Mumbai: Reliance-Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group, or R-Adag, enlisted 5,000 of its own employees for the test launch of its direct-to-home television service. The employees were encouraged to air their opinions on the service, and then offered a discounted subscription that was extended to friends and relatives whom they referred to the company.
Subscribers touched 70,000 even before the launch, and at least 65,000 have come from employees and their referrals, says a company spokesperson.
Welcome to marketing in competitive and trying times, when the employee is increasingly being drafted as a brand evangelist by companies to help spread the word on their products, or even to sample, hawk or co-create products.
Trendsetter: A file photo of a worker at a Dell facility in Austin, Texas. Dell was among the first companies to harness employee feedback in developing new products and improving existing ones. Photograph: Bloomberg
The company benefits through quick and cost-effective brand communication by effectively having its entire staff on its marketing team; it boosts workforce morale and helps companies retain employees, for whom a product-promotion role could also mean extra money.
“The Reliance ADA Group is one of India’s largest employers with close to 100,000 employees,” says Girish Shah, head of branding at R-Adag. “Employees as a consumer community are our ‘influencer consumers’ and an ideal platform for launch and assessment of customized services and consumer promotions, new product launches etc.”
Tapping its employees’ creative vein, Tata Teleservices Ltd allows employees to sample products first and has a programme called ‘Idea-Beans’ which allows employees to suggest products or innovations that could be launched by the company. If the idea materializes as a product or a product feature, the employee is rewarded.
Kiran Khalap, co-founder, Chlorophyll Brand and Communications Pvt. Ltd, says that over time, first consumers and customers and then employees, have become owners of the corporate brand.
“This is a seminal story: the change in balance between what we in Chlorophyll refer to as the ‘legal owners of the brand’ and ‘psychological owners of the brand’,” says Khalap.
Many companies have been using employees to help them get good people—while also inspiring them to sample products or engage in corporate social responsibility marketing.
Coca-Cola India Ltd’s referral programme is called OK4KO and works more like a recruitment program.
All permanent employees of the company are eligible to participate in the programme, which entitles them to rewards in case the referrals made by them result in hiring Nalin Garg, vice-president of human resources at Coca-Cola India, says that employees of the beverage maker and its bottling partners are encouraged to help mobilize support as well as contribute to causes such as the environment. Further, Coca Cola employees are expected to be a part of market activation programmes and sample new products.
Employees usually enjoy greater credibility as brand ambassadors as they’ve already experienced the service or product they’re plugging. Says Sanjay Tripathy, head of marketing at HDFC Standard Life, “Our recent internal referral scheme ‘Parichay’ (introduction) has not only reported resounding success in terms of recruitment (contributes 30% of recruits), but also created internal brand ambassadors. Moreover, the new recruits are already familiar with HDFC Standard Life’s work culture because of their association with existing employees.”
Digital media now gives employees power to both praise their company/brand online or criticize it (often after they leave the job). So it makes sense for companies to formally recruit blogger-employees on to their side as brand advocates and marketers.
Robert Scoble was a Microsoft Corp. employee overseas and technical evangelist who promoted products such as Windows Vista in blogs, but also criticized his own employer at times and praised competitors such as Apple Inc. or Google Inc. Scoble has moved on from Microsoft, but scores of Microsoft employees still blog and are an intrinsic part of social Web communities.
IBM also introduced a corporate blogging initiative to encourage staff to be online evangelists.
Mahesh Murthy, founder and CEO of the search engine marketing firm Pinstorm, says that it’s normally the traditional companies that are about command and control while new-age firms such as Google or Microsoft encourage employees to blog actively.
He says most companies have online evangelists (either from agencies that represent the company or company employees themselves) who stay online, become a part of various consumer forums and spread the company’s viewpoint. “At Pinstorm, itself, one of the 26 parameters for performance assessment is how active the employee has been in publishing blogs and being a part of social communities,” says Murthy.
Tech-savvy companies have expectedly spearheaded the trend. Prasanth Mohanachandran, executive director-digital services, OgilvyOne Worldwide, India, said computer maker Dell was among the first companies to harness employee feedback in developing new products and improving existing ones. As a part of the second stage of its campaign, Dell is now tapping consumer as well as employee feedback.
He adds that mobile phone maker Nokia Oyj, IBM and Microsoft are all brands that are looking at the (Web) developer community and are encouraging their employees to interact with them and offer them solutions over and above their regular work.
Mohanachandran says, “IBM created a new technology called Pure XML technology. They got their technical team to go online and start addressing problems of the (Web) developer community.”
Both Murthy and Mohanachandran agree that a lot of the public forums are actually run by employees and chiefs of various companies. For instance, on the social networking site Orkut, there is a Microsoft forum run by the regional director of the software maker.
In certain cases, it can work against the brand such as a website created by a disgruntled Ex-Burger King employee which talks about the negatives of the brand including remuneration.