Where CMOs should start with cultural transformation

Marketing leaders need to support the brand promise, but they can't do the CEO's job

As ice cream experiences go, it was pretty bad. I asked for two scoops and got one. I asked for chocolate dip and it wasn’t dipped. The teenager behind the counter (approximately my age at the time) was rude.

All this meant that the next time I heard the familiar jingle, “In the land of Daaairry Queeeen… We treat you right!” all I could do was snort derisively. “Pul-LEAZE!” I remember saying to the radio, which didn’t answer.

This is not to slag Dairy Queen, which I’m sure has amazing staff in general. It’s just that small incidents like these are seen by customers as a kind of hypocrisy when brands invest a lot in marketing a completely different message. It also helps explain why, late last year, chief marketing officers told recruiting firm Egon Zehnder they feel more responsible for corporate culture than ever before.

At its annual Kellogg Leadership Summit, 60% of CMOs polled by the firm said they feel their culture supports their brand, but that’s by no means an overwhelming majority. In fact, 20% said they felt their culture actually undermines their brand in some way.

“Leadership drives culture, and while the majority of the session attendees agree that the most influential cultural driver in any organization is the CEO, very few indicated that their organizations have a designated role singularly focused on developing and maintaining a desired organizational culture,” Egon Zehnder said in a blog post. “All respondents agree that the CMO should have an increased role. And why not? With 95% agreeing that culture influences buying decisions, it’s clear that marketers need to be mindful of the story their culture tells.”

I don’t necessarily disagree with that, and I liked how AdAge recently used this data as a jumping-off point for a story on how CMOs in the United States are trying to shift or at least support the culture their organization feels it needs to succeed. It’s just that, in many of the organizations in Canada I deal with regularly, marketing leaders don’t have nearly enough authority to effectively do that. I suspect there might also be many who would be suspicious of CMOs “owning” corporate culture compared to the CEO or even the head of human resources.

For those ready and able to take on this challenge, I’d suggest reading a recent post on LinkedIn Pulse by former Globe and Mail digital exec Angus Frame. He sums up nicely why so many internal culturual initiatives fail.

“Rarely do people have an aligned understanding of what the phrase ‘company culture’ even means. Go ahead and ask some colleagues for a definition and I guarantee you will be greeted by blank stares, stammers and variety of contradictory responses,” he writes. “Given a choice between the complicated and the simple, I always choose the simple. So let’s try something else: ‘Corporate culture is how sh*t gets done around here.’  That’s it.”

Exactly. If you accept Frame’s premise, the way forward for CMOs starts to become a little clearer. Look at the operational aspects of marketing and how it rolls out from the top down to, for example, the counter of the average ice cream parlor. What works well and where does it all go wrong? As expectations get higher and higher, Dairy Queen’s land is by no means the only environment where you have to treat customers – and pretty much everyone else — right.

More from Shane on LinkedIn: What marketers should know about hashtags by now

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