Internal vs external marketing for small businesses

  • Better Marketing
  • November 6, 2022

Wait a minute, marketing is all about attracting customers and selling, is it not? Why do I need internal marketing?

Well, yes, attracting customers is critical but it isn’t the only responsibility for marketing. In order for marketing to be effective, remember your internal market too – your employees! They’re the people representing your business and doing the actual selling to the prospects that marketing delivers, so it’s important for them to really know and understand your brand – who you are and why you do what you do.  

 However, that’s not all we mean by internal marketing, there are several angles to this. 

 But let’s first consider the side people generally think about  – external marketing – before moving onto internal marketing … 


How do we define external marketing? 

External marketing is any message you send to the outside world in regard to your product, service or company. It’s everything you do to try and attract new prospects, turn them into customers (yes there’s sales in there as well of course), and retain them as ongoing clients.

It’s your brandmark, your website, your emails, your advertising and social media presence. It’s how your sales and customer support people talk, it’s the uniform they (might) wear, and it’s even how you deal with complaints, whether you like it or not. 

No doubt you’re engaged in some of this already, and none of that will come as much of a surprise. 

Maybe you’ve defined your target market and positioned your brand to give you an edge over your competitors, ensuring it talks to a genuine advantage your business has, that your customers actually care about. You’ve probably tailored your messaging, and now you’re broadcasting loud and clear across all the sales channels you can handle. 

You might have a loyalty program going, and you’re actively involved in turning your regular customers into loyal customers – or even brand ambassadors! Perfect. Now, where does the internal marketing come into all this? 

Of course, your marketing strategy has been designed primarily with external marketing in mind, but it contains numerous components that need to be communicated and embraced inside as well.  


What is internal marketing? 

Internal marketing (sometimes called ‘brand on the inside’) is any message you send to the people inside your organisation – explicit or otherwise. The purpose of internal marketing is to create alignment in your workforce, and influence how employees think and talk about the business, across a variety of areas. 

The person who answers your phone can make or break your brand.


Vision, mission & goals

We consider these as some of the foundation stones of marketing, and aligning your employees behind these concepts, if you have them, is incredibly important. Reaching lofty goals, or any goals for that matter – is only possible if everyone’s heading in the same direction and behaving according to a common set of standards. This component of internal marketing can take the form of a well-delivered speech from a CEO, the creation of a shared set of values, and a statement of absolute clarity on what the company’s trying to achieve, why, and how it’s going to get there. Inspirational stuff when it’s done right and communicated well. 


Sharing the marketing strategy 

As we said earlier, your marketing strategy also has components that need to be embraced inside as well.  

You all need the same clear understanding of your ideal customer, and how your product or services help solve their problems. A well-considered, well-articulated value proposition and positioning statement should be by products of your marketing strategy (and if you’d like to know how to create one, you can read all about it here) and these should be second nature to your staff.


Brand training 

Often overlooked, informing employees, particularly any client-facing ones, of the nuances of your brand essence, brand positioning, value proposition and brand tone, is an important part of internal marketing too. It’s crucial that there’s a common understanding of ‘who you are’ in these team members so that they can present a unified, consistent face to the world at large. A carefully crafted brand book should be considered an important document in this regard. Induction training is a good place to start all this, along with regular sales & marketing training sessions for all client-facing employees, at the very least. 

When you do all of this right, you’ll end up with a business where your team knows the big picture, who you hope to help, why, and what you are trying to achieve in the long run. And if you’ve ever worked in an organisation where this has happened, you’ll know it can lead to incredible things.  

In addition to an increased focus on the impact you want to make, always with the ideal customer front of mind, employee engagement will increase too. As people are being treated like valued members of a fully functioning team, as opposed to cogs in the machine. This leads to greater retention, and an enhanced sense of harmony across the entire organisation. 

Less attrition, less brain-drain, less recruitment costs, all that good stuff. 


