Are your clients Human Resource Professionals? These six things MUST be part of your strategy.

If you’re reading this, I’m guessing your product, technology, or service helps Human Resource professionals and their workforce. Maybe it’s an employee benefit, a human capital management system, or an Intranet platform? 

First - an exuberant high five. You’re improving the lives of employees, and that’s a great thing. Second - an encouraging fist bump. You offer a product to businesses (HR professionals) to support their internal customers (employees). That’s a B2B2C business model, which is multifaceted and complicated, compared to most. Getting HR leads and logos is just one piece of the puzzle - and a future blog post. The biggest challenge comes after clients sign on the dotted line... 

UTILIZATION.  

Strong utilization = high NPS scores, 100%+ annual renewals, and client satisfaction. Poor utilization = client attrition, poor morale, and unhappy CEOs. 

Did you sigh when I mentioned the “U” word? I get it. Utilization is usually lower than you’d like it to be. Why is that? It’s complicated and nuanced. At a macro level, Human Resource professionals don’t have nearly enough time to dedicate to marketing. Plus, their internal marketing resources are limited or often non-existent. Employees are surrounded by so many messages at home, in the workplace, and everywhere in-between - and they’re busy, too. 

How can you help clients break through the noise to engage employees and increase utilization? Based on my experience, you MUST support your HR clients with marketing.

What follows is my comprehensive “client enablement” blueprint, fine-tuned over the last 16+ years as a B2B2C marketing leader at a variety of companies including Constant Contact and Care.com. At Care@Work by Care.com I built a marketing division to promote childcare, senior care, and similar services to HR prospects, clients, and their workforce as an employee benefit. I developed a real appreciation for the HR community and the work they do every day. As professionals HR leaders are engaged and vocal. They are driven to make a difference. The ironic part (and it’s important to keep this in mind as you read on) is that in addition to attracting, training, and retaining talent, today’s HR professionals are also responsible for marketing… but they aren’t marketers. As a vendor that partners with HR, you can support your HR clients by following these steps:

Step 1: Create the best creative
Step 2: Build a “Toolkit” of marketing resources
Step 3: Give your Account Management & Client Success Teams a new title: marketing champions
Step 4: Make the launch feel like Valentine’s Day and The Fourth of July
Step 5: Do the heavy lifting
Step 6: Follow the 80/20 rule

Step 1: Create the best creative

Whatever you do, please, please, PLEASE make your marketing materials excellent.

Skip this step and HR won’t promote your software or service. Or if they do, employees won’t engage with your message. Emails won’t get opened. Your postcards and flyers will become trashcan liner. Utilization will suffer.

Case and point:
My husband and I received a postcard about our healthcare benefit. I picked it up and started to squint, despite my 20/20 vision. What’s wrong with this picture? There was way too much information on the 3” x 5” card. I almost discounted the mailing and message entirely because I couldn’t read it. That would have been a shame. The piece promoted a concierge service to help us navigate our medical plan - something that’s really valuable to us.

Sadly, companies let this happen all the time, but they don’t have to. Here’s how you can create marketing materials that will really resonate (hint: it’s B2C marketing 101):

  • Find out what your target audience really cares about. What do they need and expect from you? Interview employees from different industries, with various roles and functions. Keep their feedback top of mind as you write and design each postcard, email, or video.

  • Balance “informative” and “engaging”. Answer employees’ critical questions, but avoid the dreaded information overload.

  • Take liberties with your message and tone. Get personal. Be emotional, witty, or provocative. That’s how employees will remember you. This is especially essential if your brand isn’t a household name (yet).

  • Include a clear call to action. Make it easy for employees to take the next step. Think through the employee user experience? Are you sending them to a confusing landing page where they have to choose from a drop down menu and fill out a long and complicated form? That’s the first step to killing engagement and utilization.

