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August 16, 2012

The Future Of Marketing

August 16, 2012

The future of marketing is organizational health. It is HR. It is culture. Marketing agencies that want to show real ROI for their clients will soon find themselves in the business of organizational change. Attempts to market dysfunctional organizations will take twice the effort for half the return. Organizations that empower their employees to be brand ambassadors will do laps around the dysfunctional organizations.

Search and Social are forcing these changes. Google’s algorithm relies heavily on Social sentiment, and most experts believe that will only increase over time, so the company that wants to win Search and Social must win users’ hearts and minds. Tricks (spammy link building, etc) will no longer work, it’s time to fly straight. What does that mean?

Your employees are your marketing frontline. Most of the time they create the first experience around your brand- either through direct interaction or Social posting. If you haven’t made believers of them then your marketing efforts will be greatly diminished.

Marketing starts with belief. Belief in what you are selling. If your people don’t believe why would your customer? In the past marketing was like the icing on cake- you could hide whatever was rotten below the surface, deceiving the buyer until after they purchased and took that first bite. Now marketing is more about the cake and your employees have to believe in its deliciousness.

So are quality products or services more important for marketing than organizational health? It’s a little bit chicken or egg, but as I’ve learned with having chickens- happy chickens make more, better eggs. Similarly healthy teams produce better products and services. But lack of trust is holding most organizations back from attaining full health.

I believe that most organizations do not trust their employees. Fear of failure runs amok in many organizations. So empowering their employees to become part of the organization’s voice is just too scary. What if they mess up? How will that make me look? What if they create a PR disaster? Legitimate concerns, which I will address below, but what’s the alternative? An organization filled with talented, eager employees who are afraid to innovate, have few opportunities to grow and feel disheartened and disconnected. Put that company against one with a healthy culture which empowers and trusts their employees to be their brand ambassadors- who do you think will win Search and Social? Who will build have superior products and services? Who will win the customer?

So how do you minimize risk? Some industries have legitimate legal constraints (government, health, etc) that to some degree restrict what their employees can do online in their name. But, having worked with some of these organizations, I would argue that the legal restrictions are never as binding as the fear they engender. In general the best way to “control” what your employees are doing online is to articulate a powerful, clear vision for the organization and consistently remind them of that vision and the specific path the organization is on to realize that vision.

Think of your organization’s vision as a musical score. Make sure they have the fundamentals down and then give them the freedom to begin improvising on it. That improvisation will grow your brand in ways you couldn’t imagine. Accept some bum notes- off color Twitter posts, Facebook party photos, and gently pull in those that really go off key. If someone is truly abusive and damaging then they aren’t a good cultural fit, so let them go and address the problem openly with your team and the public.

Organizational change won’t, and can’t, happen overnight. If you are committed to improving organizational health you will probably experience some false starts and plenty of resistance. You will be asking your leaders to vacate their castles, put aside their politics and institute real, hard, change. Small wins must be acceptable and celebrated. It takes time and persistence to align your brand with your culture. But what’s the alternative? Continue putting icing on that rotten cake and hope your customers don’t notice?

(inspired in part by Patrick Lencioni's new book "The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business")

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