Recruitment website Glassdoor just published some research which could be a quick win for marketing people everywhere. Their data shows a direct correlation between employee engagement and customer satisfaction. As you’d expect, it’s most pronounced in companies where employees interact directly with lots of customers: hospitality and retail, for example. It’s less marked in manufacturing. Even so, Glassdoor’s Chief Data Officer says that on average there’s a 1.3% uplift in customer satisfaction for every 1% increase in employee engagement.
In retail, the ratio is more like 3.2% for every 1% uptick in employees’ motivation. When you think about companies with happy employees (Trader Joe’s, Ritz-Carlton, Southwest Airlines), they’re often companies we’re fond of as customers.
Most staff surveys can tell you how engaged people are, usually by using some variation on the ‘Gallup Q12’ questions (everybody always remembers that poignant one about whether you have a best friend at work, which should perhaps be the subject of another blog sometime).
Those are OK as far as they go, but if your figures are bad, or dropping, how do you reverse the trend?
Most of the companies who’ve tried to answer that question are organisational psychologists. Naturally, they tend to create psychological profiles of your organisation, measuring the ‘Big Five’ or OCEAN traits that define people’s personalities:
This can be helpful in understanding the culture of your company, or even of sub-cultures within it. But knowing that your telemarketers are high-agreeability and low-openness doesn’t necessarily help you to engage them.
That’s where our tools come in. We define audiences not by their level of engagement or their psychology, but by the things that actually interest them.
We provide insights that other surveys can’t.
Think about it, if you’re going to get somebody’s full attention, would it help to know about their sense of humour? Their visual tastes? What things inspire them? What things they find useful?
That’s what we can tell you. We can create an engagement profile that measures the things that excite your employees. Then we can help you to make their jobs look more like that profile.
It might take a new enrichment programme that stimulates their hunger for Big Ideas
It might highlight the need for your CEO to be a little less serious from time to time
It could show you the ROI in redecorating your offices in a more creative way
Your pension scheme might get better uptake if it’s explained with a comic book
Employee of the month, awaydays, cash bonuses. You’ve tried them all, yet engagement rates keep falling. You’re not alone. According to the Harvard Business Review, engagement rates are falling across industries and across the world. What’s going wrong? And more importantly, what can you do about it?
Our research has a simple answer to the first question. Your employees are being distracted. They carry the most engaging, addictive kind of content in their pockets – the Internet. Their phones are constantly updating them with news about the things that interest them, their friends, possible dates and even better jobs.
Our research has an answer to the second question, too. To re-engage your employees, you have to make their jobs more compelling than the Internet.
We’ve spent three years analysing the content on the digital landscape, and have created an engagement model to help you do just that.
It’s a model that’s been proven with some of Europe’s biggest companies.
The first thing to understand is that there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Different company cultures react to different kinds of engagement.
We worked with a challenger bank and found that its employees loved big ideas and social good – they wanted to change the world. We helped them engage its workforce with TED-style talks, trips to conferences and coaching in public speaking. Churn among key staff dropped by over 20%
We worked with an industrial company’s salesforce to help them to become strategic partners to their customers. We turned their thought leadership materials into exciting films about the future which got the attention of both the sales team and the senior managers they were targeting.
We worked with a global holding organisation to define the different cultures of the companies it had acquired, and compared these with the engagement profile of the senior management team. This completely changed the way the CEO and his colleagues communicated with the wider organisation and helped with the adoption of a common purpose and mission.
If your employee engagement is dropping with each survey, then it’s time to try a different kind of survey.
What would have happened if advertising agencies hadn’t changed their thinking when television came along? They’d have interrupted programmes to show you a load of posters. Viewers would have thrown out their TVs and gone back to the radio, commercially funded television would have died and we’d never have got to see Bromans. Fortunately, the early advertisers embraced the new medium. They studied what people liked on TV – drama, sketch shows, documentaries – and made miniature versions to sell their products. Free-to-air television took off around the world, and we all benefited.
