Six Ways Marketing and HR Can Learn from Each Other

If you had asked me 10 years ago what marketing and HR had in common, I would have been hard-pressed to come up with anything beyond that we both breathe air and work for the same company.

But times have changed. And as the war for talent has heated up, candidates have come to expect a more consumer-style experience from the companies that are courting them. And you know who’s really good at creating a consumer-style experience? Marketing.

So to adapt to the needs of candidates and to attract the best talent available, HR has turned its straight-laced sights to people like me. And in all honesty, those working relationships don’t always go as well as they should. HR professionals often think marketers focus on style over substance, and make claims that are too bold and unproven. Marketers sometimes see HR folks as obstructionist, closed-minded and too mired in the details to see the big picture.

What brings us together

Whatever our differences are, marketing and HR have more in common than first glance would suggest. And the truth is, we have similar agendas that unite us. Both marketing and HR are struggling with how to make the best use out of massive amounts of data. Both marketing and HR need to produce results more than ever before. And both marketing and HR need to move out of their own comfort zones in unprecedented ways.

Marketers and HR professionals also possess complementary skills, which means that we can help each other take on the challenges we face. So without further delay, here are the six ways we can learn from each other:

  1. Tracking metrics

    Marketing pros have spent years analyzing campaign results to determine what works and what doesn’t. In more recent years of digital marketing, we’re able to look at results while they are happening, and make tweaks to generate a better outcome. This mindset of measuring what’s happening and using those measurements to make more productive decisions is one that’s now expected in HR. Consider asking your colleagues in marketing to help you determine how to measure different key performance indicators, when to look at them, and the types of tweaks that could address lagging indicators at different points in the process.

  2. Thinking about worst-case scenarios

    HR professionals know when things go wrong, they can go really wrong. They’ve spent their careers in the mess and unpredictability that is dealing with the broad spectrum of talent management. They’ve seen acquisitions, lawsuits, meltdowns, mediation, and the day-in and day-out interventions. When an HR person wants to talk through the potentially damaging implications of a campaign concept, specific messaging or marketing tactics, the prudent thing to do is listen. They know better than marketing at how to side-step disaster—and usually that means looking realistically at the disasters that could actually occur.

  3. Seeking truth, not just fact

    Truly resonant marketing communications are built on a profoundly understood human truth—one that the audience in question relates to without thinking. Uncovering these truths usually comes from a combination of qualitative research, and trial and error. And conveying these truths often happens in language that’s emotionally-driven, passionate and unquantifiable. Sometimes, truths can even feel negative at first. For HR professionals, there can be a level of discomfort with communication that’s not immediately provable, and they may push toward going for less impact, more solid ground. This is almost always a mistake. Lean on marketers for the truths that will make candidates interested in you from not only the head, but also from the heart.

  4. Building consensus

    Between working with hiring managers, compliance and legal professionals, operational leaders, and every level of employee, HR folks know how to bring the right people together to make decisions. And they’re willing to take the time to make sure the stakeholders who need to be heard on a topic are. Marketers have a nearly pathological desire to skip this step, and often pay for it at the end of a project. By following the lead of their HR colleagues, marketers can avoid relationship mistakes from the beginning, and move forward with a strategy that everyone’s on board with.

  5. Getting perspective

    The competition for the best talent is more intense than it has ever been. And in a market where the best candidates can write their own ticket, the importance of the candidate experience cannot be oversold. Candidates want the kind of experience they get as a consumer—an intuitive online experience, content served up exactly when they need it, every question answered with minimal effort. Marketers know how to put themselves in the place of the ‘consumer,’ and can map out the entire journey considering how users will interact with whatever communications are being put in front of them. It’s often non-linear, and more complicated than an HR professional would put together, but it’s almost always a better experience for the end user.

  6. Gaining sensitivity

    Marketers tend to work with other marketers, so they all speak the same language even if they disagree on strategies and specifics. HR professionals work with most everyone. So they’ve developed more nuanced ways of communicating with others, taking into account the nearly infinite combinations of background factors that a given stakeholder brings to the table. First and foremost, being sensitive to the needs of everyone involved in the project, as well as potential recruits, can allow for more productive cross-departmental work and better project outcomes overall.

Respect one another

The bottom line for marketers and HR professionals working together is this: Respect one another’s strengths. When we let each other do what we’re best at and trust each other to know our part of the business, we can make remarkable things happen for candidates and for our employment brand.

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