In Los Angeles today, being pro-GMO (short for genetically modified organisms) in your food choices is akin to being pro-Communist in the 1950s. But meal-replacement company Soylent doesn’t care. Last fall, it took out a billboard ad proudly proclaiming itself to be “ pro-GMO.”
That’s a bold move in a part of LA where people don’t always take kindly to that way of thinking. But Soylent’s brand is all about leveraging science and technology to feed the world. Its leaders believe in what they produce, which gives its culture an authenticity it might otherwise lack.
And with estimates that 60 percent of people want to know what a company stands for before doing business with it, company "culture" matters more than ever.
At my data marketing company, we pride ourselves on a culture of transparency, execution and learning. We also try to be “cool” (i.e., not jerks) in our dealings with others; and we strive to represent ourselves in the market the same way.
We pitch ourselves as an outsourced team that can execute, iterate and strategize quickly, with full visibility and high-touch communication.
If we pitched our services any differently, we might alienate our staff. And, if we made an operational decision to value different core beliefs, our sales process would dump clients into our pipeline whose expectations didn't align with who we are. The clash of culture and growth would become unsustainable.
Aligning your marketing with your culture is essential, then, but exactly how do you do that? I keep three principles in mind.
1. Lock down your values and make sure your standard-bearer shares them.
If you are heard in the market rambling about ideas or processes that are foreign to your operational staff, you’ll create skepticism and doubt for staff members and clients alike.
Make sure you understand your team’s day-to-day challenges, opportunities and strengths, or you -- or whoever is the face of your company -- will find it difficult to wave the right flag.
Our own CEO is very vocal and visible and always echoes our internal culture. One good way to ensure you too can speak to what your employees truly value is through brief weekly check-ins with them. An instant-messaging platform, such as 15Five, allows you to ask questions about daily operations and gather employee sentiments.
Employees’ answers to questions like, “What are you proud of about your work this week?” or “What made you feel grateful for your job this week?” will help you see what aspects of your company culture mean the most to them.
2. Go 'big' and broadcast those values.
Once you know that your company culture is locked down, start shouting it from the rooftops. Go big, broadcast it -- you might even launch a TV spot.
When Starbucks aired its first televised commercial in 2007, people thought it might be shifting its culture. How could Starbucks do TV commercials and still be the corner café? But those naysayers were wrong. Instead of shifting its culture, Starbucks took a broad format and made it feel local. Music by lesser-known artists made its TV ads seem as intimate and homey as its coffee shops.
We wanted to do the same thing with our TV commercial, so we strived to make sure it wasn’t too buttoned-up or professional. The final result (we believe) was fun and lighthearted, because that’s who we are.
Before making a stroke as broad as a commercial, ensure thaat your culture and brand align and support each other. Work with your team to nail down every word and idea, and show viewers exactly who you are and what you stand for. The process might be painstakingly slow, but it will guarantee an authentic result that is true to your brand.
3. But also . . . stay small and narrow your focus.
I know that those two pieces of advice seem contradictory, but the strategies inform different goals.
Go big to boost brand awareness and start a conversation. Then target smaller niches to find just the right customers for your brand. Nothing is more soul-sucking than taking on a client who isn’t the right fit. We’ve definitely fired clients who didn’t exemplify our core values, but it’s best to avoid them altogether.
Take a good, hard look at your company’s values. Determine the top two or three, and start marketing to customers who also seem to embody those. Think small. Then create individual personas for each target. Do as many as you like, but I’d recommend 10 or so.
Once you build the personas, the possibilities are endless. You can create targeted social media ads, put up a billboard in just the right part of town or sponsor content in key publications. Don’t worry about boxing yourself in by going small: You can always expand your audience using your core values.
Beyond Yoga is a brand we work with that identified its values as supporting and inspiring women. The brand focused on a niche group of curvy, plus-sized women to create a product tailor-made for them. Before long, petite women wanted in on it, too. The company didn’t adjust its core values; instead, it used those values to break into different niche markets.
Whatever your particular strategy, everything you articulate in marketing materials should be consistent with reality. Allowing any team member to see or hear something that doesn’t jibe with the company’s daily business or core values may act like kryptonite and destroy the culture.
Instead, strive to be the best, and shout it from the rooftops -- just be sure that what you're shouting stays consistent with your team’s internal shoutouts.