I recently listened to a webinar by Natalie Baumgartner, an organizational psychologist and co-founder of RoundPegg. She’s made it her life’s work to help companies define their cultures, hire people who fit their cultures, and align every decision with their cultural values.
Her webinar was about how people fail to hire candidates who fit their cultures and then blame everything on a lack of talent in the marketplace. She says that every decision a company makes has to be guided by its cultural values.
People often think of values governing their internal business decisions, but nothing communicates your values to the outside world like the way you market your business. If your marketing messages aren’t aligned with your culture, you’re spreading the wrong messages about your company.
Living by Your Values: Steve Jobs and Apple
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1996, the company’s stock price was $4 per share. One of the first things he did was fire all but one of Apple’s marketing agencies, retaining only the one who’d made the famous Macintosh Super Bowl commercial in 1984.
Jobs started the “Think Different” campaign to remind everyone, customers and employees alike, what Apple was all about. Jobs’ return unleashed a wave of innovation within Apple; today, its stock price is 100 times what it was when Jobs returned. Love him or hate him, Steve Jobs had amazing discipline when it came to aligning decisions with culture.
Apple floundered when it followed the money, but it found life anew when it followed a passionate, personal mission. In the same way, you have to trust the compass provided by your company’s values instead of blindly following the money. Apple doesn’t sell more smartphones than Samsung, and its desktop market share is under 20 percent. Yet Apple has the second-highest valuation of any company in the world, more than Microsoft and Dell (its chief competitors when Jobs returned) combined.
Everything you publish, whether it’s on your blog, on your social channels, or in your email nurturing campaign, should stem directly from your company’s values. It’s fine to change the tactics you use to share your message, but the message itself has to be a timeless reflection of who you are. The way people perceive your company heavily influences their buying decisions. It also influences the way potential job candidates view your business. If you’ve never defined your values, do it now. Then, let those values guide every piece of content you create.
Who Are You?
Baumgartner says there are no good or bad cultures; it’s all about alignment. I somewhat agree—I think you have to have a culture worth promoting, but I also think different models work for different businesses. Not everyone could get past the irascible, obsessive persona of Steve Jobs, but he did speak to a certain type of customer. Connecting with that customer type made him very, very rich.
A deeper connection always surpasses a lot of shallow, meaningless transactions. Whether you’re seeking new employees, new partners, or new customers, you’re looking for your tribe. Anything else diminishes you and what you’re trying to accomplish.
Baumgartner emphasized the importance of understanding your culture as it is along with defining your aspirational culture. For example, General Motors might aspire to be a company that puts customer safety above all else, but it can’t say it’s that company today, and denying the truth alienates customers. GM has to do the hard work of redefining its culture inside and letting its customers know how hard it’s trying to change. It’s good interim PR to create content about how it’s making itself over, but the culture it wants to have—its aspirational culture—should define its future marketing strategy.
If you’ve never defined your company’s values, these questions will help you brainstorm:
- What is your company about? Why did you start it? What did you want to accomplish?
- Even as the marketplace has changed, what has remained the same in terms of what you want to do?
- What kind of people define your company culture, in terms of employees, customers, and business partners?
- Who’s the one person in your company that encapsulates what you stand for?
- What will you not do as a company? What actions or products are completely against your nature?
I founded my business to help small companies master content marketing and digital publishing. I do it by creating, sharing, editing, and developing content that’s aligned with their company values. Fundamentally, I think creation is the highest human endeavor. I like helping visionary entrepreneurs share big ideas—their business ideas, products, and services—with the people who need to learn about them.
From Values to Market Positioning
Your values translate into how you market your company in the form of your market positioning statement. Your positioning statement guides all your marketing activities, and your marketing strategies should never compromise that position.
Positioning statements lay out how you want others to perceive your company. Essentially, if you could hypnotize a customer and have the customer wake up describing your products exactly the same way every time, your position statement is you’d teach the customer to say when they were in that suggestible state.
If writing a positioning statement sounds intimidating, use this market positioning statement generator from eCornell, which is Cornell University’s online learning hub. You’ll see that writing a positioning statement has some things in common with writing a mission statement, but it’s more focused on what you want customers to think about your products. Above all else, your market positioning statement should reflect the values you defined. The positioning statement reflects your brand; you brand reflects your values.
The Ultimate Goal: Alignment
When every decision in your company stems from your values, including the way you market, you’ll create a synergy bigger than anything you’d create by trying to say what you think people want to hear. If you haven’t done the hard work of defining your values, focus groups and surveys won’t solve your marketing problems. Customers, business partners, and potential job candidates can smell the lack of authenticity.
If you need help defining a content marketing strategy that aligns with your culture and values, contact me today.
Featured image credit: Jacob Sciacchitano from Unsplash