  • Take your own photos. Do your best to stay away from canned “workplace” stock photography with forced diversity. Hiring your own photographer will ensure that your images are authentic. It’s an investment for your brand in the long-term.

  • Give your marketing the “quality design” test. Does each piece stand on it’s own, as if it were a compelling ad in a magazine? Look at everything you create as an opportunity for stunning design.

Step 2: Build a “Toolkit” of marketing resources 

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The word “Toolkit” may sound cliche, but that’s exactly what your clients need:
all of the basics to promote your software or service to employees, in one central place. Make it super simple for your HR clients to download, print, and spread the message to employees. What are “the basics”? Ask your clients. I’m guessing they’ll request:

  • Printed materials: flyers, FAQs, postcards, posters, or wallet cards with essential URLs and phone numbers 

  • SWAG: for employee affinity groups, benefit fairs, and new hires

  • Videos: product overviews, user testimonials, and tutorials

  • PowerPoint slides: for open enrollment, new hires, and office TV screens 

  • Text & banner ads: for social media, their Intranet, and email newsletters

All of these pieces are fairly tactical. To tie everything together, include a calendar of themes and recommendations. Review this with clients when you introduce your Toolkit. A calendar might point out that November and December are stressful months between year-end deadlines and the holidays. HR could promote the company’s wellness benefits, like an in-office massage. Or in May HR could encourage employees to book slots in an onsite daycare, so they’ll have coverage during summer vacation. There are so many other relevant milestones: new hire training, open enrollment, FSA deadlines, or planning for maternity or paternity leave. A well thought out calendar will inspire clients to promote your product throughout the employee lifecycle.

Once your Toolkit is ready for prime time, host it someplace central. An online portal or landing page is ideal. Want to show your technical prowess? Connect your portal to services such as Moo or Vistaprint so clients can print and ship materials to any location on demand.

Bonus tip: Want some Sales team love? Promote your Toolkit in your capabilities deck. Trust me - very few companies are putting the right pieces in place. This is a guaranteed competitive differentiator. 

Step 3: Give your Account Management & Client Success Teams a new title: marketing champions

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Involve Account Management & Client Success Teams in the creation of your Toolkit. Believe me, HR clients are already telling your colleagues what they need, want, and hate!

Also make it easy for these teams to include a marketing check-in as part of regular conversations, not just during quarterly and annual business reviews. Create a list of questions to keep on hand. The most sophisticated marketing teams actually join client calls from time to time to consult on marketing (mine did).

A “Toolkit fluent” team will recommend the right materials at the right time based on clients’ specific needs and workforce demographics. Your clients will feel supported. I actually bet they’ll be delighted. At the same time, marketing conversations will be a consistent, gentle reminder to HR to spread the word to their employees. That’s one step in the right direction to increase utilization!

Step 4: Make the launch feel like Valentine’s Day and The Fourth of July…

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…lots of love and a big bang.

The launch is your first and best opportunity to engage employees. Test different types of marketing, in partnership with your clients.

To start, be sure they have the appropriate marketing materials well ahead of the “go live” date. Bonus points if your Toolkit already includes launch-related assets.  

Then dig in to help clients with a launch strategy and action plan to go a step beyond your Toolkit assets. Ask them which marketing channels they have at their disposal. Email? Intranet? Company meetings? Recommend tactics that they haven’t considered. Help clients roll out webinars, Facebook Live chats, podcasts, a launch event in their offices, or Q&A sessions on Slack. Or partner with them on press releases and social media shout-outs.

Remember to have the “success talk” prior to the roll-out. Work together with your clients to set baseline expectations for engagement and utilization via marketing. Granted, this is a little hard to do if you’re helping clients with outreach for the first time, but it will become easier with each new client launch.

Step 5: Do the heavy lifting

I already mentioned that HR professionals a) aren’t marketers and b) that their marketing resources are often non-existent. And yet, you need your clients to put the absolute best marketing message forward to promote your product to employees. Support them with dedicated marketing resources to and help them customize their marketing strategy.

