Internal Marketing is a Key Leadership Practice

(Guest blog post by Jurgen De Smet, originally appeared on his blog. Republished with permission.)

The hardest part of an organization, and therefore its management, is sharing the enthusiasm with the entire organization, especially when most of the people in there are making one-tenth to one-fiftieth of what top managers make. Selling the company to their customers, or within their market segment, is a piece of cake compared to selling it to the actual people who work for it. And that’s how we get to “Internal Marketing” as the next most important skill of today’s leaders.


Internal marketing, as a name, is great, but it doesn’t tell you anything about how to address the issue of selling the company to its own workers. I see many of you thinking this is done by the traditional MBO, but as history has shown us… it doesn’t work for most companies around! Why? Simple: selling the idea is not the same as imposing the idea! And that’s one of the reasons “gamification” is increasingly being adapted as the next MBO around.

Unfortunately a lot of organizations around tend to implement gamification in a too simplistic manner, too much focused on wage increases and bonus calculations. Similar to MBO systems, it is a bad thing to link money to these tools, as this will cause some possibly very nasty, non-lineair effects within the organization that nobody expected. Solely focusing on adding the gamification traditional artifacts like leader boards, challenges, badges, points… is a bad idea! Actually the story guiding the people into a specified “game world” is the most important part of your gamification initiative. It is the story that will get people engaged and motivated, that will encourage people to socialize around the subject at hand, that is… supported, yes, only supported, by game artifacts like leader boards, challenges… Not the other way around!

Experience economy

In the context of internal marketing we could get some support to craft a good gamification story from what is called the “Experience Economy“. The experience economy is where companies stage meaningful events to engage customers in  a memorable and personal way. In our case: employees. Key words in the description are “memorable” and “personal”. It should be some kind of experience people have and will talk about for years to come and as such tap into the personal emotion of each single individual within the system. Going from a single event to a meaningful experience occurs in a process full of collaboration and interaction between individuals involved. This makes experiences intangible. So what do we need to get this going?

We could list up some characteristics of a meaningful experience, or some keywords, to get you going: the experience involves all senses, people involved are touched emotionally, the process has intrinsic value, people undergo a transformation from within and feel there is a sense of playfulness. But the best thing would be to give you a summary of the 6 design principles of experience economy:

  1. Use a theme – a concise and compelling storyline that people can recognize
  2. Use positive cues – increase the amount of positive impressions the person gets throughout the process
  3. Avoid negative cues – decrease or remove the amount of negative impressions
  4. Include memorabilia – meaningful souvenirs for visitors of the process which can be used for a long time
  5. Engage all five senses – use all five senses to stimulate the experience
  6. Natural and holistic approach – must be authentic and as such a complete makeover is needed

Culture Hacking

A magnificent tool to support the experience economy in our context of internal marketing, with a cool name, is ”Culture Hacking“. Culture hacking is the art of changing complex systems in a way that people are changed from within, by tweaking the existing culture either seriously or ironically. One will investigate the patterns of the existing culture and hack (or tweak) some small things that re-trigger the group thinking patterns and guide people into a more positive outcome. Most of the time this is done by putting little things in sight that enlarge the current negative cultural aspect; or by removing things that are supporting the current negative cultural aspact.

Let me give you an example of some possible culture hacks I have applied to change an organization’s bad meeting habits:

  • Remove all meeting tables and chairs from the meeting rooms – Having a meeting standing up will make it more effective, short & to the point.
  • Hang up a poster in every meeting room with the words: “At {company} we have the MOST EFFECTIVE meetings in the world”, and a background image that represents the actual meetings at the company (people sitting bored in a chair in front of a table). – Having this poster hanging around made people reflect on their behavior and change.

Story Telling

I guess you get the picture now! What comes back in each one of the above mentioned models: Gamification, Experience Economy & Culture Hacking? “Story Telling“! I will not go into story telling as a method right now and expect the words on their own to be self-explanatory within the context of this article. What I really wanted to highlight is that, in order to become an “Internal Marketing Jedi”, you cannot focus on one single system or model! Each model within the domain enriches the other and, combined, they unleash your true internal marketing powers.


What we remember the most is the story aspect, the experience and playfulness they all bring with them. But, foremost, it all starts with the “purpose” of your quest! The “Why?” as expressed by Simon Sinek. It is this purpose that will drive the actions forming the business day in and day out, it is a set of beliefs that are expressed in the culture of the organization. If you have purpose and culture, it will inform all of your advertising, PR, marketing, communication, social interaction… They reinforce and feed each other! Internal marketing, culture hacking is why “Deli­ve­ring Hap­pi­ness” became an inter­na­tio­nal best seller, why people go to Nevada in large groups to take the Zap­pos tour, why…

In that sense I’m glad that I specialized in getting organizations more collaborative and engaging, as this has given me the opportunity to experience the power of the above mentioned models, mainly supported with facilitated workshops using gamestorming techniques and practices, as well as innovation games(r) but also providing insights by means of the Management 3.0 training. (Publisher’s note: Check our calendar for the next sessions.)

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