What HR leaders can learn from Nike, Peloton, and House of Vans and their retail concept stores
The company behind the Museum of Ice Cream, where you can bathe in sprinkles and pose next to giant pink ice cream cones, is valued at $200 million, and brands such as Casper, Glossier, and Everlane that claimed their fame as online retailers are going offline, opening physical stores. These are not regular retail locations, but rather concept stores where customers can experience the brand beyond the e-commerce storefronts.
As HR professionals who develop and manage employee benefits programs, we often talk about employee experience, but in reality, we focus more on optimizing HR administration. In HR administration, one area that is perhaps most misunderstood and least appreciated is employee benefits. Benefits offer one of the best opportunities to get creative and learn from a consumer marketing approach. Here are three things that HR leaders can learn from experiential brands in order to help shift the focus from human resources management to employee experience.
1. Know what topics resonate with your audience.
To create exceptional experiences, brands spend time learning about their customers. How old are they? Where do they live? What are they passionate about? How and why do they use the product? These are just some of the questions that brand experience designers seek answers to.
Alternative clothing and footwear company Vans is a great example of a brand that knows its audience well. At House of Vans, customers can literally get off the wall and skate around the store, as well as attend concerts and workshops and connect with other Vans fans.
HR leaders often face the challenge of making employee programs relevant for everyone, meaning that the programs are too generic and broad and do not resonate or provide value to specific groups of employees.
Learning from consumer brands, HR should organize benefits communications around the employees’ needs and interests rather than around the benefit category. For example, instead of sharing content under the umbrella of “mental health resources” or “retirement plans,” consider presenting it as, “ways of managing stress” or “saving for the future.” Then, make sure that the content “speaks the same language” as your employees.
2. Consider your communications channels.
Once you truly understand your employee groups and identify their needs, consider which channels you can use to deliver the solutions that address these issues.
Nike is a prime example of a brand that understands what its customers need, what channels their audience consumes information through and when it is the right time to reach their customers. In New York City, Nike has a House of Innovation. Collections are displayed within the departments (sorted by the audience, sports and major campaigns and collaborations), but once you see something you like on a mannequin, you don’t have to roam the store to find the item. You simply scan it with the Nike app to add it to a virtual bag, and the items are sent to the fitting room once you are ready. You can check out via the app, too.
By personalizing the employee experience and delivering solutions tailored to specific groups through the channels that are most convenient for them, HR leaders can ensure that employees understand and use their benefits. So, instead of overwhelming employees with all of the benefits information during open enrollment, consider the moments throughout the year when certain benefits would be relevant. Anticipate who else is involved in the process (hint: an employee’s dependents) and how they consume information (is it email, mobile, instant messaging, printed materials, events or something else?).
3. Cater to individual communities.
Peloton sells stationary bikes and treadmills, as well as live and on-demand fitness classes. Their state-of-the-art products, combined with an ever-growing library of fresh content and celebrity instructors, gets people to shell out thousands of dollars. But the company does not simply sell the fitness dream over TV commercials and Facebook ads. It has also built an engaged community of users who get together online and offline, representing and further encouraging others to adopt the brand. For Peloton, its stores are an extension of this highly engaged community of users. At special locations, such as the fitness studios in NYC, people can join in-person classes, meet the instructors and connect with other members.
Whether they are formally organized and supported by companies or not, each company has employee communities, be it parents, LGBTQ+, dog “parents,” runners and fitness fans, and so on. For HR leaders, engaging with employee communities means that relevant benefits information can be delivered in a compelling way and directly to the employees that are part of the group, thereby resulting in higher awareness and benefit utilization rate. Once you start engaging with the communities, and once the communities’ representatives start seeing the value of the benefits information you offer, they will start to naturally share it with other members.
The best employee experience happens when companies care about their employees as much as they care about their customers. One of the most rewarding things HR leaders can do is create, implement and manage an employee experience that addresses their needs and supports their lives in and outside of the company. By learning from the top consumer brands and their concept stores, you can shift from the transactional approach of employee management to an empowering and valuable approach of creating an outstanding employee experience.
The article was originally published in Forbes Magazine.
About the author
Chris Renz is a co-founder of Nua Group, a human resources advisory firm based in San Francisco. Chris has more than 20 years of experience helping organizations of all sizes and industries address their most significant benefits challenges. He has helped Fortune-500 companies develop market-leading programs and guided smaller firms as they scale programs to match their growth.