Why Brand Culture Should Be a CMO's Best Friend...


Marketing is changing. We all know it. It's hardly news.

Barely a day goes by without mentioning a new marketing term, a new tool, or new capabilities a CMO needs to embrace.

But while there's much talk about the changes of approach necessary for a brand to navigate today's connected waters, these are manifestations of a much more profound change that goes right to the core of the entire company: a brand today is a reflection of its culture.

So to chart a successful course, the wise CMO needs first to cast a gaze inward.

Come together, right now, over me...
Technology has certainly created changing customer expectations, that brands have to respond to.

First, customers are experiencing brands in many different ways, across a variety of channels (mobile, social,etc), and screens. They naturally expect these to be joined up. After all, coherency has always been the basis of branding. But this is no longer just about integrated marketing communications. It requires bringing together all aspects of the business that impact customers, into one coherent whole.

Second, with the onset of social media and mobile, there is the expectation that brands respond in real time. Much has been made of the need for brands to move their marketing from a campaign mentality to that of a newsroom, inserting the brand narrative into the flow of news. But more generally, with the speed that conversations can now spread, a brand needs to be able to respond quickly in all areas of its operation.

Third, in a world where customers are providing much more data, and using mobile devices which are much more personal, they expect interactions to be relevant to them. Sending a coupon to my phone for meat, when you should know I'm a vegetarian, is just downright rude.

But more fundamentally, these changes in the frequency, variety and nature of interactions have put the behaviors of the brand on show (Watch Your Step...). They enable customers to read its body language, and sense what the company behind the brand is really like. Where once advertising could define a brand, now the sum of these interactions (and the sharing of them through social networks) form the brand identity. Revealed through its behaviors, the culture defines the brand.

The great enabler...
While it may seem a little counter-intuitive, a key role for the CMO is to shape the culture around the brand.

Of course, this isn't about sending out an email. Cultural change is hard and time-consuming work.

It requires the establishment of a core purpose for the brand, that is grounded in improving people's lives in some way. This ensures that it's focused on customers, rather than the company's agenda (How To Find Your Core Purpose...). And then that core purpose needs to be embedded in the culture of the company, so that it guides behaviors.

This can't just be done through internal communication, essential though this is. It needs to be hard-wired into the policies and processes of the organization, if it is to succeed (How To Create A Brand Culture...). It helps if the purpose springs from the company's DNA, rather than trying to weave a foreign idea through the company: the recent troubles at JCPenney bear testament to that. And it's not in the gift of the CMO alone. The CEO needs to be the champion and role-model, with the CMO as steward and cheerleader.

However, ensuring the company lives the brand will not only enable the brand to be clearly defined, but also make it easier to meet those changing customer expectations.

A coherent brand experience needs behaviors that are aligned. Responding in real-time needs employees who instinctively communicate in line with the brand. And personalizing the experience requires a true passion for improving customers' lives.

The changes facing marketing are very real. New approaches, new tools, and new capabilities all need to be navigated.

But a culture that lives the brand will give the CMO a following wind for the voyage ahead.

And a best friend...