By Carla Johnson published May 1, 2013

Why Your Brand Storytelling Must Start With Human Resources

Recently, Joe Pulizzi wrote a post on the 12 Roles Essential to the Future of Content Marketing. In it, he listed the new roles we need to consider, not only as marketers, but also as people who drive business for our organizations. It’s a reflection of the growing responsibility we have as marketers — and the growing need for us to step up our leadership role. 

Look inside first

As Joe pointed out, one of the expanding areas of responsibility is human resources (HR) and internal marketing. But many companies fall short on doing a good job of communicating with their own employees, let alone extending their brand storytelling to those they hope to recruit.

If our primary goal is to own content niches, online and off, then we have to enable employees to help tell our brand story. It’s true, customers have relationships with people, not brands. Thus, content marketing has a tremendous opportunity to ensure that customer-facing staff members understand what makes their company unique.

Employees are more than brand ambassadors; they’re promise keepers. They’re the ones who have to bring to life the promises we make in our content programs, lead-nurturing campaigns, PR efforts, and the brand storytelling efforts we distribute through all marketing channels.

If we thought of supporting HR as a way to recruit the best people to deliver on our brand promises, would we be more proactive in working with them?

In order to have the right people on hand to tell the right brand story, we have to find and hire those “right people.” That means sharing our companies’ value and perspective consistently across all channels — not just to reach customers, but to reach prospective employees, as well. We need to consider the HR perspective when we work on top-of-funnel awareness. The stories that matter to customers also matter to the rock stars we want to recruit, and should include ideas such as culture, leadership, challenge, and growth.

To make this easy, think of the content marketing hourglass (shown above) that Robert Rose and Joe Pulizzi describe in their book, “Managing Content Marketing,” as a way to connect with and retain employees. There needs to be a well-thought out process that identifies the right kind of people (personas), defines their potential role within the organization (segmentation), and understands how to nurture them and convert them to employees.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Many employers think of the process of converting a recruit to an employee the same as the conversion of a girlfriend/boyfriend to a wife/husband — once they sign on the dotted line, the romance goes away, and they’re left on their own to deal with everyday life.

Create tangible expressions of your story

Happy, long marriages prevail when both sides understand the importance of communication and teamwork in how they create their story together.

Motorola Solutions serves as an example of how to do it right. In January 2011, Motorola split into two companies — B2B brand Motorola Solutions and consumer-facing Motorola Mobility (which was subsequently purchased by Google). Leadership had prepared for the separation for more than two years — on one Friday, employees went home as employees of one company, and on the following Monday, they returned to two separate businesses.

Over that weekend, Motorola Solutions physically rebranded 30 of its facilities worldwide, so when employees walked in, they saw evidence of their new brand story already coming to life. The company spent the rest of 2011 integrating the brand promise into the culture of the company and helping employees understand how to tell it to the outside world.

It’s not unusual for a company’s story to lack credibility with employees. If your story accurately reflects your company as it stands today, then employees will more easily engage in telling it. And if you’re trying to change the story you tell, then employees will need tangible evidence of that change — recruitment, recognition, rewards — before they begin to believe. Marketing needs to help them feel proud to represent their employers — because we need them to tell our story as a cohesive, unified team.

Protect your investments

Why should a customer do business with a company when even its own employees can’t explain what makes it different? And if the experience that customers have when interacting with your employees doesn’t match up with the stories you are telling, it won’t matter how much you invest in external marketing efforts to project a positive brand image.

We talk about consistency in channels when reaching customers, yet we turn around and talk to employees with a glut of homogeneous messages.

Back to Joe and Robert’s hourglass, I urge the content marketing industry to lead the charge on getting creative about engaging with employees in order to move them from satisfied to brand evangelists. Will a company intranet and an annual town hall meeting cut it? We live in an instant, real-time world, and it may be time to consider enterprise social network tools such as Yammer and Socialcast. Even Google+ supports internal hangouts and allows people to post only within their organizations. Companies that have nontraditional, hard-to-reach employees — like healthcare organizations, oil rig workers, or tech teams — have begun to develop bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies, so employees can connect using their mobile device of choice.

Creating alignment is hard work, and it’s time consuming. But it’s critical that we get employees excited about our story. They have to believe it because, ultimately, they’re the ones who will be sharing it.

