Is Marketing the Linchpin of Building Culture? 5 Basics that Lead to a Genuine, Lasting Culture

April 22, 2016

“People are a company’s greatest asset.” Does this sound familiar? I am sure we all have heard this phrase repeated countless times. These are wise words that I firmly believe in. However, talk is very cheap. Perhaps a better question is how many company leaders do you actually see treating employees as their greatest asset? Better yet, do you treat your employees even better than your most important customers?

It’s not easy to do, and it takes intentionality. Building an employee-centered company culture is more than an initiative or special project. Culture is more than something you put on your to do list. Culture is tied to every action within the business, and is formed in lockstep with the core values of the company. While building an amazing company culture isn’t simple, it’s incredibly worth the investment of time and resources.

“Culture is more than something you put on your to do list.”

In today’s world, it is increasingly difficult to differentiate on tech alone. This is a dramatic change from only 5-7 years ago where tech might have been a company’s primary differentiator. In 2016, people are truly the only lasting differentiator of software companies.

“In 2016, people are truly the only lasting differentiator of software companies.”

Why Marketing

So how does marketing come into the conversation? How can marketing play a role in creating genuine, lasting culture?

The modern CMO is in the best position to tactically scale what is in the CEO’s mind related to culture, and to build the engagement model within the organization. Marketing doesn’t invent a company’s culture, but it is crucial to establishing and sustaining it. I don’t want to take away from the importance of partnering with HR and other functions, but the question is who is in the best place to truly bring to life the vision through actionable tactics. If you think about it, the basics of driving employee engagement are similar to driving customer engagement – successfully doing so requires messaging, positioning and activation.

However, culture is truthfully not the CMO’s thing, or HR, or even the CEO for that matter, because it is for the employees and it needs to be owned by them! Executives simply need to create the space, capacity and framework for employees to thrive (more on that below). Marketing finds itself in a position to lead culture-building efforts by taking the culture to the employees and building energy around what the company values most. If you think of the most powerful brands today (Apple, Netflix, Google, Zappos, etc.), they do not ‘own’ their brand from a top down, control and command standpoint. Instead, they’re more fanatical on the trademark, activation, and standards, but the brand is truly owned by the end customer. To truly own something I think you must actually give it away. So, if you really want to own your culture, you have to give it away to your employees.

“If you really want to own your culture, you have to give it away to your employees.”

Here are five ways that marketing can bolster your company’s culture – engaging employees as your company’s most valuable asset:

Building a Framework of Consistency

This is where culture usually gets lost. The natural tendency is for company leaders to force company culture into something specific from their vantage point, and continue holding on. I also see companies trying to brand their culture only months into their startup’s lifespan. Neither method is something to model. The power of culture is unleashed when you give it away to your employees. This involves the executive team establishing the framework of what the core elements of the business’ culture are, and then allowing employees to adjust to the rest. Marketing creates the consistency among the diversity. You sales team and product team are going to adjust to the culture in different ways. Just as your team in Germany may interpret your company culture differently than your Brazil office. The important constant in the equation is that the brand consistency and values are established before cutting loose. I call this “Freedom within a Framework.” It works great in parenting, too!

Tying Culture to Performance

Simply put, marketing is how you know you are winning. Marketing provides the metrics and dashboard to tie everything back to measurable efforts. In a culture focused on performance, it is welcome (and expected) to set goals, share goals, and stay connected to these goals. It’s employee engagement at its most basic level. This leads to transparency and openness across the organization, but even more, it fuels a competitive spirit within the company. Winning is incredibly important for good culture. How do you have a good culture without being able to win? How do you know you are winning without strong marketing efforts?

The Art of Storytelling

Storytelling is big deal. Both internally and externally. The internal storytelling component is usually performed by the CEO, with input from the executive team. This can be as simple as a weekly email, all hands meetings or team lunches. The keys to this are its consistency, frequency and authenticity. Internal storytelling provides an avenue to keep employees informed and bought in. It also allows the CEO to share and celebrate the successes of employees and company achievements publicly.

External storytelling is specifically tied to brand building. Your brand is made up of your people, your culture and your leadership. The external storytelling component doesn’t let your company skate under the radar, it creates a brand image that everyone can proudly be a part of. If you have noticed a trend that companies with the strongest brand usually have the best culture, it isn’t by accident.

Create Compelling Experiences

A great way for employers to make employees feel valued and engaged with their work is by leveraging employee experiences. The best way to showcase this is to give some examples of what this looks like. Not all of these are tied to marketing, but the marketing department is usually the facilitator of many of these:

  • Making annual holiday parties a big deal!
  • Orchestrating company retreats and quarterly offsites
  • Celebrating company goals and individual achievements
  • Sharing in employee birthdays and special occasions
  • Hosting industry leaders for fireside chats
  • Planning socials outside the office environment
  • Providing budget for employee professional development

The goal is to create an inviting culture that creates trust and buy-in from everyone. A huge part of this process is based on hospitality and the various settings that allow employees to get to know each other better. The result is a more unified team that feels valued by the company and its leaders.

Incorporating “The Why”

When does work become more than a job? When do your employees run through a wall for you? These questions directly tie back to “the why” of your organization. Without having an understanding of the bigger picture, it is hard for employees to get an appreciation for how their role fits into the company’s mission. When people collaborate around a cause that is bigger than themselves, it creates a powerful, unifying bond, even in the busiest or taxing of times. Marketing plays its role by helping keep “the why” in front of everyone daily. By telling stories, putting a face to who the company is serving, and sharing the holistic value proposition, marketing links selling and growth back to why it matters most.

Positive culture is contagious. Once the flywheel is built that brings great people into the company, the wheel keeps turning. However, without intentionally building practices to put your employees first, it is impossible to talk about talent development. It’s also meaningless to say that your employees are your greatest asset when you are not treating them as such. The marketing department is crucial to establishing and sustaining the culture, but in the end, the employees need the freedom to bring the culture to life.


Tim Kopp is a Partner with <a href="">Hyde Park Venture Partners</a>. He is an experienced marketer and team builder with a passion for advising high growth SaaS companies, building culture, and developing talent. Prior to joining Hyde Park Venture Partners, Tim was the CMO of ExactTarget for 6+ years, leading a global team of nearly 300 amazing marketing leaders. Tim helped grow ExactTarget from $50M to $400M in revenue, through IPO, and ultimately to a $2.7B sale to Salesforce. He previously spent 10+ years in consumer marketing with P&G and Coca-Cola. Tim is a Cincinnati native, and a long-time technology leader in Indianapolis.