Goodbye bots, hello 'people marketing'

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While Gens Y & Z are famously prone to FOMO, my unscientific survey of hundreds of CMOs suggests many suffer from FOFB, "fear of falling behind." This fear manifests itself in positive ways like intense curiosity, networking with peers and continuous learning. On the flip side, it can also lead to embracing robotic technologies (i.e. bots, programmatic, AI, phone trees, etc.) as a demonstration of their progressiveness, even at the risk of distancing themselves from their employees and customers.

One chief marketing officer who does not suffer from FOFB is Jeanniey Mullen of Mercer. Having started several digital companies, Mullen understands both the tech world and how to make the most of limited budgets. For Mercer, Mullen believed the biggest opportunity was to arm its 21,000 employees with "authentic, inspirational and relatable" content, an approach she dubs "people marketing." In our interview below, you'll learn the details behind Mercer's remarkably effective and relatively low-tech employee activation program.

What was your strategy for implementing a "people marketing" program in such a large company?

The strategy that we employed was different than any other initiative that we had launched. We would first launch it internally. Rather than doing a media buy and then telling the company to go look at the website we just launched, we decided to launch it to all of our employees in a way that they could personalize it, could put their voice around it and could share it with their networks. The average person reaches about 50,000 people on social media every year. So, take 21,000 people multiplied by 50,000. After doing that, our brand impressions look amazing. People marketing is the process of leveraging your company's people to create air in a way that is so powerful that it takes a brand to new heights.

How did you initiate this people marketing program at Mercer and get employees on board?

We were getting ready for the World Economic Forum, which is when the world's top leaders have incredible world-changing conversations about every topic. We wanted to take the content and conversation being shared at Davos, especially around Mercer and other MMC [Marsh & McLennan] platforms, and make it relatable to our clients and buyers. In order to do that, the marketing team did not want to try and put on a spin or come up with catchphrases. We went out to all of our people and asked for a list of volunteers to be part of the "Davos Squad." The Davos Squad had this hat, gloves, and a scarf, and over 800 people, some from marketing, many not from marketing, raised their hands and said that they wanted to be part of the Davos Squad. They got the hat, the gloves, and the scarf even if they lived in Mexico.

When you provide content to an employee that comes from corporate, how does it become authentic?

We just encouraged them as soon as they joined the Davos Squad to take photos and post them on our Instagram channel, which is our internal employee channel, and share their excitement about being asked to be part of this global initiative at Davos. We created content pieces as we were at the World Economic Forum, and we sent them out to the Davos squad, and they could choose what they wanted to share. The only requirement was they had to put their perspective on the piece of content. If we were doing a panel about financial security for life with our Healthy Wealthy and Workwise initiative, we shared some of the content pieces, but the Davos Squad then had to say why this was important to them. They were sharing it, not just retweeting or sending it out. We started to see people's individual personalities come out.

How did you measure the success of this program?

Through this methodology of the circulation of this authentic content, we were able to gain the fourth highest share of voice around the WEF18 tag without any paid media. We just had this groundswell of conversation. It turned into offline conversation, which turned into client engagements, which turned into us building better relationships with our clients and our prospects simply because we were being authentic. We were inspiring them and it was in a very relatable way.

What parameters or guidelines did you provide for your people?

We tried to provide as little as possible. There were certain rules and regulations, but more around social media than anything else. We didn't want any personal commentary about their personal lives being mixed in with a company post. We wanted to make sure that the posts were focused on the services that Mercer provides, or the way that we believe in working with our clients. Outside of that, we just let it go. These were hand-raisers within the company who knew what the Davos Squad was going to be doing. They were passionate about it. They're also passionate about the content and the topics.

How do you build on a program like this?

One of the biggest benefits that came out of this was that it helped educate the people on the business side of how fun and powerful collaborative marketing is. As a secondary kind of success, it got our business partners to feel really positive about working with the marketing team. There's a higher level of respect and trust, and from there, we can all be more collaborative and create stronger programs. It also exposed the company to the types of things that marketing does.

How do you continue to make a people marketing program like this thrive outside the buzz of a big event like World Economic Forum?

We intentionally created content that we could use throughout the year, and the Davos Squad morphed into squads for other programs about supporting different internal and external initiatives. It turned into task forces. It turned into ideation sessions. Most importantly, it continues to get us ready for the next World Economic Forum. Now that people have seen how much fun the Davos Squad had with the initiative, there are almost three to four times the number of people who are already signed up for next year. If you can engage that many people, then that starts your people marketing strategy. If every one of those people does nothing but go home and talk about it, then there's your brand mention. There's the brand strategy, and the brand comes through more authentically than you could ever pay for it.

Why is it important to get employees from all levels involved, and how did you do it?

We had people from all levels of participation—all the way up to executive leadership. Our CEO Julio Portalatin was the first one to put out a video and a photo. Internally, employees loved his spirit. Externally, the clients and prospects in the industry felt that there was something so fresh about that. It wasn't the familiar, polished video from the executive who is sitting very still. It was actually him walking down the streets at Davos, talking about who he was meeting and what they talked about. It just brings so much passion to the conversation that people were excited to see what was going to come next. This building of trust is imperative for large companies because once you have that trust, then you can explore new marketing ideas you never thought possible.

Were there any hurdles that you needed to overcome to get a program like this running? Any pushback from people within the company?

There were some people who were concerned about giving the voice of the company over to the employees. We really had to just cross our fingers, beg them to trust us, and just demonstrate it. There was no budget. We didn't spend any media dollars, so there was no risk there. It was on social media, and it was on channels we were already using, so there was nothing to be opposed to there. It created incredible content for our businesses to use and our sales teams and client managers to use with prospects and clients. We were just trusting our people.

What would be three key pieces of advice that you would give to other CMOs trying to implement a people marketing program?

Break the rules—feel free to explore new options like using print media to break through all of the clutter. Don't default to email—there are so many other ingenious ways to reach your people without bombarding their email. Lastly, nobody pays attention to what you're saying unless it's very cool.

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