How a parking app drives success by engaging internal customers
We celebrate marketing that persuades external audiences to make a purchase. But what about internal audiences? Can a company succeed without the buy-in of its employee base? Increasingly, the answer is no. That’s why more chief marketing officers are looking for ways to engage employees to inspire an army of advocates.
This was the case for Jeff Perkins, CMO of ParkMobile. Arriving in 2017 to the parking app that serves both B2B and B2C markets, Perkins found a hard-working but unenthusiastic employee base. He linked the problem to previously undefined brand values and a lack of clear purpose. Three years later, ParkMobile is now among the top places to work in Atlanta, while its user base has jumped from 8 million to 18 million. Coincidence? “Not a chance,” says Perkins.
What was the culture like when you arrived at ParkMobile?
Whenever I join a company, I come with a checklist. Does the company have a vision, a mission? Companies that are great have great people and great cultures. And this was a really exciting company, but there wasn't any excitement. We didn't have a clear vision for the business or clearly defined core values that determined our processes and decisions. One of the first things that I did was to lead a core value workshop for the executive team. We talked about our vision and came out with a very good draft of what we wanted our values to be.
What did you do with these values to make them more than words?
We refined them after the event, published them, put them on the walls, made videos about them. Now we do everything through the lens of six simple core values. We established what we call the "Core Value Awards" to recognize the people who embody our core values, and now our people have these values committed to memory. When we're hiring, we ask people how they act with integrity or to tell us about how they work with others. If they don't pass the test, they’re not a good fit for us. One of my favorite things is when a candidate comes into an interview and tells me that they really identify with ParkMobile's core values. That’s the smartest thing someone can do because it shows us that they’re the kind of person we want within the company.
Did you come across anything else that needed changing?
Feedback from employee surveys also made it clear that communication was an issue. It's hard to keep everybody in the loop, especially for a company like us that’s doubled its employee base in the last 18 months. To remedy this, we started a weekly internal newsletter to all employees, and I wrote it because I had an executive view of the company and saw across the organization, so I could put together the right content. I probably did it for the first 18 months and never missed a week, announcing things happening across the company that everybody should be excited about, recognizing employees who were living our core values. We talked about news, product releases. The idea was that we were going to over-communicate, to give you more information than you probably needed so no one would feel out of the loop. This was an enterprise-wide newsletter that talked about the things that were impacting the business and was immensely useful in resolving communication problems.
How has the company culture has changed since the core values were established?
People want to join an organization that is about something, where they walk in and the place is buzzing. I've been to my fair share of job interviews in the past and there's nothing worse than walking into a drab office where everyone’s in their office and nobody's talking to each other. When you come here, people are chatting in the common area, everyone's got their laptops out, people are white-boarding everywhere. We have a great video on our website where we talk to employees about which core value they identify with most, and they have really compelling answers. You can see that it connects them to the company in a way that they hadn’t been before.
How are you engaging the employees beyond the core values?
When we ask our employees the one word they use to describe ParkMobile, the most common answer is "fun." It's a fun place to work, and not in the sense that it's all fun and games. It's in the sense that we're getting stuff done. We're growing the business, driving revenue, acquiring customers and we're having a blast while we're doing it. The things that worked well were the activities that brought the company together more. Every other week we have lunch-and-learns, and every Thursday we do an all-company happy hour hosted by a different department. I think that the act of bringing people together in a company makes the culture more cohesive. We went from being a place where people felt like they had to work to being a place where people liked to work.
What’s the story behind ParkMobile’s Innovation Week?
We give our teams a week to go work on stuff they're interested in. People all over the company team up across departments to come up with really cool ideas. It's become a signature part of who we are and how we operate because, at the end of the day, when you're working at a company that gives you that opportunity, it’s going to make you satisfied as an employee. It pushes innovation and gives teams a little breathing room to go and explore. Try out some new toys, try out some new tech tools. It's really cool. It's challenging because we have a roadmap and deliverables, but, at the same time, we see these weeks as necessary.
Does it ever go beyond a fun, engaging week?
It’s a big investment, it’s real, and we definitely want to get something out of the week beyond just a morale boost. The theme for our current Innovation Week is "customer delight.” How is this project delighting our customers? How is it making them more excited about ParkMobile? The more we do to create those loyal fans, the better our business is going to be. We also encourage people to take on feasible projects, and one of our team awards is based on the project that’s most likely to be executed in market. Hopefully, with this direction, we'll see some ideas that we can take right out of Innovation Week and put into practice.