Communications Needs a Culture to Match #84 #cong15

By Eoin Kennedy.

I recently had a meeting with a technology company who wanted to improve their profile and particularly interested in inbound/content marketing.  As I listened to their CEO in the glass walled meeting room telling me about how dynamic and exciting he wanted to position the company, I could not help but notice the rows of glum faced employees, the bare walls and overall lack of personality.   The words all made sense, they were on a journey and wanted dynamic people but some how it felt vacant.

The conversation quickly moved to what channels and approaches could be used and predictably Inbound and Content Marketing featured high.  The company wanted to be like Dublin based Intercom and required training and content creation/editing to help them get there.  

In the consulting world it is hard to resist taking the money but this had all the hallmarks of a doomed strategy.  Content is expensive and hard to produce – even bad content.  It can also be an agonising process if a company has not thought through the process (like tone of voice) and is trying to be something its clearly not.

For me the process works best when you begin further upstream with some thinking on the culture and possibly some change management.  You can intellectually understand how the platforms work and word-smyth articles but it can be very short lived if the ethos of the company does not match as the force of culture will eventually win. 

Culture can be a very subtle and hard to grasp concept.  In the services arena Leonard Berry talks about culture being  “Shared perceptions of what is important in an organization, and shared values and beliefs of why those things are important”.  

Staff knowing why they are producing content and sharing insights and how it can be positive for them and the company in a way that reflects their internal values is a very powerful catalyst in uniting people in a common culture.  Considering the effort it takes to create good engaging content and that most companies/individuals tend to hoard information it takes strong leadership to re-orientate people especially when results might not be instant.

Equally important is how employees internalise a culture.  Christopher Love in Service Marketing advocated that 

Employees rely heavily on their perceptions of what is important by noting what the company and their leaders do, not so much what they say. Employees gain their understanding of what is important through the daily experiences they have with the firm’s human resource, operations, and marketing practices and procedures.

In short senior management need to write, share, motivate, be open, evangalise and lead (in this instance in creating great content) if they want to inspire the rest of the company to follow suit.  This is time consuming task and requires specific skillsets, energy and belief but those that do it with conviction can harness lost water cooler conversations in to powerful marketing tools.

A content led culture also relies on customer centric view and those who intimately understand their target markets find this transition easier as they create content that resonates.

Once this culture is in place and nourished great content marketing is easier and more sustainable.

The choice of Intercom as the company they aspired to be like was interesting, one that many people admire and who produce great content.  It helps when they have one of the country’s leading technology writers on staff (demonstrating their commitment) but their journey began much earlier.

Intercom have a open culture where the most senior staff are happy to share insights, opinions and things they have learnt – some of it being at best tangential to their core business.  Posts from senior management that sit along side new recruits are genuinely useful and shareable.  The engrained culture of sharing is led from the top and I am pretty sure reflects internal activities and an atmosphere of openness.  Faking culture even appears on topics they publicly discussed in a post on You Cannot Fake Culture.

As I left the technology company mentioned at the start, amid errie silence, my gut feeling was a pattern I had seen before.  Sheer will and resourcing would propel this content journey so far but would always feel forced and eventually swimming against the tide would take it toll.  Fostering some internal sessions on finding champions and management leading by sharing insights and company vision would not alone gain buy in but slowly create a new culture.  

Knowing who you are is a better starting point than trying to convince others that you are something you are not.

CongRegation © Eoin Kennedy 2017 eoin at congregation dot ie