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5 Things You Can Learn From Marketing to Improve Employee Engagement

Topics: Growth, Retention

I was catching up on the latest HR news on TLNT, and this headline jumped out at me: “Marketing Can Teach You How to Improve Engagement.”

I clicked through to read the article. I was really excited to learn the author, Neil Bedwell, and I are on the same page when it comes to knowing the importance of having HR and marketing work together. The opening paragraph sums up the reason why:

“The two most most valuable assets in any business are actually the same thing. Humans. Our customers and our employees. Yet, in most companies there is a huge gap between how we treat these two groups of people. The value employees bring to the customer relationship is becoming even clearer, which prompts an important question: Why don’t HR and marketing, the two disciplines responsible for these two groups, work more closely together?”

As a content marketer at an HR software company, I believe that if HR and marketing forge an alliance and learn from each other, it will result in organizations with more engaged employees.

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Lack of Engagement Plagues Organizations

The lack of engagement is so prevalent in organizations it could be called an epidemic. A recent Gallup study revealed two-thirds of employees are disengaged at work. Employee unhappiness spills over into customer service interactions. The dissatisfaction erodes brand value, costing the business revenue and repeat customers.

According to Neil, the solution to the engagement gap lives in “reframing the role between marketing, responsible for customer experience, and HR, for employee experience.” So, what can HR learn from marketers? There are a few items Neil has identified, and I’ve added some of my own to his list.

5 Things HR Leaders can Learn from Their Marketing Colleagues


Members of PayScale’s Marketing, HR and Finance Teams on Halloween, 2018.

1. Listen

The marketer’s entire job is oriented around the customer. Job number one is to understand the customer’s context, their goals, pain points, frustrations and what “enemies” stand in the way between the customer and their goals. Great marketers listen carefully to understand the customer’s world, so they can position their company as the expert guide who helps the customer solve their problem and win the day.

The best marketers work diligently to get to know customers. They might talk to customers, talk to customer-facing teams, practice passive listening on social media, consume the media their target customers consume, survey customers and analyze data from various marketing systems (e.g. website analytics, marketing automation, sales outreach systems, CRM).

Similarly, HR leaders can take a proactive approach to getting to know their employees, to ensure HR services are meaningful to their employee population. For example, do you know how your employees are doing across different wellness pillars (e.g. physical, emotional, community, financial, etc.)? Do they take pride in their work? Or, if you’ve recently gone through a big change, do you know what employees’ outlook on the company future is? Without employee feedback, it’s hard to know whether you’re hitting the mark.

At this point, keeping a pulse on your employees has ever been easier. There are plenty of survey tools that give HR trending data on key employee issues, such as OfficeVibe, TinyPulse, Peakon, and CultureAmp.

2. Create a vision, a “why” to connect on an emotional level

One key part of a marketer’s job is to create a compelling vision to motivate customers to take action. The best marketers are able to invite customers into a story. They understand that to get a customer to buy what they’re selling, they must sell the functional benefits of a product/service, the emotional benefits and a philosophical stance.

I’ll use my own employer — PayScale — to illustrate this point. PayScale sells compensation data and software to compensation professionals, HR leaders and business executives. The functional benefits of our software include saving time resulting from process automation and a more efficient allocation of compensation dollars. Our business clients purchase our software for these reasons, but they aren’t the only reasons.

The emotional benefits we provide to clients are even more important. At the individual level, our software provides compensation professionals the assurance that their work is sound, and the confidence to push back on hiring managers when those managers disagree with their numbers. Using PayScale gives business leaders a feeling of confidence their compensation dollars are well spent.

Our marketing team also talk a lot about the “why” behind our business. I believe this is what helps our company stand out and truly connect with our customers. PayScale is in business because we want employers and employees to have transparent, fact-based conversations about compensation. We believe this will lead to better outcomes for both sides, resulting in happier workers and more successful businesses.

Due to our beliefs, like-minded organizations are attracted to us. PayScale’s philosophy is what makes us special in the eyes of our customers.

As an HR leader, the “product” you sell is the experience your organization provides to employees. Your job is to figure out how to get your employees and prospective employees to buy that product.

In order for your product to be desirable to employees, employees need to understand your “why.” What does your target employee population want from their work experience? Don’t simply think along functional lines, items like compensation, 401K plans, paid time off, etc. The tangible items are important, but you also need to forge an emotional bond with your employees to keep them happy and committed.

Employees today want more than a steady paycheck — they want to fully express themselves and their personal values through the work they do. To create this bond, it is important for your organization to create a story about what you value in your organization, how your organization seeks to make an impact in the world, and specify what role each employee will play. If you look at the companies on Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list, you’ll see all of these companies have done a good job articulating their mission and values.