Then came the Internet. A generation of advertisers moved their comms online, but forgot the lessons of the past. If you look at Internet advertising (and that’s a big if, as you’ve probably installed an adblocker and have a powerful capacity to ignore the stuff that slips through) it’s essentially TV and poster advertising made small. The agency creates a TV campaign and then delivers a load of screen grabs for somebody to crop square for Instagram. Which is nuts when you think about it, because the Internet is an utterly different medium.
For starters, the Internet is more compelling. We never had to be legislation to stop people reading newspapers while driving a car at 70mph. People would rather die than look up from their phones – if you don’t believe me, cycle through London at 8.30 in the morning and watch people step into the street while scrolling through kitteh pix.
Advertising just hasn’t kept up, and clients are noticing. Yes, digital advertising is still growing, but the smart money is pulling out. Last quarter, P&G cut $250m from its digital adspend. Unilever’s spending is down by 59%. Brands around the world hit pause on their programmatic budget. There were a host of reasons for this: fraud, reputation damage and media kickbacks. But there is a larger problem as well. The Internet is fascinating. Internet advertising, to put it mildly, is not. And audiences are turning away: in the UK, 22% of us use ad blocking software. In the US it’s risen to 40%. In really technically literate countries like Poland it’s more like 80%. Clickthrough rates are dropping. Engagement with Facebook posts decreased by nearly 30% last year, according to Buzzsumo.
Last month, the Internet Advertising Bureau vowed to kill off the most obnoxious kinds of advertising, which was a start. But it’s hardly a grand ambition, is it? At Paddle, we think there’s a better answer to the dilemma facing advertising. Instead of asking, ‘How do we make better ads?’ we asked,
Why is the Internet so damn fascinating?
We asked this in an extremely methodological way, studying 5000 people worldwide and merging those findings with really big datasets. We burned a few trillion cloud computer cycles and came to some rather startling conclusions.
There are only four kinds of content that people love on the Internet.
It’s either funny, or useful or beautiful or inspiring.
Once you see the Internet like this, you can’t unsee it.
Check your Facebook feed. See?
The most successful brands on the Internet create all four kinds of content.
This last point is critical. Classical advertising thinking says that we must, above all, have a single message, a single look and feel, a single tone of voice. Brutal simplicity of thought. Well, we have a brutal truth for the brutal simplicity brigade: your approach doesn’t work online, and we have the numbers to show it.
Look at Elon Musk’s Twitter feed. You’ll find amazing shots of rockets doing impossible-seeming things, but scroll down and you’ll see the same rockets crashing to the Monty Python theme tune. You’ll see stuff about Tesla’s relief efforts in Puerto Rico and countdowns to launches of new Tesla models. Beautiful. Funny. Inspiring. Beautiful. Elon Musk doesn’t need to reduce himself to a one-dimensional, brutally-thought-out message bot. Tesla is now the highest-ranked auto brand in the US, and has barely darkened the door of an ad agency.
You don’t have to be a giant to do it. Take Rude Health, a UK cereal company that’s grown through great social media. They rant about big agriculture, run skinnydipping festivals, publish recipes and publish hardcore food porn. They’re regularly voted one of the UK’s top 100 brands. They’ve never done a conventional ad.
You’d think in the case of Victoria’s Secret that sex would sell. However there’s evidence that their Amazonian models may actually be putting women off. Many of their biggest hits on YouTube are exercise videos and blooper reels. Their Instagram feed is often run by the models themselves, and mainly consists of them gurning in coffee shops, having heartwarming moments with friends and pets and being generally un-erotic. The more facets the models show of themselves, the less intimidating they become, and the more engaging the brand becomes.
Our machine learning categorised this Victoria’s Secret post as Inspiring/heartwarming. Aaah.
Compare this to Clinique’s Instagram, which is essentially press ads all the way down. You wouldn’t follow a human being who posted packshots over and over again. But somehow Clinique’s brand manager expects that we should.
