A few years ago we met a founder during one of our engagements. He had placed, at strategic locations throughout the company, several sayings and perspectives that, he hoped, would blend into a cultural view of where the company's principles stood and what were the overall lines that the company culture would not cross.
One of the lines we read was the title of this post: "It's not our money, it is the customer's money."
The sayings and their positioning made us ask: can you drill a customer culture or do you teach it?
At its most transactional level, Marketing is based on repetition. Most everyone who has been exposed to television commercials can recite a jingle engraved in their minds by sheer repetition from watching their favorite programs on television. Over time, the jingle has stuck, which is great for branding in the most transactional sense: you remember the brand that created the jingle (if it is mentioned in the jingle, which it should be). However, does remembering the brand also mean that you remember the culture associated with the brand? And, if you remember the jingle, does it help you select a product from a shelf, be that a mental shelf or a physical one? Or does the marketing simply becomes part of the mental furniture of the individual and is not brought up as part of the decision-making process for the product at the time of purchase?
Drilling a customer-centric culture and applying it to your marketing needs brings up the same questions. You need a certain level of repetition to make the marketing message stick. However, how do you add the elements of a customer culture to your repetitive message so that these elements will 'activate' at the point of purchase, so the customer, when faced with the decision to purchase a product, will consciously bring up the marketing information as an argument in favor of your product, vs. the competition.
What is the combination of messages that has the best probability of success most of the time in terms of getting to a conversion?
The solution isn't to simply repeat the same phrase over and over again and hope that it sticks in someone's mind. That only leads to the superficial, transactional element of remembering. To go deeper, you have to add a sense of purpose to the activities that your company performs. This demonstrates to the customer that you know what to do with the money that they are about to give you. If they agree with this purpose, and if they see it implemented clearly throughout the organization they can see, then, it is more likely that the repeating message will stick in the mind and is used as a definitive argument for generating a purchase.
The combination of messages we are looking for is precisely that: a purpose-transactional combination that, when added together over time, creates a bridge between the customer's action of paying for a product, and the satisfaction they derive from receiving it from your company. This satisfaction, which includes the satisfaction with the product or service purchased, translates into the kind of loyalty that enables people to advocate for your brand and turns them into something more than just a single transaction on a spreadsheet.
It makes your customers a partner in the purpose that animates your company in the first place.
In the lifetime of a business, managing the startup culture as the company grows can be risky. The company culture begins to strain because the elements that make a startup feel intimate and coherent begin to spread around the organization. Decision-making processes stretch beyond their initial, intimate boundaries among team members. Branding decisions now cannot be made on the fly, but require careful consideration now that people are actually paying attention outside of the initial confines of the startup hothouse environment.
As new people are added to the team, the feeling of 'this is our little company' does not seem to spread to the new hires, who come to the company (justifiably) filled with the expectations associated with an established, salary-paying organization. New hires make demands that 'older hands' may resent as they went through the process of building the initial company without a safety net, a process that new hires can no longer participate in.
Here are 5 ideas that you can apply, as the manager of a department or even the entire company, to maintain the startup feeling as you increase sales and grow your staff to keep up with the needs of the business:
These suggestions are a place to start building a company that will have a high probability of remaining productive if these principles are followed and if they are re-evaluated on a regular basis. As with any living organization, ideas can become obsolete and the only way to time proof them is to re-evaluate them against the needs of the business on a regular basis.
Sources Consulted (Highlights):
Open Plan Offices:
Entrepreneurial Spirit as You Grow
Don't treat your team as a family
Daniel Loebl is an experienced Marketer focused on expanding the recognition of customer value inside a business and keeps a 'beginner's' mind approach to business problems.