-Linda Descano, EVP, Red Havas
-Linda Goldstein, CMO, CSAA Insurance Group
-Josh Morton, VP, head of corporate comms, Nestlé North America
-Katie Scott, senior director, head of global comms, Iron Mountain
-Rolanda Wilkerson, senior director, fellow beauty care, P&G
One of the best and most authentic ways brands are pulling back the corporate curtain is by featuring employees in their content.
“Consumers are hungry for proof. They want to know how products work, how they are being developed, if they’re safe and transparent,” says Rolanda Wilkerson, senior director, fellow beauty care, P&G. “At Olay, we say we're taking our science from secret to superior and we're elevating that through our employees.”
Iron Mountain, an enterprise-information-management services company that refers to its 25,000 or so employees as “Mountaineers,” helped put a face on the company with a documentary-style video website series, “The Spirit of Mountaineers,” that focused on a day in the life of specific employees.
Katie Scott, senior director and head of global comms, says the company is currently creating a series focused on how teamwork across different corporate divisions helps employees serve customers in a unique way.
Nestlé North America is also tapping employees to tell stories about its revitalized portfolio and its sustainability pillar across its key storytelling platforms.
“When we talk about developing recyclable packaging for coffee, we focus on the engineer that actually made that happen,” explains Josh Morton, VP, head of corporate comms.
His team also developed Nestlé BFFs, a video series that spotlights best friends who work together at the company. The videos help the brand “get to aspects of our innovative culture or supportive ERGs in a more authentic way,” he notes.
While panelists agree that employees can be the best ambassadors for showcasing a company’s culture, Linda Goldstein, CMO at CSAA Insurance Group, cautions that not every employee is comfortable participating in every medium.
Employees who have longer tenure or more experience may prefer working with a script, which can be a challenge when trying to capture an authentic moment, suggests Morton.
“Younger employees may be more willing because they're digitally native,” he explains. “The process may be a little different, but once you get an employee comfortable, it's the same experience.”
Iron Mountain’s CEO, who had resisted video in the past, turned to a weekly blog to reach employees during the pandemic.
“You can get [senior leadership] there eventually,” says Scott. The success of the blog, now in its fourth season, has made believers of the C-suite. Some have even created blogs of their own.
Roundtable participants included (clockwise from top left): Descano, Goldstein, Morton, Wilkerson and Scott
The impact of TikTok
Panelists agreed that to be successful, comms pros need to identify the objective and target of a campaign, then select the right context and channel for those messages. And when the conversation shifted to this topic, TikTok took center stage.
To a person, each leader recognized how it has become a huge force and is empowering and challenging brands to take content outside the box. However, they all concurred that the platform presents unique
“TikTok has become a super-informative platform for the younger audience,” says Wilkerson. “It's where they learn about new trends, new products and proof that it works. They are also more in tune to when companies are sponsoring certain influencers or when the content is very organic.”
TikTok isn’t an obvious platform choice for every brand, though.
“We use Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn,” reports Goldstein. The TikTok audience is younger than our target, but we still want the brand in front of them so that when they are ready to consider us, we'll be top of mind.”
CSAA took its first foray into TikTok last year with a Rickroll campaign and is evaluating how to use the platform for an upcoming music-focused initiative.
Beyond the platform itself, TikTok has had a broader impact on how content is created, regardless of channel.
“Employees expect to experience content internally the same way they consume content externally,” explains Linda Descano, EVP at Red Havas. “It’s changed the skills and infrastructure my clients are investing in to create engaging content and it's leaning into certain audiences to help drive that evolution.”
“Instagram reels on our corporate handle look more and more like TikTok-style content,” reports Morton. “The rhythm, the pace, the graphic treatment.”
“Tik Tok has become this standard for how people are measuring everything now,” said Scott. “It’s caused us to change our game and to think through our content differently.”
Transparency to what point?
Another benefit of behind-the-brand messaging is the increased transparency it brings. And while that certainly answers a growing consumer demand of brands, the assembled leaders discussed how they are achieving the crucial balance of meeting consumers’ desire for authentic, revealing content against the need to protect trade secrets and maintain legal responsibility.
For many companies, proprietary information and patented processes have to take precedent over transparency. Similarly, the technical nature of some industry information can also create a barrier to transparency.
“A lot of information is hard to explain. It can’t be done in a five-minute TikTok that will make people feel empowered,” says Goldstein. “When you're disclosing information, you have to have an end-game in sight where there's value to the consumer, as opposed to just putting it out there.”
For Iron Mountain, confidentiality is critical. The company focuses on “talking about solutions we created for our customers in more general terms and shining a light on the work instead of the specifics,” explains Scott.
Even consumer-facing CPG brands need to protect their trade secrets. Wilkerson notes the importance of protecting Personal Identifiable Information (PII) from clinical studies over consumers’ desire to see more evidence that products work. Her team is particularly tuned into safeguarding PII during press or consumer tours. They are just as protective of proprietary equipment and processes. “We never disclose our exact formulations,” she points out.
“You can read the ingredients on the label, but there's craftsmanship involved that we may not be able to go into,” adds Morton. “We're not going to necessarily talk in-depth about how we were able to develop a gluten-free crust that tastes better than everybody else's, for example. What we can do is spotlight the chefs who get to those innovations.”
Other views behind the scenes
The roundtable concludes with some other examples of unique content the assembled leaders and their teams have developed to give consumers an unprecedented look behind their brands.
To tell a leadership story in the coffee category and showcase Nestlé’s portfolio, Morton’s team created an ASMR video focused on coffee culture — from grinding beans to steaming the pot and making foam — during the pandemic.
The video “got phenomenal engagement,” he reports.
Goldstein is one of several panelists who targeted ESG efforts “as an opportunity to showcase the values of the company.”
“It's important as we look to capture the attention of younger generations,” she suggests. “This is how they're choosing their brands and the companies with which they want to do business.”
ESG is another opportunity for brands to focus on employees, as well. P&G leverages its corporate channels, including its internal and external website’s homepage, to elevate both ESG messaging and the employees who are doing that work in that space.
To communicate its commitment to sustainability, Iron Mountain createdan Everyone Plays a Role series of videos featuring employees describing why sustainability matters to them.
“Their stories are all different, but very compelling,” says Scott, “and they help tell the story that we're not just reporting numbers.”
In conclusion, in a marketplace where brand values are important, Descano notes that “putting the spotlight on the community organizations that brands work with and using them to talk about the impact this partnership had” goes a long way in building authenticity.