Here's the problem with most internal communication: It's based on the flawed premise that if you provide "news" and information, employees will drop everything they're doing and pay attention.
But employees receive so much communication that they're overwhelmed by the sheer volume. So even mission-critical material (about the company strategy, for example) or content that's personally relevant (about benefits or pay, for instance) can fall to the bottom of a cluttered pile of messages.
As a result, we need to do something radically different to reach employees and encourage them to spend their precious time with communication.
Here's today's inspiration: retail stores. I think a lot about shopping, not just because there are a pair of cute boots I crave, but because retailers use every method possible to convince you to take out your credit card and buy, buy, buy.
The good news is we can steal some of these techniques to make internal communication more effective. Here are three examples:
1. One day only. As Chavie Lieber writes on Vox piece, a classic retail approach is the "Greatest One Day Sale Ever." Lieber cites April Benson, author of To Buy or Not to Buy, who says that tying sales to certain days works because it feeds anxiety.
"Shoppers hate to miss out on a deal, so there's a rush to spend money, even when it's on something they don't need. The FOMO of missing a sale can often outweigh the logic that you're spending unnecessarily in the first place, albeit at a discount."
How to use this: Create unique content that employees are interested in and can't find anywhere else. For example, at a town hall meeting, present exclusive information: the inside story behind results or advice that helps employees solve a problem. And announce that future town halls will also be must-see events. This technique will foster FOMO because employees won't want to miss essential information.
2. Cute little products. Lieber writes that "stores like Anthropologie and Sephora place mini items near the checkout area for people to peruse as they wait in line to pay. Benson says that "The small size is another way to encourage more spending because people don't think about the small things they pick up. The small bottles speak to the buyer who doesn't want to spend $26 but doesn't think much about losing $6. Stores happen to make a great deal of money off the small things."
How to use this: Shrink your content and place it in places where employees can grab and go. For instance, put a rack of visual post cards highlighting benefits changes at the front of the cafeteria line. Or create electronic post cards (distributed via email) that employees can consume in just a few seconds (with a link to your website so people can learn more, if they're interested.)
3. Free gift with purchase. Writes Lieber: "For decades, beauty brands at department stores have been offering little makeup bags and beauty samples to customers who hit a certain spending threshold-- it's practically a no-fail tactic to get shoppers to spend more."
Benson says this strategy "taps into the human desire to win," since there's a reward factor to spending money. "The gift often entices shoppers to drop extra dollars -- you could spend $50 OR spend $80 and get something for free!," writes Lieber. "Something as insignificant as a sample-size beauty item can influence spending behavior because the messaging is very specific."
How to use this: Give something (anything) away. Hold a health fair and let employees know that the first 50 people who attend will get a water bottle or a pair of weights or a tee shirt. Invite employees to take a survey and offer company-branded products for participating. Find ways to give something in order to encourage employees to do something.
Of course, not every retail technique is relevant. (BOGO? Not so much.) But by analyzing what makes certain methods appeal to people, you can apply the same principles to employee communication.