Today the most effective marketing is customized. You experience this everyday in the ads you see online and on your smart TV. Companies know what you drive, eat, and buy. This can feel creepy, but targeted messages inspire you to take action, right?

Customization is a particularly massive challenge for HR. Their workforce is so incredibly diverse. Their employees could be shift workers, professors, remote employees, white collar professionals at headquarters, or an international salesforce in any industry: healthcare, technology, education, retail, or construction. Layer in gender, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, marital and family status, language, and income and you have diversity with a capital D.

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Your HR clients need the support of a really innovative marketing team. An agency or consultant can build a strategy and execute quickly. Or set up a division within your organization. You’ll need a marketing strategist or project manager, a graphic designer, a copywriter, and a content marketer. With the right people in place, you can create:

  • In-product messaging, onboarding flows, pop-ups, and alerts, triggered by employee characteristics and actions

  • Email nurture campaigns, newsletters, announcements, or seasonal messages

  • Social media campaigns, targeted to employees who list your client as their employer on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. 

  • Affinity group resources for nursing mothers, new employees, or empty nesters

  • Events at your clients’ offices, like “Bring Your Child to Work Day" or an interactive wellness workshop

  • Programmatic campaigns around special promotions, discounts, or new product releases

Important tip: get clients’ permission before you launch campaigns on their behalf. It might not be as necessary to get HR’s buy-in for programmatic tactics like email newsletters and product alerts, as long as you are covered by a contract or terms and conditions. That said, it’s a really really really good idea to let clients know about all of your marketing upfront. Develop materials to help Sales discuss reciprocal marketing as part of initial conversations with potential clients. Form a partnership with Account Management and clients so that they are informed every step of the way.

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Once you strike a balance between communication and strategic marketing, great things can happen.

In close partnership with a Care@Work client and Account Management, I ran a paid advertising campaign on LinkedIn to increase utilization of the client’s childcare benefit. The ads were shown to employees who listed the company as their employer.

A short 2-week test raised benefit enrollment by 20% versus previous months, we saw 38% more sessions on the login page, and utilization increased as a result.

The best part?

The insights we shared informed the client’s broader internal marketing and communication strategy: the roles, titles, and locations of the employees who clicked, commented, or shared the ad, as well as the images, headlines, and text that performed the best in A/B tests. Hint: the baby & puppy photo won.

Now if I were a client, that kind of partnership would REALLY impress me. 

Step 6: Follow the 80/20 rule

If supporting ALL of your clients with strategic marketing is too challenging, help the top 20% first. According to the good old 80/20 rule the top 20% of your clients are responsible for 80% of your overall revenue. It’s not an urban legend. That’s also been my experience over the past 16 years.

Hold up! What about the at-risk clients who fall outside of the top 20%? To start, encourage them to use Toolkit materials in regular touch points. Or develop scalable campaigns like in-product alerts or email nurture flows. If your marketing materials are currently limited or nonexistent, introducing the basics can make a huge difference.  

Along the way, remember: what you’ll learn by helping the top 20% can be applied to help other clients in the near future.

We’ve covered a lot. How you doin’?

Listen, just like the instruction manual for that Ikea shelving system, start at step #1 and work toward step #2.

Or better yet, partner with an expert. Everything I mentioned in this post is my specialty. I tackle the strategic and tactical, whether you need to build a Toolkit or marketing strategies for the 20% or 80%. Goals and metrics are central to all that I do. Trust me - utilization doesn’t have to be a dirty word.

Set up a call with me. Both of us are driven to help today’s workforce. We’re guaranteed to have an interesting conversation! 

Author and marketing strategist Heidi Erdmann is passionate about increasing workforce engagement through marketing. Her consultancy The Erdmann Marketing Group specializes in strategies to help HR solution providers, as well as HR leaders. Visit www.erdmannmarketinggroup.com/marketing-for-hr  for additional information.