Inside the mix

When done right, internal efforts can inspire employees to share goodwill with customers

When done right, internal efforts can inspire employees to share goodwill with customers

Wal-Mart has its greeters - people hired specifically to be the first employees customers see as they enter. It's a fundamental job requirement that these people enjoy their work, and the fact that Wal-Mart seems consistently able to source these jovial characters store in, store out quite possibly goes some way in counteracting the stories of staff mistreatment that have troubled the retail giant over the years.

No one goes to McDonald's to be smiled at. Sure, some lucky outlets have employees who take the service credo to heart and do their best to ensure that the customer has a good time. But when nearly all staffers have the potential to be the first point of contact the customer has with the brand on any given day, it's harder to ensure a consistently cheerful experience.

But now McDonald's has unveiled its "My First" campaign, aimed officially at employees, but being released into the general market anyway. Previous staff-focused campaigns had talked about building a career at McDonald's. This current one takes a shorter-term view and attempts to lure a higher-quality candidate by positioning the restaurants as a launch pad, an opportunity to gain what EVP and global CMO Larry Light calls "a valuable lifetime experience."

The purpose of this initiative, which has many other components (including an American Idol-style singing contest), is to make brand ambassadors out of staffers, the Holy Grail for any customer-facing company, especially one the size of McDonald's, with its 1.6 million employees.

This is no half-hearted internal communications push; it's a cleverly integrated campaign. If it works, customers will get the message twice: first, through the TV ads; second, from employees' positive attitudes.

It is no new phenomenon to try to engage the goodwill of staffers to magnify a positive branding message. But the creative stakes are getting higher, and many companies are being just as innovative in their internal branding efforts as they are with the external ones.

At the start of this year, MasterFoods unveiled a global ad campaign for its Pedigree brand of dog food, which contained an employee branding component that had as many elements as a typical consumer campaign would. Executed not by an internal communications department, but by ad agency TBWA\Chiat\ Day, the push included business cards, ID tags, and office murals that depicted employees' dogs and investigated ways to make offices more dog-friendly. An employee handbook was cutely called Dogma.

The hard part about doing such a dedicated, wide-scale employee marketing effort is that it has a habit of magnifying employee attitude. That's a good thing if staffers are having a good experience in the workplace; the marketing message will reinforce that and make them feel special. However, there's a risk that disenfranchised employees - in MasterFoods' case, possibly cat people - will just see the money that the campaign cost, rather than the message itself, and feel that they're being encouraged to do their employers' work for them.

McDonald's is looking to prevent the latter by paying more attention to restaurant managers and training. By bridging this gap, the Golden Arches is a step closer to Light's goal of having "1.6 million buzzers."

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