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December 17, 2012

What is Culture-Powered Marketing?

December 17, 2012

If you talk with a SmallBoxer these days you are likely to hear us utter the phrase "Culture-Powered Marketing" but what does it actually mean? In a recent post I made the argument that the future of marketing is organizational health. My argument assumes that Social Media has fundamentally transformed the way we communicate and therefore the way we market. Marketing has gone from top down to bottom up. Ownership of brand messaging is being transferred from agencies and CMOs to the customer. In between we have the employees – the people who actually interact with the customers.

If marketing is a war then your employees are your front line. They are doing battle for your brand everyday. They create the first experiences that ripple across Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, etc. Of course these experiences go beyond the digital ecosystems that orbit your brand. They go into coffee shops, phone calls, and work or family conversations. This is how your brand is truly built – it is carried from your employees to your customers then out to the world. Brands evolve as they are carried. Modern marketing is like a massive game of telephone and you have little control of the conversation once it leaves the building. So it's critical you get the story right before it gets spread.

Culture-powered marketing looks to have your employees drive your marketing, not an external agency. Yes, we are trying to put ourselves out of a job. :) In reality we know that most organizations will need assistance (training wheels) as they work to make this transformation. The tools, which used to be expensive and complicated, are becoming cheaper and easier to use by the day. What differentiates you from your competition are the experiences you create and the stories you tell. These experiences and stories must come from your employees. They can no longer be plastered on a company from outside or above. If you employees don't believe in your organization's story then no-one else will.

How does this really work in practice? We've decided to use SmallBox as a sandbox to test culture-powered marketing. We started with understanding the "why" of our business. I firmly believe that all marketing must start with understanding the "why" of the organization. We determined ours was to "empower greatness." From there we asked ourselves: How do we empower greatness? We did not ask ourselves, "How do we drive traffic and leads?" Our theory was that if we empowered greatness in ourselves and others then the other stuff would take care of itself. So we began to evaluate how we spent our time and money. We saw that it was not always aligned with this purpose. As we re-aligned we also began to see ideas pop up from the team that aligned with our purpose. Some of these ideas became SmallBox institutions: ThinkKit, Factory Week, 24 Hour Web Project, Nice Grants. We also dedicated resources to other projects that aligned with that purpose, for instance: The Speak Easy, Powderkeg, Optical Popsicle, re:build and Pattern.

Did it work for SmallBox? Yes! We have been able to leverage these institutions, projects and sponsorships to create a great deal of activity around our company. It has attracted ideal clients, employees and partners. We have been honored with a number of articles featuring our company and how we work. We have seen substantial gains in search engine rankings and traffic, social activity, inbound leads and overall brand engagement and awareness. Throughout all of this we didn't really stop to think much about whether one project or another might have a specific marketing outcome. We only stopped to ask ourselves – are we empowering greatness in ourselves and others? Yes? Ok, let's go!

Ok, so it works for SmallBox but what about my company? Fair enough. You could argue that we are unique in some way because of our industry, our people etc. But I would argue that this is an approach that any organization can take. How you pursue it will look vastly different depending on your specific organization. Some companies aren't very healthy and need to deal with some underlying dysfunction before they unleash their employees as brand ambassadors. Others may need to roll this out slowly as they work to rediscover their organization's underlying purpose and re-align around that purpose. Here's one thing I fully believe: any organization that understands and commits to its purpose can begin to take steps towards culture-powered marketing. But the change is coming whether you want it or not. As other companies unleash the power of their employees as brand ambassadors you will find them eating your lunch. This is the future of marketing, get on board or get left behind.


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