Why Should You Care More About Your Employees than Your Customers?

The role of internal marketing during the Covid-19 Crisis in the creation of a positive working environment so collaborators will recommend your brand

¿Por qué deberías preocuparte más por tus colaboradores que por tus clientes?

The external customer is at the center of every marketing strategy, very often overlooking the internal customer. The concept of internal marketing states that frontline employees play a crucial role in delivering the brand promise to customers. During the Covid-19 crisis, the dynamic of internal collaborators and their routines have changed, modifying their work-life balance and underpinning the importance of internal marketing.

Companies have faced unprecedented challenges to ensure their operational continuity during the pandemic. Millions of employees across the world have turned to home office schemes, or have been forced to adapt to rigorous hygiene measures and social distancing in their offices, changing the workplace dynamic and their relationship with their employer. This landscape has led to the question: How has the pandemic affected the factors related to a positive organizational culture for companies’ successful performance?

To answer this question, we conducted a study on employee perception in order to determine how an internal marketing approach could help to strengthen employees' attitudes and behaviors, and to recommend the company brand among friends and family, thereby allowing companies to deal with any crisis from the inside out.

The current context has shown that most organizations were clearly not prepared to face a crisis of this magnitude and, even though they are gradually adapting, there are still numerous challenges related to company-employee relationships. Some organizations have developed new strategies to address their internal problems, such as designing new efficient tools to communicate with their employees, adjusting tasks and schedules to make working from home more flexible, among others. Many companies had to deal with their employees’ low levels of commitment and, at the same time, learn to care about their emotional wellbeing in a scenario dominated by uncertainty.

Today, fostering commitment, organizational values, brand identity, and service-oriented citizenship behaviors among employees is indispensable in order to handle the consequences of a crisis like Covid-19, while bearing in mind the importance of providing organizational support in their careers.

Internal marketing to the rescue

Internal marketing (IM) can make it easier for companies to reach this goal. IM is defined as “a planned effort using a marketing-like approach to overcome organizational resistance to change and to align, motivate, and inter-functionally coordinate and integrate employees towards the effective implementation of corporate and functional strategies in order to deliver customer satisfaction through a process of creating motivated and customer-orientated employees” (Rafiq and Ahmed, 2000, p. 461).

The IM approach comes from the multidisciplinary field of services, integrating diverse perspectives of marketing, operations, human resources, and psychology. It focuses on applying marketing strategies to employees in order to motivate them to increase their results and overall performance, thereby producing better results for the firm.

Companies such as Google or Virgin have successfully implemented IM strategies, understanding the importance of keeping their employees motivated and at ease in their jobs. Consequently, these companies have improved their results and performance owing to increased employee morale and motivation. A joint study by MIT Sloan School of Management and Glassdoor on Culture 500 companies reveals a spike in organizational culture ratings stemming from improved employee perception of communication and integrity in the workplace, and a better role of the leaders and the availability of resources to do their job (Sull, et at., 2020).

The findings of our study are supported by a diversity of sectors and marketing practices, with a focus on employee perception of their companies during the Covid-19 contingency. We collected the responses of total of 191 employees working remotely, as follows:

  • 91% of the respondents are from Mexico
  • 78% are full-time employees
  • 53% are women
  • 51% have an graduate       degree
  • 66% work for a large company (more than 250 employees)
  • 40% have been working for the organization for under 5 years
  • 50% have been in their position from one to five year
  • 30% were mid-level managers    
  • Average age of 41

“Your company, a great place to work”

We tested a model on the key elements for recommending your company’s brand: organizational commitment, brand knowledge, perceived organizational support, and organizational citizenship behavior, using the employee net promoter score (eNPS), which measures employee engagement.

Our findings suggest that the eNPS or the recommendation of a company as a “great place to work” stems from affective organizational commitment or a positive emotion toward the organization where people want to keep on working. We also found that the level of organizational support perceived by employees anticipates a positive eNPS towards the company. These results suggest that an organization should design an experience for employees which makes them feel that it values their contribution and cares about their well-being. These two factors are particularly relevant during contingencies given the employment uncertainty brought by Covid-19.

Today, more than ever before, employees want to feel safe and secure, and believe that the organization they work for cares about and supports them. This means that the more an organization cares about its employees, the greater affective organizational commitment will be, because, in their eyes, the organization values them and is also aware of their personal well-being. Therefore, organizational support and affective organizational commitment can be considered as two indicators of employee happiness and well-being, producing positive comments on the company.

How to ensure that employees will recommend your brand

Our study also confirms that brand knowledge and normative organizational commitment are indirectly related to employees’ recommendation through organizational citizenship behavior. This finding is relevant because it supports the idea that it is not enough for a firm to give employees information about the company or its brands, or information about the organizational values, goals, and other formal data, in order to elicit positive recommendations from its employees. For this to happen, the organization needs to build a positive working environment that depends on how well the company’s brand identity is communicated and how well the organizational values and goals are promoted. In other words, the organization needs to work on developing positive behaviors in its employees in order to foster positive comments from its employees.

Since the COVID-19 contingency has changed workplace dynamics, marketing managers and practitioners must implement internal marketing strategies that will enable them to face the new challenges. Thus, even though their economic resources are scarce, companies should invest in internal marketing programs to address each of these challenges, improve their performance, and increase their profit.

Especially in this digital era, employees discuss and share their experiences about the companies they work for, rapidly disseminating them through technological tools. In this regard, any company will be glad that its employees are sharing good workplace experiences, as a form of external marketing.

Remember that your employees are internal customers and are as important as external ones, given their impact on organizational performance. The relevance of our findings for companies is clear in the variables shown as direct or indirect antecedents of the eNPS: affective and normative organizational commitment, perceived organizational support, and brand knowledge, all of which can be controlled by the company.

An organization must focus on developing the conditions that will contribute to improve these elements, leading to more satisfied and happier employees who will talk positively to others about the company, especially in times of crisis and, but above all, in times of pandemic. 



“The Role of Internal Marketing During the COVID-19 Crisis” will be published as a chapter in the book Marketing by Contingency by Apple Press 2021.

Rafiq, M., & Ahmed, P. K. (2000). Advances in the internal marketing concept: definition, synthesis and extension. Journal of Services Marketing, 14(6), 449-462.

Sull, D., Sull, C., & Bersin, J. (2020). Five ways leaders can support remote work. MIT Sloan Management Review, 61(4), 1-10.

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