3. Communicate often, consistently and authentically


PayScale employees at the 2019 Cycle for Survival event.

Marketers understand attention is precious and people are easily distracted. That’s why we develop a communication strategy before we announce anything and run coordinated campaigns. The belief is if we are thoughtful about how we engage with our customers and engage them consistently, we can win their trust and business in time.

HR leaders do so much for employees, but their service often goes unappreciated or misunderstood due to poor communication. For example, when was the last time you heard an employee say that they’re extremely satisfied with their compensation or benefits package? Or, have you ever kicked off a employee-focused program and then found only three people have signed up? Employees won’t understand what you provide unless you communicate often and consistently.

One thing I’ll highlight here is around communicating pay decisions, because payroll is typically the largest expense in an organization and most employees think they’re underpaid (but they’re wrong).

This common employee misconception that one is underpaid comes from a lack of information. Many HR leaders today are still not comfortable with sharing their organization’s pay process with employees.

Although there are reasons to be concerned about sharing pay information with employees, there’s a significant upside to transparency. Open communication with employees about how you pay and why you pay the way you do fosters trust and loyalty, and dispels misconceptions employees may have had about their compensation. Research backs up this idea. In 2017, PayScale surveyed more than 71,000 US employees. We found a staggering 82 percent of employees were satisfied with making less than market rate, as long as they knew the reasons for it.

In fact, admitting your flaws, especially when it comes to pay equity issues, can offer competitive advantage.

Salesforce is a company that understands this reality and sees a positive return on their bold communication strategy. In 2015, Salesforce committed to equal pay and conducted their first pay equity audit. The pay equity audit reviewed the women at Salesforce faced statistically significant gaps in pay that could not be explained by other compensable factors.

While most organizations would keep this information secret, Salesforce decided to reveal their imperfections to all employees and the public at large. The company spent $3 million in the first year to close these pay differences and made a commitment to re-assess the gender/racial wage gap every year. To date, Salesforce has spent nearly $9 million to adjust salaries for 30,000 global employees. CEO Marc Benioff even appeared on television to talk about his personal reckoning with the gender pay gap.

By taking this bold stance, Salesforce has created a distinguished pay brand, ignited an industry-wide conversation about equitable pay and improved its reputation in the eyes of their employees and potential candidates.

In a world where employees often feel disconnected from management, authenticity is a powerful tool for turning things around.

4. Identify key influencers to amplify the message


PayScale Instagram

In his TLNT article, Neil called this concept “the diffusion of change.” He points out advocacy, or word of mouth as it used to be called, has always been a powerful driver for brands. Marketers understand that by influencing the influencers, they can gain leverage and spread their message much more effectively.

The same goes for inside organizations. As Neil puts it, “Employees gather in small networks around disciplines, work location and areas of interest. Inside of these groups micro-influencers steer perception and play a meaningful role in culture. If these network leaders believe in the company vision and mission, then their ‘followers’ will likely do the same. If they don’t, you’ll find implementing change exponentially harder. A small group of influential employees can trigger a movement across the business.”

Can you build your next change program around these key employees and harness their influence?

5. Experiment


A member of PayScale’s customer success team diving in Mexico

One thing I love about being a marketer is getting opportunities to run experiments. What headline, message and visual will resonate most with our customers? I don’t have the answers, but I can run experiments to find out. In the digital realm, the cost of failure is much smaller than the potential upside in most cases. If I have an idea, I will try to develop a lightweight test first so I can validate my idea before I invest more resources. For example, I might run a few ads to test copy before putting copy on the website homepage. Each test gives me an opportunity to collect data, to learn something new and improve my chances of success.

HR has the ability to run experiments, too, in order to improve the employee experience. In HR, we tend to think once you offer something (like a certain salary), it’s very hard to take it back. However, you can give yourself and your team more leeway to try things if you position it as an experiment — an opportunity to learn something new.

For example, PayScale’s HR team decided to offer a week of additional vacation for all employees the week of July 4th, 2018. Our head of HR positioned this as an experiment because we didn’t know how a week of office closure would impact our customers. She told employees well in advance that this was an experiment and may not be offered in the future. Additionally, to minimize negative impact on customers during our collective vacation, HR created a cross-functional task-force in advance to understand the impact of this move and make plans to minimize disruptions.

Because this benefit was positioned as an experiment, employees were overjoyed to hear later in the year this collective week of PTO would be offered again for 2019.


HR and marketers genuinely have more in common than people know. What marketers do is all oriented around customers. And, HR professionals’ work is oriented around employees. If both groups work together, we can tackle the employee engagement problem much more effectively than one group alone.

Featured Image by Anna Samoylova on Unsplash

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