According to Kendra Shier, Vice President of Operations for Bread Winners Cafes in Dallas, there is a new buzzword flying around marketing circles these days, what she calls 'markerations'. It describes the trend of marketing and operations departments working in tandem (gasp!), rather than independently in silos.
The word may be new, but the idea is not. It is based upon the concept that the best way to leverage your marketing dollar is to direct it within “ to your own employees. Think about it, Shier says. Who single-handedly determines the outcome of the customer experience? It's not the leadership. It's not the managers. It's front line employees. It's the hosts and hostesses. It's the servers. They ultimately determine whether or not a guest comes back, or what they tell their friends. And that is power. Why wouldn't you treat those people as your most important asset “ your top target audience? The reasoning is that happy employees provide for better customer service. Better customer service leads to happy guests and there is no marketing more powerful or persuasive than word of mouth from happy guests.
In a world that has increasingly become automated and impersonal, outstanding customer service is invaluable. In an interview with Charlie Rose, Herb Kelleher, Co-founder and former CEO of Southwest Airlines recounted a story from college. His professors taught that in the world of business, always put profits first, customers second and employees third. Kelleher disagreed. He had a radically different idea. What if we placed employees first? Take care of employees so that, in turn, the employees take care of the customer? His legendary leadership model turned the business world on its ear. It's a philosophy that transcends all industries.
So how does it translate, using front line employees as your target audience? Shier says that the first step is creating an internal marketing plan. Don't let that term scare you. It doesn't have to be onerous, involve spreadsheets or cost a lot of money. It can be as simple as making a list of little ways you can make employees feel valued. Shier and her leadership team spend a good deal of time each week writing out birthday cards. One employee, she recounts, recently celebrated his 15th anniversary with the company, and received an appreciation card with a cash gift inside. He had tears flowing down his cheeks.
That kind of investment builds loyalty and creates a culture of empowerment. When people feel valued, when they are truly excited about your brand “ they will go the extra mile every time," she says. She also committed herself to knowing the names of almost all of their 600 employees. It is these kind of personal touches that help make people feel valued.
When making your plan, consider using a good part of your marketing budget. Watch what happens when employees see you investing in them. Whether that means birthday cards or parties, appreciation events or trips, incentives or special training, it communicates the message that they are valued. Shier also points out that the workforce is very different than it used to be. As of 2015, millennials are the majority in the workplace and money alone is not what motivates them. The new workforce values something more. They want to be excited about what they do and a part of something bigger. Job satisfaction is more important to them than any other generation.
And with the workforce becoming more and more competitive, considering these needs of the millennial generation will be increasingly important. Shier soon heads to Chicago, to attend the NRA's Marketing Executives Group Conference where she serves as Co-Chair. It is no coincidence that the theme of the meeting this year is 'serve'. Conjuring up many different variations of the word, it can mean literally serving food to the table, or serving the guest, and/or most importantly, serving your employees. Shier says that she goes to work each day with the mindset 'how can I make things better for our employees today? What can I do?' She is always looking for opportunities to serve employees.
Shier often likes to say, we're not the restaurant business, we're in the 'people business'. Focus on your people so they can focus on the guest, which will translate to cash in the drawer. It makes a difference. Shier sees it every day. Employees look forward to seeing leadership walk through the door, rather than cringe. They are part of the team. They communicate openly about what is working or not working. They feel empowered. And it seems to be paying off. Business is booming and Shier reports that they are set to open three new restaurants soon, (two Bread Winners Cafes and one new concept in Deep Ellum), in addition to a 10,000 square foot commissary kitchen in May/June.