Marketing the “Friendly Skies”

on May 13, 2008

We’ve all been there before. A new strategy is presented by the CEO or business unit leader. It’s about world-class customer satisfaction, operational excellence, innovation, ambitious growth targets, and how “we” are planning to displace the competition. And after that, not a whole lot seems to change. You don’t hear much about the strategy and, for the most part, everyone returns to do their jobs as they did before.

A lot of the work we do with our clients focuses on how to get everyone to meaningfully understand the strategy, connect to it, and build the skills to execute better. There is, however, one other component that’s often underestimated – how to effectively “market” the strategy to your employees to better drive excitement and adoption of what the organization is trying to do.

By marketing, I’m not talking about creating an ad campaign to convince your people that your strategy is something that it isn’t or to create messages that seem inauthentic because we know that the truth is different. After all, there’s a reason why campaigns such as United Airlines’ “Fly the friendly skies” or American Airlines’ “Something special in the air” aren’t getting much play anymore. For all of us who travel frequently, the skies just aren’t that friendly or special these days, no matter what airline you fly.

But thinking more like a marketer and creating authentic awareness, excitement, and education about your strategy can have a profound impact on how well you execute throughout your organization.

We don’t often think of employees as the customers of strategy – just as individuals who must comply with what the organization wants to execute. While that’s true to some degree, it’s not an effective way to maximize adoption. If you think like a marketer of your strategy, you’ll try to understand the audience you’re trying to reach, their level of awareness and capability, their key points of emotional and rational receptivity, and where and how to each them. You’ll also monitor what is resonating and why, and then further invest in those areas.

We’re currently working with a large client in the travel industry that redefined its strategy and is applying these marketing concepts. Through focus groups, they gained a thorough understanding of the knowledge base of the organization relative to the strategy. Then, they brought the majority of the company together for an organizational dialogue to be sure the strategy was clear to everyone. That was supported by an internal video-based marketing campaign showcasing how senior leaders are implementing the new strategy and approach in their daily lives. They are further driving momentum and feedback loops through a wiki, a blog, and other community tools. The primary goal is to accelerate the adoption of the strategy and create an emotional connection to it.

In marketing-speak, most strategies are like products that sit on shelves way too long, with limited sales. Think more like a marketer and create a plan for driving the “sales” of your strategy product, with your employees as the customers, and you may be amazed by the business impact it can have!

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Managing Change
Managing Change