Traditional marketing techniques heavily utilize celebrity endorsements, paid actors and actresses, professional speakers and tv personal to get messages across. However, in recent years a few companies have shifted the focus of their marketing strategy to stem from within the company. More marketers are leveraging the power of empathy and authenticity, values often overlooked by traditional apathetic marketers. Companies such as REI and Southwest Airlines have utilized employees to advocate for their company.

Employee social media advocacy and utilizing employees to market is an underused marketing strategy that has a unique ability to connect with audiences. Arguably the greatest example of this shift in marketing is REI’s 2015 #OptOutside campaign. REI made the bold move to shut its doors on Black Friday, an unimaginable act for any retailer, and paid all REI employees to “Opt Outside,” and encouraged followers to do the same. This bold decision, whether solely a marketing ploy or a genuine act to change the dynamic of consumer behavior, gained REI overwhelming positive feedback and respect from current and new customers. REI’s Opt Outside is a beautiful example of a brand that understands its customers and uses that empathy to create a valued experience. They remained relevant to their cause and dedicated to both their employees and customers by utilizing employees to showcase a compelling example of corporate wide values.

The positive response that resulted from Opt Outside represents the shift in consumerism that has driven the shift in marketing strategy. Traditional marketing has little to no effect on consumers. We don’t listen to advertisements that play between songs on Spotify or read paper ads on the way to the store. In fact, only 1% Millennials believe that advertisements affect their buying behavior. This is no longer the era where infomercials using celebrity spokesmen and women can repeatedly talk about a product and expect sales in the thousands. We are shifting to a consumer market that values authenticity above all else, reads reviews and does their research before purchasing products, and values brand engagement.

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Utilizing employees to communicate messages about brands is a powerful tool that connects emotionally with consumers. Customer empathy matters immensely and marketers need to take action to meet these demands. Hearing the stories and gaining perspective from employees showcases the authenticity we as consumers often desire. While it’s easier for us to relate to average workers than celebrities, that isn’t the only reason why consumers now gravitate towards valuing the opinion of employees over celebrities. Employees at companies such as REI, are true to the brand, its mission, the products, and everything it advocates for. Employees are heavily engrossed by the brand and that relationship often extends beyond their profession and into their personal life. If employees are speaking positively about their brand experience and company culture, it speaks volumes to consumers who care.

As consumers, we remember the way people and brands make us feel. Companies who excel in customer retention and acquisition are those that have the ability to empathize and understand consumers, communicate by building an emotional connection, and recognize employees as one of their most valuable marketing assets. Leveraging employees for marketing further develops a strong community within the company and meaningful relationships with consumers. With a shift in both marketer and consumer behavior and values, we’re re-defining marketing.

Jennifer Louie,  MSD Intern

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