Now, tell us your story. How do you recruit and engage employees so you can create promise keepers?

Your unique brand story is one of the five core elements for running successful, scalable content marketing operations. Read our 2016 Content Marketing Framework: 5 Building Blocks for Profitable, Scalable Operations for an overview of the full strategic blueprint. 

Author: Carla Johnson

Recognized as one of the top 50 influencers in content marketing, Carla's latest book, Experience: The 7th Era of Marketing, with CMI's Robert Rose, teaches marketers how to develop, manage, and lead the creation of valuable experiences in their organizations. Carla serves as the Vice President of Thought Leadership for the Business Marketing Association (a division of the ANA), and is an instructor for the Content Marketing Institute, the ANA, and Rutgers University. A frequent speaker, Carla also contributes to industrywide news outlets, forums and conferences on the future of the B2B marketing profession, leading through innovation and storytelling. Learn more at Type A Communications and follow her on Twitter at @CarlaJohnson.

Other posts by Carla Johnson

  • Lee Gallagher

    Carla, I think you are correct. Many companies dont invest in their employee’s by giving them the opportunity to tell the brand story. This can be done so easily by social media, blogging, and just plain ole word of mouth. Great article. lee gallagher

    • Carla Johnson

      Thanks for your thoughts Lee. Some say that budgets should be split 50/50 between external and internal to make sure that employees are fully equipped to do exactly what you point out. I doubt we’ll get there any time soon, but it’s an interesting point of discussion.

  • Steven Begg

    Hi Carla, what a great article.

    I am in that ridiculous HR niche (In House Recruitment Group) and your comments around getting them over the line then the romance goes away is exactly right. The unfortunate thing is that it happens even to HR/Recruitment so what are they going to do when they recruit someone……the same thing.

    There is a reason why people join companies and leave managers. Have a look at our post Hiring Managers Role In Recruitment

    You also mentioned about helping HR recruit the “right” people is spot on.

    Take a look at any corp website. If there is a careers section, it is an after thought. Yet the “who’s who” in any corp are onto HR/Recruitment about getting better people. Hello!, where do you think any prospective employee goes to look for a job…….Google!

    We consult with organisations and help them set up dedicated career portals so that they are on page 1 of any “x jobs in y location” search. It is much cheaper than a recruitment fee. But yet, they (HR & Recruitment) use the same old approach, post an advertisement on a internet job board, and pray that the right people apply (we have labeled it post and pray). You don’t see them [HR/Recruitment] out there building communities, supplying good/excellent content, posting video content. Nope, just P&P.

    Maybe we will see a shift with HR/Recruiters being replaced with IM’ers?

    Thanks again for the post!


    • Carla Johnson

      Steve, I appreciate your feedback and I can image the frustration you must be experiencing.

      One of the leadership roles I see marketers needing to step up their involvement is in HR and recruiting. It’s such as area of disconnect. The “post and pray” approach that HR and recruitment use isn’t that different from the “spray and pray” methods of marketers to attract customers. Neither is effective and both are a waste of time, resources, budgets and they harm the brand.

      If we, as representatives of the brand, aren’t able to help our internal partners understand how to talk about what we do, how can we truly expect internal audiences to understand how we’re different?

      It’s time to make investments in the right spots with the right people within our organizations and stop creating hurdles that we have to climb over later.

  • Beryl Dent

    This is a great post and very true, one of the most efficient ways for companies to share their branding information would be to make use of cloud technology and include Enterprise Social Network tools which will allow the employees to discuss the branding without having to use telephones or email, this is an instant response process and will give each employee the ability to learn about the company as it changes when new information is loaded to the cloud facility.

  • susieque2

    You’re right when you say that it has to start with the employees. When the employees smell a fish story, that’s probably what it is. If you have a pack of convenient lies at the bottom of your “brand story” then don’t expect a lot of help spreading them. Make sure your story is true.

  • Sam

    Great article Carla. I’m using this funnel as a backbone for content creation where I work.

    I’m wondering if you could you define the term “Promise Keepers” in terms of what makes them different from an “Loyal” employee and an “Evangelist”? Since this article is 8 months old, have the terms become more concrete in your eyes where you can clearly tell one level apart from another?