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Why HR should learn more about marketing

The link between marketing and strategy, employer branding, promoting HR services

By Brian Kreissl

When other business professionals suggest HR practitioners obtain a stronger background in business fundamentals, most people probably think of accounting and finance and perhaps overall business strategy.

After all, accounting is the language of business, and for years we’ve been accused of not being focused enough on the bottom line or the overall strategy of the organization.

However, there’s another major business discipline savvy HR professionals should be thinking about acquiring a deeper understanding of — one that relates closely to the bottom line and strategic considerations at the highest levels of the organization. That discipline is marketing.

I personally find marketing deeply fascinating, and I believe it actually has a lot in common with HR in many respects. For one thing, marketing, like HR, concentrates on the people side of the business — albeit customers and prospects rather than employees.

Like HR, an effective marketer needs to have an understanding of how people think and behave. Both disciplines therefore have strong connections with psychology and sociology.

Another similarity is sometimes marketing doesn’t quite get the respect it deserves from other business professionals. That’s because many people confuse marketing with advertising, or they think it’s about “fluffy stuff” like logos, fonts, graphics and packaging. Others may think of marketing as being somewhat manipulative and based on hype or spin by creating gimmicks, taglines or trendy catchphrases.

But marketing is so much more than that. It’s a bit of a cliché, but most marketing activities can still be considered to fall under one or more of the “four Ps” of marketing — product, place, price and promotion. This is also known as the “marketing mix.” (Some commentators now suggest the addition of a fifth “P” for publicity, productivity or people.)

Together, those four (or five) broad categories cover a lot of ground. Many highly important business activities fall under one or more of those areas.

Considerations as vital as determining what business you’re actually in, where you operate, how your products will be sold and delivered to customers, and how you brand the organization and its products and differentiate yourself from the competition all come under the purview of the marketing function. It’s no accident those considerations are also part of an organization’s overall corporate strategy.

Basically, you’re not going to completely grasp the fundamentals of business strategy unless you understand marketing. Therefore, I believe studying or gaining some experience related to marketing can help HR professionals become more strategic.

Overlap and collaboration between HR and marketing

We are starting to see an increasing overlap and collaboration between HR and marketing, and, by extension, other closely related areas such as sales and public relations.

One obvious area where marketing and HR intersect is employer branding. This is an area where it's vital for the two functions to work together. And it's extremely important for HR professionals working on employer branding projects to have some understanding of marketing.

Another closely related area is the use of social media for business purposes, since it can be leveraged for effective promotion in both the product and labour markets. And because perceptions in one area colour an organization's brand identity in other markets, a co-ordinated effort is required among marketing, HR and other stakeholders.

Branding an organization as an employer of choice and the establishment of a social media strategy for the organization in its capacity as an employer need to consider and leverage the brand identity of the organization as a provider of goods or services. Therefore, marketing needs to be at the table with HR (along with other stakeholders such as legal, IT, public relations and corporate communications).

Marketing human resources goods and services

Some knowledge of marketing is obviously important when promoting, marketing and “selling” HR services – either within an organization or in the external market. External marketing obviously applies with respect to HR consulting and outsourcing services, but also in relation to HR products and services being provided to HR practitioners, such as software solutions, benchmarking data, benefits packages, rewards and recognition, books, periodicals and online research tools.

Nevertheless, having an understanding of marketing can also help people in traditional internally focused HR roles better promote the services of the HR department to line managers, executives and employees. It can also help with respect to internal employee communications, since there’s often an element of persuasion involved.

Brian Kreissl is the managing editor of Consult Carswell. He can be reached at For more information, visit

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Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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