Clinique’s Instagram feed. It’s pretty much packshots all the way down.
Clinique is entirely one-dimensional. It’s an approach that worked fine when you saw a Clinique ad once a month in Harper’s or Cosmo; it simply makes no sense in a social media feed, or – God help us – when it follows you around the Internet, popping up in site after site.
On the one hand, it’s understandable that ad agencies are sticking to their matching-luggage strategies. The promise of the Internet, that we’ll all have personalised brand messages, comes a nasty cropper when it turns into a thousand different creative briefs. But what if you could create a tailored approach with just four briefs?
There are lots of ways to be funny, or beautiful, or inspiring. Our analysis broke each kind of content down into genres, like slapstick and black comedy, or ethereal and spontaneous beauty. We discovered that different audiences respond to different kinds of content. You may not be surprised to hear that men truly are from Mars and women are from Venus. Broadly, younger men spend most of their time looking at funny stuff and older men are more into useful things, plus some potty humour. This is why your dad likes Top Gear. (No, we didn’t include porn in our research, as it’s of limited use to mainstream brands). Young women love beautiful things online, especially grandiose, epic things – cute stuff actually kicks in after the age of twenty five or so. Older women look more for inspiration: social good, spiritual guidance, things that connect them to a wider world. Given even this simple knowledge, why would a brand like BMW create the same content to try to satisfy both of those audiences?
Advertising has funded the greatest invention of our lifetimes, making it almost free. The valuations of Facebook and Google assume that the flow of money from advertisers to publishers will continue. There are a lot of signs that it won’t. In the meantime, the ad industry has been at the centre of one of the biggest experiments ever conducted. We now face a choice. We either learn from the results of the experiment, and change our strategic model to reflect what we know about the way content works online. Or we continue the way we are, sticking posters onto TV screens and wondering why everybody went pay-per-view.
Usually, our spiel goes something like this: there’s four kinds of content people like – funny, useful, beautiful and inspiring. But we’ve only been telling half the story. When you look at what really engages people online, we all know that there’s a seething hellpot of content out there that’s neither funny nor useful nor beautiful nor inspiring. We collected data on that too, but never really analysed it too closely because (a) it was too depressing and (b) because we didn’t want to work with any clients who were interested in it. So the data sat on a server, buried like Indiana Jones’ ark; too scary to open, too powerful to destroy.
A lot can happen in two years. Populists came to power;
Facebook has been battered from all sides; Nazis have been goose-stepping over
Twitter and the future of British politics has become, to paraphrase George
Orwell, a clown’s shoe repeatedly stamping on a human face. It’s time to prise
the lid off that data and talk about the dark side of online engagement.
When you start to see your Facebook content as either funny,
useful, beautiful or inspiring, everything pretty much falls into place. The
same is true of our genres of dark content; once you see them, you can’t unsee
them. They’re Sex, Narcissism, Sadism and Hate. Just as there are lots of
different kinds of ways you can be funny or inspiring, there are lots of
different ways you can be sucked into less wholesome content, from kids being
pushed over by cats (Schadenfreude) to full-on disaster porn (Real life
taxonomy of all the dark engaging content on the Internet
researchers have noticed that YouTube tends to push more extreme versions
of the kinds of content you like to watch. Check out a few vegetarian recipes,
you get vegan videos, then animal rights stuff. Get some video coaching on your
running style and soon your sidebar fills up with ‘Run your first
ultramarathon.’ Watch some centre-right commentators, and within a couple of
videos you’re in the world of QAnon. Watch some centre-left stuff, and YouTube
starts throwing up Illuminati conspiracies. This isn’t an attempt by Google to
radicalise us, it’s the result of the biggest experiment ever conducted into
what engages us. The answer is clear: something more extreme than the thing we
Hollywood gets it. Marvel Studios makes its sequels bigger,
louder and funnier than the originals. When it applies to online content, it
means that we’re being pushed from funny, useful, beautiful and inspiring stuff
into something that appeals to us on a much deeper -and potentially more
Deep down, we’re all
Psychologists tell us that there are powerful forces that
shape every human’s world view. Take sadism. Kids as young as four will
see a stranger’s suffering as a kind of cosmic retribution. We
unconsciously conclude that bad things happen to people for a reason. Research
also shows that same sense of natural justice tends to make people think badly
of AIDS and rape victims while seeing rich people in a good light. When the
Rohingya people were being massacred in Myanmar, local Facebook posts
represented them as Bangladeshi criminals who had seized land from its ‘true
owners’ (in truth, most had lived in Myanmar for generations). Now they were
getting what they deserved. Although untrue, it fitted easily into the kinds of
stories that humans want to believe: bad things happen to bad people. We’re
hardwired for cosmic justice; it’s what makes Hamlet so powerful. It’s also what makes Twitter pile-ons, Russian
dashcam footage and The Darwin Awards so compelling.
