Employees: The Prize Inside
Echoing the importance of employee impact on the brand, NYU professor Douglas Rushkoff writes in this month’s Fast Company, ” … it’s employees who communicate a brand’s true values to customers.”
Beyond the basic concept of employees as brand ambassadors, Rushkoff emphasizes their role in product innovation. Instead of outsourcing, he encourages companies to “treat employees as a community of people who actually like what they do and want to do it better.” (Right on!)
A focus on employees and customers (i.e., internal marketing) is only part of his message to “Get Back in the Box.” According to Rushkoff, too many organizations get caught up in looking for solutions outside-the-box, and they overlook the solutions that can come from within — from their employees and customers.
It’s a crackerjack message.
Douglas Rushkoff has posted another brilliant excerpt and commentary from his upcoming business book, Get Back in the Box. This time he talks about customers involvement in the innovation process:
“..the idea that the people we used to call ‘customers’ are now in the lead, and should be welcomed into the process of innovation as equals…Those who are confident in their own core competency have nothing to fear from employees or customers with good ideas.”
Amen, Mr. Rushkoff! I think it’s common wisdom you can’t innovate in a vacuum. However, it’s not common thinking you can’t innovate without customers’ input. I like to put it this way: Innovation is a team sport and your customers are on your team. My company learned this lesson earlier this year when we began inviting our customers to contribute in our innovation process (development of our product road map and strategic conversations about future areas of growth opportunities).
However, not everyone in our company was supportive, much less enthusiastic, about this approach. These detractors said things such as “customers don’t really know what they want” and “they don’t understand the true complexity of what we do”.
I think this last statement veils a fear of open source collaboration. If our customers find out what is in the black box they won’t need to pay us to provide our hocus-pocus. As one who has worked as a marketing executive in both large and small companies, I have experienced this attitude among marketing types to be prevalent.
As marketers, we often feel it is our duty to keep the curtain closed around our particular brand of Oz’s wizard. To make what is being done behind the scenes seem so utterly complicated that a prospect would never consider finding out how to do it themselves and come to the conclusion they must buy it from us.
The simple fact, though, is people buy what they understand. Nobody wants to feel inadequate or looked upon as the village idiot for asking “that” question. When we as humans more or less “get it”, we’re much more apt to ask questions about the finer details. Thus, as marketers we have created the beginnings of a conversation with our prospects. And what better goal to have as marketers?
My company also learned the conversation, when extended into an open discussion around our company’s thoughts on future innovation, is extremely valuable to both company and customer. Instead of it causing the customer to think about performing our service themselves, it has quite the opposite effect…they are actually more loyal customers because they now have a personal stake in the game.