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Why working with HR to build culture can be beneficial to marketers

Anymind Group's Chris Lu spent a year away from his main role as the company's communications and marketing lead to work with HR to form a culture development department that provides all staff across the company's offices with a physical, mental and emotional environment for further growth. Here, he shares what he learned from his time in HR.

We have all heard about how a company’s employees are pivotal to business success. It’s an easy statement to make, especially if you’re an advertiser or marketer - because “that’s the job of HR and senior management.”

In July 2018, a unique opportunity presented itself: in addition to my role in communications, I was challenged to take on an employee-focused role for a fast-growing startup - AnyMind Group.

Let’s rewind 15 months back to that fateful day. Back then, the company had 301 staff in 11 offices across 10 markets in Asia, and just launched our new company philosophy of “Growth for Everyone” and company values. Six months prior, we expanded from a pure-play advertising business to a company that encapsulates advertising, influencer marketing, and human resources.

Since then, we have made two acquisitions - Acqua Media in Hong Kong and Moindy in Thailand - expanded into the Philippines and grew our headcount to over 550 staff, all this whilst growing existing business and product lines across AdAsia Holdings, CastingAsia, and TalentMind.

Although fundamentally varied, there can be parallels drawn between the functions of marketing and human resources, and definitely things to learn from the other. I will not go on about the obvious things like an adaptation for Asian market nuances or the importance of employee merchandise as a branding vehicle - these should already be part of your marketing and branding strategy for Asia.

Let’s get down to it.

Aligning wheels

Similar to marketing’s customer lifecycle, HR also has an employee lifecycle: attracting, acquiring, onboarding, nurturing, retaining, advocacy and separation. These touchpoints are critical in setting two-way expectations, and ensuring that each stage brings value to the intended audience.

Let’s take a look at nurturing for this example. At AnyMind Group, we’re looking to provide growth for our various stakeholders - from staff and clients to businesses and industries. One of the forms this manifests in is education. For our employees, apart from team-led functional training sessions and our internal education and knowledge sharing platform, the company also provides workshops and boot camps for employees - equipping staff with an arsenal of tools to work better.

Similarly, on the customer end, there are free workshops, events, content and consultations for clients that we hold in conjunction with industry partners, to help marketers better understand, make the right decisions, and better navigate the fast-evolving marketing landscape.

Another example is in attracting - be it job applicants or potential customers. Marketers would be familiar with building audience profiles and segments, and it is the same in recruitment. Apart from the role and team fit, each stage of our recruitment process evaluates culture-fit as well.

Putting this into a marketing context, audience demography, needs and behaviors are critical for profiling and segmentation, but marketers should also consider aspects such as ideal mindsets at each stage of the customer journey (context-fit). What kind of mindset would you want your audience to take on when they are at the awareness stage - Do you want them to be leisurely browsing social media and stumbling across your B2B brand’s ad, or do you want them to come across a more favorable article about similar products, and see your ad within that same article?

Inside, out

Being in tune with employees can be beneficial to marketers, and should be implemented into your weekly or monthly schedule. Especially in such a diverse market as Asia, where audience and market profiling and needs can be different by market or even by city. Having frequent check-ins with different regions can uncover trends to jack or even potentially inflammatory topics, allowing you to quickly pivot messaging and content.

In HR, one of the key ways to keep your pulse on the ground, apart from interactions with employees, is through employee pulse surveys. These surveys provide rich employee insights efficiently and at scale, and provides a way for employees to share feedback and insights with the ”company”. At AnyMind Group, we use a dual-pronged vehicle to drive conversations across the company - definitely pulse surveys, but also an open feedback channel that is available to everyone. The feedback and insights gleaned from these vehicles can then be used as data points to guide future HR action, strengthen structures and improve policies.

At the same time, it makes sense for marketers to use a similar tactic to kickstart the conversation. The “open feedback channel” on product, customer and market feedback should already be established within your organization or team, depending on how you look at your data or internal channels. However, the marketer-staff conversation can take a more proactive approach by dishing out annual or biannual surveys to better understand past and potential sales roadblocks, evolving customer and market behaviors, and identify employee advocacy opportunities.

These feedback channels will also provide you with insight into what employees care about, and can further guide content strategy. Developing content that employees want to share and are proud of sharing adds a different viewpoint towards employee advocacy - providing a more authentic and organic angle to marketing content. This content has to add value for the employees, be it a thought leadership attempt from the employee by sharing your brand’s social media posts, featuring employees on public channels, or developing content that aligns with a cause.

At startups, chances are that employees (particularly younger generations) joined the company because they connect with the company’s vision and purpose, founders and of course, what the company is putting out to the public. Any growing business would have designed this with employee reception in mind - not many people will want to work for a company that aims to make the world “the smelliest planet” (although there may be some outliers…).

Similarly, customer feedback is critical to a product’s success, no matter the stage of the business. This is why we went back to our roots in advertising to develop and launch CPA and CPC capabilities through CastingAsia for influencer marketing - tackling a customer and market need to make influencer marketing more addressable. This constant feedback loop between sales, marketing and engineering, helps businesses and marketing to remain agile, addressing and pivoting to the needs of customers.

Ultimately, the gaps between HR and marketing should be filled, allowing both core business functions to add a new dimension to their ongoing efforts and opening up increased opportunities. Marketers can leverage and adapt from various facets designed for optimal employee attraction and experience, and HR can rely on a partner to enhance company belonging and value to employees.

Employees should not just be the domain of HR.

Chris Lu is the regional head for communications and marketing at Anymind Group. He previously held the role of regional head for communications and culture development.

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