience”. HR is essentially a series of products that we are trying to sell in to the various other parts of the business. Too often though, we overlook this and instead try to mandate, which has the impact of both disempowering us and annoying everyone else.

Which is really not cool.

We were looking at a particular HR intervention recently and sought feedback from line managers and employees across the globe on how we should go about it. Regardless of whether people came from Europe, Asia or the US, their answers could broadly be summarised as,

Keep it simple
Explain why things need to change
Explain what’s in it for me

Which is about as concise a summary of how to take a product to market as you’ll ever get. I’ve written before about the questions that we can use when evaluating what we do and whether it is value adding activity or HR nonsense. But it seems to me that these additional employee questions beautifully compliment that design framework when it comes to marketing our products and services.

Have we kept things as simple as possible? Is the design user friendly? Is it sexy and nice to look at, to touch and to hold? Does it have more tick boxes than a social security form or have we thought more cleverly about design? Have we chosen our language to engage and relate rather than to alienate and patronise?

What is the compelling message? Can we clearly articulate why we are doing something and the business or social imperative? Can we win hearts and minds and consistently and coherently explain the changes that we are making? Is the narrative the same everywhere or are there different complimentary messages for different groups?

What is the individual win? What will each employee group get from this intervention? How will employees benefit? What will managers get that is helpful and different? Will the leadership team be benefitting in a different way? If you sat down for thirty minutes with any single employee, could you (and every member of your team) clearly articulate the “win” for for them and each and every other employee?

Successful product design is hard. It requires thought and focus. It requires innovation and experimentation and it requires courage. But thinking about the end user, thinking about their experience and thinking about what they want is more likely going to make it successful than thinking about what you as a HR professional or team need. And ultimately more likely to get you success.

We shouldn’t be afraid of marketing, we shouldn’t be afraid of selling. We should always be out to win hearts and minds and gain commitment and “buy in”, rather than to seek mandates and enforcement. But at the end of the day, it’s a hell of a lot easier to sell in a well designed product than a lazy, thoughtless piece of work.

Which is why it is always worth spending the extra time thinking about the design and what it means to your people.


  1. dougshaw · October 27, 2014

    In other news I received a direct message on Twitter over the weekend from someone trying to sell me tickets to a social media marketing event. The DM was positioned as an ‘invitation’ and three clicks later (each one with diminishing curiosity) I was being asked to part with over £200. The engagement process wasn’t simple – personally I felt using the private message channel to ‘sell’ to me was pretty unsocial media, and though I could clearly see what’s in it for them – I couldn’t easily find the WIIFM.

    Thanks Neil. This pic you’ve written resonates with me about marketing in general, not just in and around HR, I will reflect on what you’ve written and see how I can apply it.


    • Neil · November 22, 2014

      I love the emails that I get offering me a “VIP invitation” and then telling me how much it is going to cost me to get this “VIP invitation”. Complete nonsense.

  2. Raluca Bodkin · November 7, 2014

    Some say that HR is all about humans and soft skills and it basically an art. I do agree that, however, it’s refreshing to see that other people, like me, think that HR should also be considered as somewhat of a science. Design concepts are appropriate and applicable to HR because design itself merges hard and soft skills.

    • Neil · November 22, 2014

      The future of HR is about systemic thinking. The application is art, but the diagnosis is science.

  3. Pingback: Diagnose, don’t dream | change-effect
  4. Pingback: Is HR the moral compass? | change-effect

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