Hook ups, behavioural
economics and other ideas you’ll regret
There used to be a word for people who played on our darkest
impulses to influence us. They were called demagogues, and if politics teaches
us one thing, it’s that nothing
good happens to countries that listen to them. Now we have a different word
for those kind of people. We call them Behavioural Economists. Much of what Behavioural Economics does seems
benign: nudging people into saving
for retirement or taking the stairs rather than an elevator. But
behavioural economics has gone far further than that. It’s made Facebook and
Twitter so addictive that millions of people look at their smartphones in the
morning before talking to their partner. Psychologist Philip Newall has coined
the term ‘dark
nudges’ to describe the fiendish ways that gambling machines make
themselves addictive: deliberate near misses, losses disguised as wins and
illusory patterns all short-circuit psychological traits we’ve evolved for good
reasons. Faced with half a million registered addicts, the UK government has moved
to restrict the amounts you can gamble on any machine.
Our relationships are also being battered by dark nudges.
Love is, in economic terms, inefficient. Saint Augustine said that we love when
we value somebody beyond their actual worth. Technology is on hand to correct
this inefficiency. No matter how great the person across the table in the
restaurant may seem, according to Tinder there’s five other cuter, funnier,
cleverer, better dressed people within a twenty-minute walk who are also into
you. And when you go to the bathroom, your date will discover the same thing as
they check their phone discretely under the table.
Behavioural Economics is a great way to sell stuff, get
elected and make experiences ‘sticky’. In the same way, cigarettes are a great
business model: so addictive that you’ll still buy them when you’re homeless
and hungry. It doesn’t mean that either of these things are good for society.
It took decades for us to realise how harmful and addictive tobacco, transfats
and sugar were. People who rejected them were considered ‘fitness fanatics’ and
were treated the way we think about nudists today – yeah, maybe you’re
healthier but… ew.
In time, the mainstream caught up with the fanatics, and
today most people who aren’t Donald Trump accept that it’s a good idea to
resist donuts, pizza, burgers and other round, bad food. Legislation is pushing
back against cigarettes, fizzy beverages and other substances that
short-circuit our powerful evolutionary urges to consume fatty, salty and sweet
week, the US Senate was presented with a bill that could ban certain dark
nudges, but there’s a long way to go before it becomes law. So what can we do
in the meantime?
Sigmund Freud first described the dark unconscious that is
being so manipulated today. He may have also provided us with an escape route.
In his last book, Civilisation and its
Discontents, he said that in order to live in a complex modern society we
have to put aside a lot of our deepest instincts: violent impulses, hatred of
out-groups, random sexual urges. At our best, said Freud, we engage each other
in enlightened ways: appealing to our sense of fun, of wonder, of curiosity and
our desire to learn.
When ideologies appeal to our most primal instincts, they
often succeed but at terrible cost. Freud wrote Civilisation and its Discontents in exile in London, having fled
the Nazi Anschluss of his native
We believe that brands, politics and society all prosper
when we leave aside the darker kinds of persuasion and instead engage people by
being funny, useful, beautiful and inspiring. Let’s put the other stuff back in