Marketing Strategy
Should Marketing Take On Culture and Employee Engagement?

Should Marketing Take On Culture and Employee Engagement?

October 13, 2021
7 min read

Digital technology has changed everything: how we interact with the world, how we learn, how we buy stuff, even how we date. For marketers, it has dramatically interrupted our marketing mix and the expectations from senior executives.

This disruption has forced executives to put increasing pressure on CMOs to implement marketing strategies and programs that deliver a quantifiable return on investment. At the same time, marketing leaders are faced with colleagues across every function who have strong opinions about what marketing tactics we should deploy.

So we’re stuck between a rock and a very hard place. We’re stuck chasing shiny objects, such as new social channels, mobile ads, bots, augmented, and virtual reality. We’re stuck being asked by executives to splash our logos and ads in places our audiences ignore. All the while, we are being asked over and over again: “What’s the return on investment?”

Amid these increasing expectations, we have consumers who are tuning out and turning away from promotional advertising, and colleagues who aren’t sure if we should do what we’re told or what we know will deliver real results.

Which leads me to this point: The biggest threat inside companies today is a culture that doesn’t champion ideas from every employee. Whether they are in sales, marketing, HR, customer support, operations, even legal and finance, every employee has a pulse on the goals of your company, the pains of your customers, and the challenges of their peers.

Culture, indeed, is the new mandate for marketing and business. Do you have a culture that encourages innovative ideas from these employees? Because no one has greater potential to impact your bottom line than happy and engaged employees.

Why Is Culture So Important Right Now?

Cultivating the right organizational culture and engaging employees is going to go down as the 21st century’s greatest business challenge. In the wake of the digital era – when the name of the game was to adopt newer technology and move business processes to the digital world – we’re doing an about-face. Now that we have a tech-driven business landscape, we’re realizing that the real value comes from a tech-driven business landscape driven by human ingenuity.

It’s not that we’re looking at man vs. machine. It’s that businesses need skilled, creative, visionary, and meticulous human brains to operate and create innovative and effective ways to man the ship in this new landscape.

Prometheus just brought us the next generation of fire. We need a new approach to work in order to leverage it.

We also are dealing with a culture shift. Not just from millennials, or Gen Z, who do truly want aligned values and to have purpose in their job, but society, in general, has changed.

It’s a plugged-in world. We’re more connected, have easier access to information, and are more in tune to what’s going on in business and government. There are fewer walls, less mystique. As a result, from customers to employees, we all expect more.

Businesses need to catch up to these changing trends, both in messaging – how the brand is marketed – and internally – who the brand is. But, culture change continues to be a challenge for most organizations. We are still working with abysmal employee engagement rates – nearly 70% of the American workforce isn’t actively engaged, as per the latest Gallup polls.

employee engagement Gallop US

Which means the potential benefits of an empowered organizational culture are blowing out the window of 70% of businesses.

Why Marketing? Or CMOs?

No department understands the need for change like marketing does. We’ve been forced to adopt new technology, upskill like crazy, reshuffle positions and create new roles to manage content marketing, social media marketing, and marketing analytics.

Marketing has already gone through the ring of fire. And I challenge you to find a single CMO or marketing manager who doesn’t recognize the dire need for culture change and engagement.

We get it. CMOs get it. What a lot of us don’t understand, however, is why the rest of the C-suite doesn’t.

Blame it on a half-baked approach – Cesare Mainards of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Paul Leinwand of PwC explain that executive management focuses on reacting to problems rather than creating change. “In these reactive responses, the company leaders avoid the difficult work of developing a better strategy and making the fundamental changes that are needed to build real competitive advantage.”

Or, maybe you like to blame it on those darn millennials. Culture change has become linked with attracting millennials – more flexible work hours, unlimited vacation time, gym perks. Which has totally watered down what culture change actually is. Letting people come to work in jeans and a t-shirt and showing up at 9, or 9:30, or even 10! #FTW. But all this is a pretty narrow-minded view of culture change and doesn’t deliver real employee engagement.

Let the rest of the C-suite think short-term and small. CMOs need to step up.

We think big for a living. Culture change isn’t bean bags. It’s overhauling internal communications, creating mentorship programs, offering better training for new technology, launching platforms for employee advocacy, giving employees a voice in the brand conversation.

It’s empowerment and support. It’s bringing the best out of each employee, which in turn, brings the best out of the brand. And drives growth!

culture eats strategy

“But we’re already so busy!”

Said a CEO I presented to recently. “Doing what?” I asked.

“Sending emails, chasing funding, promoting our products…” she started.

“How’s that workin’ out for ya?” I wondered aloud.

2 out of 3 change management initiatives fail. Which isn’t just a hiccup in business. It’s serious wasted resources, wasted time, and the type of frustration that has led to what HubSpot’s Katie Burke calls a “can’t do attitude” when it comes to culture.

This is exactly why culture should be in the hands of someone who understands its significance.

