When I originally started this post the title was going to be – Is Culture a Strategy, but I amended it to personality because, while what I am talking about here is commonly referred to as company culture, I think the word personality is more fitting for the typical small business.
Most small businesses I encounter, have a culture that is representative of the thoughts, values, leanings and character of the owner of the business – for good or for bad. Now, can that personality or company culture be molded, grown, morphed and adapted by the customers, practices, and people in the organization? – you bet.
And I’d like to suggest that a great deal of an organization’s ultimate success or failure from a marketing standpoint has to do with developing a culture or personality that people come to know, like and trust. Let’s face it there are characteristic traits that make some people more knowable, likeable, and trustable than others.
Unfortunately, you can’t fake these, but you can adopt habits that create a culture that brings out the best in your company’s personality.
In TrendHunter founder Jeremy Gutsche’s book Exploiting Chaos (a wonderful book on ways to spark innovation – look for our interview on the Duct Tape Podcast) he states that “culture is more important that strategy.” I’m not sure I agree completely as I don’t think anything is really more important than strategy, but I do think that a great culture makes for a great strategy and that you can win by focusing on creating a great culture as a way to meet many other marketing related objectives.
Here are couple examples of what I mean.
- Freshbooks founder Mike McDermott told me about something his company does. Once a month or so he allows his developers to take a day and compete in what he calls a “hackoff.” The idea is that they can develop anything they like and submit it to an eager panel of employees who get to vote on the winner – over pizza and beer I’m guessing. The thing is, while some of the developments are fun, creative, steam blow-offs, many are fixes to little annoying things in there product. It’s really interesting to see how this spark of innovation in the culture makes everyone want to make the company better. Is that personality or strategy or both?
- I fly Southwest Airlines a lot. I love so many things they do and it’s no wonder they are profitable in a tough industry. One of the things they do for frequent flyers is send out drink coupons for so many flights taken. Then, instead of paying $5 for a beer, you just use a coupon. But, here’s something they do (I can’t prove it scientifically, but I have plenty of evidence.) Anytime a flight is even 10 minutes late leaving the gate and I order a beer (which I sometimes do!), they never ask for my coupon. They don’t tell me I get a free drink because they were late, they just give it to me. I’m pretty sure they have empowered their people to make this call and it goes hand in hand with some many other personality traits their brand enjoys. Is that culture or strategy or both?
- Lastly, there’s this little tiny coffee shop by my house called Hi Hat Coffee. The owner is a very outgoing chap who seems to know the name of every customer and loves to chat. He’s actually not there that often, which is even more amazing. However, every employee he’s ever hired has these same qualities. I don’t know where he finds these young, outgoing, enthusiastic, life-loving workers, but he’s never hired a dud. One thing they’ve obviously decided to adopt is to inquire about your day. Not, how’s it going, but – “what do you have planned for today.” Every employee asks every customer, regular and newbie alike, that same question. But, here’s what makes it work – they mean it, they really want to hear about what you are doing and the conversations it sparks are awesome. Is that personality or strategy or both?
So, what personality traits could you shine up and make a part of your overall marketing and people strategy? What traits could you hire for? What traits could you coach? What traits should you keep in the closet? In what way is just being you helping or hurting your marketing strategy? The answers to these question might let you find a story that could power your business for a long, long time.