Narrowing the Gap Between Company Culture and Brand

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

Hosting a couple of podcasts is a refreshing departure from my marketing work, particularly as it puts me on the other side of the conversation — where I get to be the one asking the questions vs. the one having to have all the answers! In actuality, they are both different sides of the same coin, as having the answers is a function of asking a lot of questions. The roles complement each other and I enjoy shuttling between them.

There is, however, a more fundamental difference: as a marketer, my focus is chiefly on what the market wants and figuring out the competitive angles and niches. On the podcasts, our conversations often turn inward, as we often find ourselves talking about company culture: how it’s defined, its practical importance, how it’s maintained, etc.

When L2R is engaged to develop — and implement — a strategic marketing and communications plan, we typically discuss target markets, company/product differentiators, messaging, media outreach, metrics and overarching goals. A key component of this process is dissecting, distilling, and capturing the company brand, which should, in principle, be an organic outgrowth of the company’s culture, but all too often the two don’t perfectly align — in most cases, it’s the difference between processed American cheese and a wheel of Wisconsin cheddar.

The Disconnect

This disconnect occurred to me during one of our Work in Progress podcasts, when we were joined by the two hosts of WellTrend, Humana’s workplace well-being podcast. Courtney and Jake were fun, engaging and insightful — I doubt you could find two better, more spirited representatives of the Humana “brand.” Listening to them discuss their company culture and why they enjoy showing up for work Monday morning, would make anyone want to work there. If they were looking to sell me a Humana product, they’d have my attention.

Bear in mind that Courtney and Jake are the company’s well-being practice leads; they’re not in the marketing or sales department. A colleague of mine likes to say that all companies, regardless of what industry they’re in or what they do, are technology companies; in a similar vein, every company employee, particularly ones with public-facing roles ala Courtney and Jake, are an extension of the marketing and sales apparatus. When you go to Humana’s website and sample their marketing materials, the difference between the manufactured messaging — or “brand” — and the natural enthusiasms of their two podcasters couldn’t be more stark. Which begs the question: why are two non-marketing people better at selling the Humana brand than the company’s marketing professionals?

Finding Your Company’s Authentic Voice

Above all else, a writer is distinguished by his or her “voice” — you know instantly whether you’re reading a Hemingway or Faulkner story. The writer’s voice is a natural extension of who they are — their “brand,” if you will, and it takes mountains of words and failed attempts to take shape. Few marketers, no matter how accomplished, have a similar command of their craft, which is why their well-honed words so often fail to land with the authenticity of Courtney and Jake’s (mostly) unscripted conversation. Apart from their winning personalities and their ability to communicate them in a podcast, their authenticity can be also attributed to the medium itself, which lends itself to more personal and “real” interactions. A famous literary critic once said that all art aspires to the condition of music; similarly, all marketing aspires to the condition of a conversation. Whereas a company’s marketers seek to find and capture the company’s voice, by engaging in conversation, Courtney and Jake are the company’s voice, at least among its more effective ones.

Marketers looking to close the gap between their company’s brand and its culture — which is to say, make their outreach speak with more authenticity and have greater impact — would do well to focus more of their efforts on podcasting to stoke real conversations, which are often the most natural expressions of the company’s true culture and, by extension, its brand. It’s the classic difference between telling people what you do and who you are…and showing them.

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