Why employee engagement needs to top the CMO’s agenda in 2015

And, how it will enhance competitiveness/profitability

Carolyn Ray, is managing director of Interbrand Canada, and previously led the firm’s global brand engagement practice. She was recognized as one of Canada’s top female entrepreneurs in 2013, and is a recognized expert in leadership and change management.

As we look into the future of marketing in 2015, it is clear that the world’s most valuable brands are creating “mecosystems” — fully integrated networks organized around individuals. We need only look at Apple, valued at over $100 billion this year, to confirm this reality. By connecting businesses to people, people to each other, and even brands to other brands, Apple serves as an enabler of both business and personal value creation. We call this new era the Age of You, in which brands create experiences that are seamless, contextually relevant, and increasingly based around an overarching ecosystem of integrated products and services, both physical and digital.

With the recognition of brands as valuable, strategic assets, we now have a deeper appreciation of the role brands play in delivering satisfying and differentiated experiences to consumers. As we shift into the Age of You, brands that seek to lead need to recognize the human in the data, uncover genuine insights, and create a truly personalized and curated experience.

To truly and authentically deliver on this experience, we need to look within, because brands are built from the inside. Employee engagement is a vital part of the puzzle. This was validated by Interbrand’s Global CMO Study, which showed that Canadian marketing leaders view employee engagement as their top challenge for 2015, even above innovation and go-to-market strategies.

Employee engagement is no small feat, particularly as levels of disengaged employees reach new lows of 13% globally. Witness Gallup’s recent workplace report, which reveals that only one in eight workers is psychologically committed to their jobs.

As we evaluate strategic business priorities for 2015 – driving sales, embracing innovation and retaining talent – perhaps it’s time to ask: do we need to expand our definition of, and accountability for, employee engagement?

There are three things that marketers can do to prepare employees – and the businesses they support — for the Age of You.

First, help employees understand their vital role by clarifying the specific behaviours and actions that support the customer experience. The connection between customer loyalty and employee engagement began over 20 years ago with the Service Profit Chain. The model stipulates that profit and growth are stimulated primarily by customer loyalty. Value is created by engaged, loyal and productive employees. And it’s not just rhetoric. Research from Boston Consulting Group shows that raising employee productivity 10-15% can translate into increases in shareholder value of 30-40%.

Second, in the Age of You, we need to integrate employee engagement into the marketing mix. The 2014 Global Workforce and Global Talent Management and Rewards Studies by Towers Watson reveals that employers who want to increase employee engagement should start by creating a more consumer-oriented experience for staff. In fact, the report states that “70% of employees say their organization should understand them to the same degree they are expected to understand customers.” Other research tells us that the majority of customer defections – 68% – occur because of staff indifference, not product quality.

Third, within organizations, we must embrace a new model of collaboration and bring different skill sets together from different functional areas. As a brand consultancy, we often act as the integrator because we view the business from a holistic perspective. The brand is a filter for business and internal decisions, and empowers us to decide what is on or off brand. Ideally, brand should simplify and accelerate decision-making.

The rules are changing and bring forward new opportunities. For business leaders, this is the time to explore a new model of employee-driven brands, starting with the people inside the organization. As 2015 approaches, CMOs have an opportunity to put employee engagement at the top of their agenda, ultimately enhancing competitiveness and profitability in our ever-evolving business landscape.

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