Too many companies have culture all backwards. They start by thinking about who their customers are, then try to cram themselves into a mold they think will appeal to the customer.
That’s not culture. That’s posturing. That’s posing. And ultimately, if your real culture doesn’t match the image you’re presenting to the world, you’ll be found out and wind up with disappointed customers.
Real culture, which in turn creates image and voice and all kinds of other things that are important for marketing, starts with who you are. What matters to you. There’s a time to worry about the customer; the customer is super important. But ultimately, you have to stand for something. You have to have core values that matter to you, values and principles that influence who you hire, how you treat people, what is going to make you different from any other company out there doing the exact same thing you do.
Culture creates image, voice and all kinds of things important to your marketing.
Not sure what I mean? Let’s take a look at a few companies with strong, identifiable cultures:
1. Southwest Airlines. Southwest Airlines is one of the very few airline companies that isn’t afraid to have a little fun with air travel. Their service associates crack jokes during safety briefings, they board the planes cattle call-style instead of assigning seats and have a general culture of freedom and individuality. Every part of their culture infiltrates the flying experience.
2. Google. Hip, cool, but not afraid to be nerdy, Google names its Android phone updates after desserts (and creates giant statues of them), asks logic questions in interviews and celebrates obscure anniversaries and birthdays in their Google Doodles.
3. Abercrombie & Fitch. Dark stores, pounding music, store clerks who are way too pretty and cool to actually help you buy clothes. It’s not a culture I personally like, but Abercrombie’s standoffish vibe, inside and out, works for them.
What do all of these companies have in common? Their culture starts with the people they hire. Abercrombie & Fitch would never hire someone like me, no matter how good I was at selling clothes (not very good, for the record). Why? I don’t look the part, I don’t act the part, I don’t share their values and that cologne they pipe in gives me a raging headache. Maybe I could fake those values for a few hours during a job interview and training, but eventually that facade would fall away and I would be off-brand. Then the entire culture and brand itself becomes muddied and no one really knows who Abercrombie is anymore.
If you want to have an image, you have to start by having a culture. Start by figuring out the two or three personality traits that matter most to you and that you look for in employees. Take those ideas and foster them, help them grow, then look for ways to turn it around and make it client-facing. If you do it the other way around, you’ll inevitably crash and burn.