The ‘employer brand’ 

There were roughly 40% more resignations in August 2021, compared to August 2020. Source: Merkle US 

Another less than obvious benefit of internal marketing is that a dynamic brand that’s lived internally really helps your organisation be seen as a great place to work, by employees and prospective employees alike and in a skills-short world where it’s buyers’ choice in terms of jobs, lifting your ‘employer brand’ is never a bad thing. 

Sounds pretty good, no? So should you start looking at internal marketing straight away? 

Well, you probably should. But here’s a tip… 

… it must be genuine, and it must come from the absolute core of the business and be driven ongoingly from there – bringing a strategic marketing resource into your team can be really helpful in extracting and crafting the brand essence at the heart of your business as it’s virtually impossible to be objective about your own business 

Which leads us into another internal/external marketing question business owners struggle with all the time. 


Should I use an internal, or external team for my marketing? 

What do you keep in house, and what do you outsource? There’s no single answer to this, however in most cases a combination of the two will deliver the best results.  

Your brand. Internal and external story

Here’s a few things to consider.

1. Do you have marketing strategy skills internally?

If you do, then great, put them to good use. However, don’t think you can have a junior throw a few posts on LinkedIn and you’re done. A well thought out marketing strategy needs to be at the core of every business, and that needs to be drawn out from you and your team. Most SME businesses don’t need a senior strategic marketer full time. Our approach to embedding part-time strategic marketers in your business may be a cost-effective approach to bring these skills into your team.

As for the day-to-day, have you got people doing a little bit of ‘marketing on the side’, as well as their main job too? That’s not great in the long run for marketing, or whatever else they’re supposed to be doing! Marketing takes skill and focus and these days, with the emphasis on content, it’s a hungry beast that needs to be regularly fed and that takes time too. So adequate resourcing is important

2. How much time do you have?

If you don’t have the skills or the budget, you might end up doing a lot of this yourself, and for small businesses time is always in short supply. DIY is rarely sustainable – and how much time are you spending on marketing that you should be spending on the stuff you’re actually good at? What’s the opportunity cost of that?

As you grow, it really is best to bring these skills into your team. This is  going to result in a better job overall, and a lot of time returned to you. 

3. How much accountability is there?

Our final point to think about with outsourcing or insourcing your marketing, is accountability.  In general, external agencies are  not in it for the long haul – and they are  not able to live and breath the business like you are or like a person on your team.

Conversely, your internal marketing team are embedded into your organisation, and have a much greater vested interest in your success. If they do well, the business does well, and they do even better. A virtuous feedback loop that everybody gains from, although they’re not as objective anymore.

4. Do you have the budget?

The ideal situation is to hire a senior marketer to lead all of this in your business. Someone with the experience and knowledge to build a coherent strategy, develop a plan, and determine what can be done internally, and what needs to be outsourced.

“If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.”
                                                                                                          Red Adair, Oil-Well Firefighter


The other more affordable option, of course, is to hire a senior marketer on a part-time basis instead, and we can help you with that, if you like – it’s our core model and in our experience one that’s perfect for most SMEs (see what some think of the approach here). 

So the answer? Well, it’s up to you.

If you can find around $175k per year, hire a senior marketer to take care of all of this for you. Include them on the executive team, give them visibility into the entire organisation, listen to them, support them and your business will flourish. They’ll outsource as and when required, keeping the balance between perspective and accountability. Happy days. 

If you don’t have that in your hiring budget, talk to us about a senior marketer on a part time basis. They’ll set you on the right path, outsource what you really need, sit alongside you, feel your pain and joys and drive things for you.  And before long you will be able to afford a full-time senior marketing resource. 

But whatever stage you’re at, don’t overlook internal marketing.
It will most certainly pay dividends in the long run.  

If you’d like to chat more about any of this, give us a shout! We’d be happy to explain how we place senior marketers inside organisations just like yours on a part time basis, and you can read all about it here. 

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