“What we do isn’t really that different than what our competitors do, and frankly they are just as good at it as we are.” We’ve kicked off planning engagements with more than one client who made a statement similar to this. Yes, it does take some thinking to truly figure out what differentiates you as a company and how you’re going to talk about it, but it’s a problem that is critical to solve.
Why? Because once you have this figured out, you can approach all aspects of your business from the perspective of why you do business the way you do it, not just what you are doing. And once you understand the why, you can more easily rally your entire team around that belief, and that’s where business changes.
The numbers show that, regardless of their business focus, companies that believe in what they sell and stand behind their beliefs do better than those that are just … meh. Yes, smart business practices are involved, but it’s no coincidence that their culture is rooted in the idea that everyone cares about what happens to the company, its customers, and its employees, and everyone believes in the common goal. Companies like Southwest Airlines, USAA, Whole Foods, and Apple all have outperformed other similar companies with a combination of smart business and a rock-solid belief in what they stand for. In fact, in their book “Corporate Culture and Performance,” authors John Kotter and James Heskett show that over a decade-long period, companies whose culture embraces and encourages purpose and belief in a common goal outperform their counterparts in stock price by a factor of 12.
So how do you create an authentic, purpose-driven company — and the marketing that comes with it? Start with these areas.
Unite behind the vision from the top
Belief in the company and what it stands for must come from the top. It’s generally not a ground swell that comes from the middle or bottom and then fires up the CEO. I’m not saying that if you are currently inhabiting space somewhere in “middle management” you can’t have an effect, but if you are working against the CEO, you might have a problem. All the successful companies I mentioned have strong, visionary leaders. A great leader has a gift for instilling confidence in his or her ideas, the knack for inspiring the enthusiasm in employees that creates a love for the company and steadfast belief in the mission, and the ability to motivate everyone to inherently WANT to do more.
Southwest Airlines, profitable for more than four decades, remained that way by continually refining how it looked at business. Its founder, Herb Kelleher, said about the competition’s attempts to imitate the company, “They can buy all the physical things. The things you can’t buy are dedication, devotion, loyalty — the feeling that you are participating in a crusade.”
Do your customers get the sense that the people at your company are dedicated, devoted, and loyal? That they are participating in a crusade? If they notice, that’s when you’ve achieved something more than just basic marketing.
Get your story together
If you’re not sure what makes you different, figure it out and write it down. Messaging for your company isn’t just what you do, it’s what makes you unique. Why is what you’re doing better than what your competitors are doing? How do you do it differently than everyone else? What do you believe that would surprise people?
Think about creating a mission and vision statement if you don’t have one. Some companies don’t bother with them, or don’t specifically call them mission and vision (make up your own name if that’s what it takes to inspire the masses). The idea is to know why you exist and where you’re going — and then to ensure that the whole company is on board with the same idea.
Here’s part of what they believe at Apple: “We believe that we are on the face of the earth to make great products and that’s not changing. We are constantly focusing on innovating. We believe in the simple not the complex.” At Apple, people drink the Kool-Aid. They succeed because they all truly believe in what they’re doing.
Hire the right people
You can’t force people to believe things. Just like you can’t invent enthusiasm or ownership mentality. But those traits are critical to your company’s overall success. If your mission and purpose are clear, find a way in your hiring process to assess whether your candidates share that mission and purpose. And no matter how talented someone is, if you think they aren’t on the same page with you, don’t hire them. That person might make you lots of widgets, but they will not be a cheerleader for your company and its goals, and worse, could poison those around him or her with that less-than-stellar attitude. Finding those who are a great fit with your purpose and company mentality gets you more than good widget makers and cheerleaders. People who truly believe become ambassadors — without even trying. They are word-of-mouth marketing for your company and its ideals, management style, and philosophies. Those people become a recruiting machine. Happy employees make other people want to work for you. It’s that simple. Hiring the right people is tough and takes time. Hiring the wrong people is even harder, and can rock your staff, company morale, and entire culture.
Work it into your marketing campaigns
So, now that you have this killer purpose and culture set up in your organization, what do you do with it when it comes to your actual marketing programs? You literally wrap it — methodically — into every facet of your marketing strategy and tactics. Sometimes it will be applied directly, like sharing your corporate vision and mission on your website. Other times it will be applied indirectly through influencing the feeling a customer gets when he or she walks into your store or speak to a salesperson. Either way, it should be a pervasive feeling in all forms of marketing. Doing this in a thoughtful, methodical fashion will help your company stand out for not only what you know or make, but for what you truly believe in.
You won’t succeed if you don’t really believe in what you’re doing. But rally around a message, vision, mission, and wrap that all together with your business goals, and you have powerful, purposeful marketing. Need help getting everything into a plan? Download “Build Your Content Marketing Plan: A 10-Step Guide” or get in touch.