Two Ways Culture Drives Marketing
From an interview with Perpetual Insights
Q. How does or should a company’s culture impact its marketing?
Corporate culture drives marketing today in two strategically significant ways: one quite classic and troublesome, the other as an enlightened wave of the future.
Business success depends on sound strategy and the ability to adapt and change but execution is where strategy succeeds or fails. This is because no matter the strategy, it all comes down to people and their ability to address issues and opportunities in the marketplace. And when the going gets tough, new plan or not, we all tend to revert to our comfort zone. Knowing full well what we’re doing is “off strategy”, now corporately labeled a “bad habit” and the precise behavior we all agreed in the planning phase wasn’t in the best interests of the business. But, hey, what’s this one exception? So our marketing muscle memory kicks in, and simply getting things done trumps strategic and executional purity.
What people believe - and how they behave - is far more powerful than any plan. As Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” and my experience shows this is abundantly true of the corporate tension between marketing, communications, and sales…
Can’t each division be trusted to freelance the execution of the marketing plan? Can’t each team ad lib to their own goals in the conduct of the business and the brand? Well, no, not in the new normal of our increasingly connected society, where consumer control, brand equity, and consistent calls for transparency cannot be ignored.
Drucker argued, and history makes clear, any disconnect between corporate culture and business/marketing strategy puts the coherence of the model and the viability of the company at risk. It creates confusion and concern, internally and externally, regarding the company’s purpose, relevance, and value proposition. The only solution is the hard work that makes sure the two are integrated at all times, and well in advance of any strategic change.
This has been my experience with several clients whose leadership boldly planned their future but forgot they’d be carrying their cultural past forward with them as well. Cultural alignment is critical in empowering employees to make their own decisions in an agile organization - where everyone knows where the company is headed, what they’re doing, and how it contributes to success.
To get aligned smart firms will review their purpose and model before considering a new strategy and plan to achieve it. One that takes control of the future through a clear statement of the strategic and cultural foundations of the company; incorporating their mutually reinforcing Values, Vision, Mission, Strategy, and Culture. (You’ll find more on the process here: Is Your Culture Eating Your Strategy?)
The second strategic way corporate culture is impacting marketing today is the rapid rise of belief driven brands. Brands that “…stand for something bigger than what they make or do…who operate and communicate based on consistent, authentic belief systems that drive everything they do, and why and how they do it…and connect with engaged audiences through shared values.”
This is proving particularly persuasive with the growing number of consumers who’re actively demanding more from every brand they encounter. The benefits and implications are best described by my friend David Baldwin in his book The Belief Economy: How to Give a Damn Stop Selling, and Create Buy-In. (You'll find a review here: Looking for a Reason to Believe.)
David cites many examples, including Burt's Bees and Ben & Jerry's, and my friends at Chobani, who whose "Better Food for More People" and consistent work toward positive change are the real-world actions of tomorrow’s leading brands.