Marketing professionals understand the urgency, the importance, and the complexity of what’s involved in culture change. We’re tired of creating ads no one wants. We’re tired of asking our employees to share press releases.

We also have the most to gain – the benefits of an activated workforce support the goals of marketing seamlessly – getting more customers. And, getting people energized and motivated about the brand – ahem – that’s what marketers do.

Translating the practice from motivating and empowering customers to stakeholders isn’t a big leap.

The Shared Goals of an Engaged Culture and Marketing

Here’s the thing. Those potential benefits are the same goals on any marketing department’s agenda.

Attracting top talent

This has been a huge priority for marketing managers as there are so many new skills and roles to hire for or to upskill your current employees for. We’ve already been focusing on bringing on top talent in order to fill the data science and tech skills roles and to cope with the changes to marketing from an ad-based form of demand generation to inbound. And a huge chunk of that recruitment effort by marketing has focused on culture change.

Boosted brilliance

Marketing could be described as the crossroads of creativity and business. It is the application of strategy and new ideas to achieve business goals. Which is why marketing managers are always adopting ways to squeeze out that creative and strategic brilliance. Just look at the agile movement in marketing today. This is the same reason organizations launch employee engagement programs – for the improved idea sharing, faster innovation, and higher rates of productivity.

More authentic brand identity

Building brand trust and authority with customers is always one of the top content marketing goals. Culture change has the same aim, just with a focus on employees. The win-win comes from the fact that when your employees are engaged with your brand, they themselves help to build your brand, making your company more appealing to your market. When you evolve your organizational culture, you create an empowering, meaningful environment:

  • You can more easily recruit top talent because potential candidates are attracted to more meaningful brands
  • Those talented hires become your internal experts, inspired by your leadership and culture, which helps to build your brand’s authority
  • Your customers trust your brand more because your employees are part of the conversation

Employee advocacy

A lot of marketers are catching on to the importance of employee advocacy for marketing. This is also one of the benefits of a culture change. With the right culture, employees are both naturally inspired and well-supported to share content, create content, and become industry thought leaders – which furthers the reach of your marketing and puts employees in a greater position of value within the company.

Who Are Your Champion Leaders?

Culture is shaped by the values that define who we hire, promote, and fire. And most organizations aren’t hiring and promoting their innovators. They are hiring and promoting those of us who protect the traditional hierarchies that no longer serve our business.

What organizations so desperately need today are leaders who encourage innovative ideas from around the organization. These “champion leaders” are looking to deliver organizational impact through employee engagement.

Champion leaders are rising from the ashes of traditional marketing. They no longer take orders to create content no one wants, to execute campaigns everyone ignores, and to slump in their chair when the results don’t materialize. They realize the true power and potential of their colleagues from around the organization. They realize they are the ones who know how to authentically reach new customers, to deliver the expertise customers need to succeed, and to deliver business impact that executives can be proud of.

You can easily identify champion leaders inside every organization based on the following traits:

  • They put the customer at the center of everything they do by asking one simple question: How will this impact our customers?
  • They encourage their peers to share their passion and expertise, not because the company wants them to, but because it benefits the employees themselves. They encourage their colleagues to build their personal brands around the things they know and love, knowing that passion is contagious to both potential customers and sought-after HR talent.
  • They know how to push back on self-serving ideas constructively. They not only ask, “What’s in it for the customer?” But they also challenge what impact decisions will have on their teams and the ability for measuring business impact.
  • They encourage champions across the entire organization. They know that real culture change doesn’t come from an executive mandate, an HR survey, or a revolution. Culture change happens when a critical mass of leaders start marching to the same tune of customer impact, employee engagement to deliver business results.

Digital disruption can be seen all around us. It has destroyed well-known brands and propelled previously unheard-of startups. It has many marketers and brands chasing the latest fad and shiny objects. We’re all looking for the magic bullet to survive in the digital age.

But this is a great time to push back against the bureaucracy. To fight for your customers, to lift up your team, to embrace innovative new ideas. And to drive culture change across every organization. And this kind of change starts with leaders like YOU!

Why CMOs Are Primed for the Culture Shift

Marketing should own culture and employee engagement not just because they have the most to gain but also because engaging employees is so similar to engaging customers.

Marketing professionals already know how critical authenticity is. We know how to create strategies that will draw people in and keep them engaged. We also know how to deliver the right messaging with content in order to both engage externally for recruitment purposes and internally for employee activation. Even better, they know how to measure the results.

Burke sums it up well with HubSpot’s motto: “Culture is to recruiting as product is to marketing.”

Marketers are motivators. Why look outside of the company or try to find solutions within management on how to activate employees and evolve the company culture when this is the marketing department’s bread and butter?

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Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula", and Founder of Marketing Insider Group. Recognized as a Top Content Marketing expert and Digital Marketing Leader, Michael leverages his experience from roles in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as his leadership in leading teams and driving growth for thriving startups. Today, Michael delivers empowering keynotes on marketing and leadership, and facilitates actionable workshops on content marketing strategy. Connect with Michael today.

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