Marketing: It’s not just for your clients

Conventional wisdom says marketing is to win new clients. And reassure existing clients that they’ve made the right choice. Yet many businesses ignore marketing’s major hidden benefit, one that delivers major bottom-line benefits in lowered costs and sustained higher margins. Those things come from how your own staff feel about your marketing. By Ian Whitworth

Our business has done some out-there antics that received plenty of coverage and generated epic word of mouth. We co-owned a private jet that we only flew in once ourselves. We started a spinoff beer and cider brand purely as a PR exercise. Over a decade, these tactics gave us compound growth of over 30% p/a. But we’d still do it all again even if it didn’t generate a single new customer, because our staff love it, and that drives our proudest KPI: 1% annual staff turnover. How does it work? Getting those bottom-line benefits is a leap of faith for the ‘can’t measure it, can’t manage it’ brigade. It’s a long game that needs consistency and strong storytelling skills.


Long-term, the single most important factor in your brand is how your staff deal with your customers. It doesn’t matter how good your ad campaign is, if enquiring customers get indifferent service, undelivered promises or tobacco breath from your staff, it’s no sale for you. It’s all about trust. Global PR firm Edelman does an annual Trust Barometer research project. It found “Employees rank higher in public trust than a firm’s PR department, CEO, or Founder. 41% of us believe that employees are the most credible source of information regarding their business.”

This from a business that obviously believes in the persuasive power of PR. In most companies, if you ask anyone outside the marketing department what sets their business apart, they always say: “Oh, that’s easy! It’s our quality and our service!”. Just like every other company in the world. If all your staff actually get your brand, and can say why it’s good in simple words at a barbecue, that’s a very powerful force.


Our business was founded with six original staff who left their previous employer because
they were embarrassed by their rebrand. It used words and colours that made them feel weird and ashamed. We offered them a better logo and the chance to drive around in black badass vans like the A-Team. They abandoned ship and signed up with us without even asking about salaries or conditions. Staff want to be a part of something that’s successful, and interesting. It makes them feel good when they tell people where they work. It becomes a virtuous cycle that attracts more clients and better staff.

Visit a Nespresso store and it’s a retail temple of shining beauty, pods and machines lit up like precious jewels and perfectly-dressed, super-helpful staff. I have a rather frail 90-year-old relative who loves her Nespresso machine, and phone-orders her pods to be mailed from the store 10 kilometres away. One time they were out of stock of her favourite variety. Two days later, her doorbell rings at 8am. It’s a black-clad young guy from the store, who decided to personally drop off her pods on his way to work. There is no procedures manual that could have made him do that. He did it because that’s what George Clooney would have done. To do less would let down the whole magic brand.


Marketing is increasingly all about data. It’s great to have numbers to justify your moves, but nobody was ever inspired by an upturn in click rates, or swapped lists of awesome SEM keywords at after-work drinks. Just as clients respond to great stories about your brand, so do your staff. Whatever you read about how verything’s changed, people have remembered and retold stories since we all sat around cave fires. That Nespresso story encapsulates the whole brand experience in one paragraph. I’ve told it to a lot of people, and I’m sure many others have similar stories. You could re-tell that story now, after only reading it once. This is not an excuse for dropping your digital game, and you can’t neglect the data either. Our experience has been that the big leaps in digital numbers have been driven by a great story, which gets digitally passed along the way stories do. Bigger numbers make your analysis much more productive.

Ignore The MBAs

The MBA approach to business is finance first, customers second and staff a distant third. Our view is the reverse. Look after your staff, they’ll do a great job making your customers happy, and the profits come from that. Along the way you will attract quality people escaping from other businesses run by the MBAs. Staff longevity becomes a self-governing system. Our 1% turnover figure covers departing staff who we didn’t want to leave. There are ways of encouraging underperforming staff to voluntarily seek other opportunities that better suit their style. It’s an insult to high quality staff to make them work alongside people who haven’t got their back. Manage it right, and you  don’t need margin-sapping HR departments. Your staff lead happier lives, and your bottom line reflects that.

Ian Whitworth is the co-founder of Scene Change, a national Audio Visual company. He shares insights about running your own business at

Business First is a peer-to-peer magazine: written by CEOs and other high level executives, with interviews with some of the country’s best leaders.

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