Creating Highly Effective Internal Marketing Programs

July 14, 2016

by Michelle Smith

Whether called internal marketing (IM), employee engagement or internal communications, the concept is the same – to align, motivate and empower employees to consistently deliver positive customer experiences that are aligned with the firm’s brand and organizational goals.

The definition advances the notion that the discipline is more than communication tactics or a way to build employee satisfaction. Instead, it recognizes that IM can be deployed as a valuable strategic tool to help an organization achieve its business objectives.

Research Finds Link Between Internal Marketing & Profitability

Previously, I’ve shared research which found that successfully delivering the brand promise increases customer spend 22.7%. Now we’ll be looking at an extensive FORUM at Northwestern University best practices study furthering the understanding of the subject by identifying the most effective IM initiatives practiced by U.S. companies.

The study analyzed eighteen global companies from a wide variety of industries, shedding light on the specific strategies and tactics that aligned, motivated and empowered employees (at all functions and levels) to consistently deliver their company’s brand promise. This in turn, helped those businesses reach their goals.

Companies at the forefront of IM share particular beliefs regarding the role of employees in achieving business success. For example, the following values are embedded in each participating company’s culture:

  • People matter The main driver for most IM initiatives is to create a work environment where people feel excited and rewarded in their day-to-day tasks
  • IM drives performance Employee satisfaction is a key element in developing customer satisfaction, as every employee is considered an extension of the brand
  • Anyone can make a difference Successful results are credited to all employees, at all levels and functions, not just to senior management
  • Employee loyalty is critical Employees will remain loyal to the company (even in difficult times) if the company is transparent about the challenges it’s facing and about its strategic direction
  • Culture can be a competitive advantage IM preserves and helps evolve a company’s culture, particularly in cases where culture is a source of differentiation for the brand

Six Best Practices of IM

This breadth of industry expertise helped identify six IM initiatives that are truly best practices and can be leveraged by any company seeking improvements in their IM activities.

General Context

  1. Senior Management Participation Leadership initiative, support and/or buy-in are vital for the success of any IM initiative. Major change will come from the top down, inspiring employees to follow what their company leaders truly believe in.
  2. Integrated Organizational Structure IM should encompass all employees in a company. Using a horizontally integrated management or process structure enables all functions and levels to be involved in a collaborative decision-making process.


  1. Strategic Marketing Approach Best practice companies take a formal approach to IM by applying research and planning processes as well as tools and techniques similar to those used in external marketing programs.
  2. Human Resources Partnership The human resources function provides a vital role in developing strategies that synchronize with IM and business development.


  1. Focus on Employee Engagement Creating an efficient and collaborative work environment where employees feel involved and motivated is critical to the success of IM. The focus is on positive reinforcement of proactive work.
  2. Internal Brand Communication Best practice companies communicate the brand promise to employees across the most relevant channels and then motivate employees to deliver on that promise to all customers.

About Michelle Smith


A world-renowned speaker, writer, and consultant, Michelle M. Smith is a trusted advisor to Fortune 500 companies and governments. A highly accomplished industry leader, she is a respected authority on leadership, internal branding, and engagement. As O.C. Tanner's Vice President of Business Development, she intuitively understands the importance of unlocking an employee’s hidden potential, and how to leverage performance development initiatives for a maximum return on investment. A recognition and engagement thought leader, Michelle has been named as one of the “Ten Best and Brightest Women in the Incentive Industry.” She is President Emeritus of the Incentive Marketing Association, past president of the FORUM for People Performance at Northwestern University, among other prestigious board positions past and present.