Why Your CMO Needs to Get Involved in Company Culture

If one of your customers came to work at your company for a day, would they be excited to see how the brand lives out its values? Or would they be shocked to see a team completely at odds with what the brand represents?

Ideally, both the customer and employee experience should be consistent: a survey of senior leaders found that 95% believe a company's perceived culture affects consumer buying decisions. But just 60% believe their organization's culture supports their brand, and worse, 20% said their culture undermines their brand. Meanwhile, nearly half of Millennials reported that they wouldn’t work for a company that goes against their ethics.

In other words, it’s never been more critical to align your culture at work with the brand you advertise. And make no mistake: this directly impacts the bottom line. Google employees, for instance, rebelled over a controversial AI project, claiming that it conflicted with the company’s “don’t be evil” motto, causing Google to drop the contract. Patagonia, meanwhile, launched The Footprint Chronicles to document its supply chain and better understand the true costs—human and environmental, not just financial--of bringing a product to market.

In organizations struggling to consciously shape their organizational culture, we think that the CMO has to play a major part for four reasons:

  1. CMOs have an increasingly important voice at the executive table.CMOs are already being asked to take on more responsibilities (hello, growth) and culture is critical to those outcomes.

  2. CMOs are already responsible for shaping culture. After all, marketing is just the influencing of culture to affect commerce.

  3. CMOs are already thinking how strategy and culture fit together.Employees are just another kind of customer to serve.

  4. CMOs have more budget. And building or rebuilding an organizational culture isn’t cheap.

Giving the CMO more say over company culture isn’t as unusual as you might think: after all, marketers have long influenced the workplace. Take everyone’s favorite daily ritual, the coffee break. It’s not something Henry Ford came up with along with the eight-hour work day—it was the result of a 1952 ad campaign from the Pan-American Coffee Bureau. Or consider business casual. While showing up to an office in a suit today will raise suspicions of job hunting, the shift towards hoodies and jeans was encouraged by Levi Strauss’s “Guide to Casual Businesswear,” which was sent to HR directors around the country (and even included a hotline that HR managers could call to get specific advice).

If you want to create a brand that’s consistent for both customers and employees, try the following:  

  • Figure out who owns the culture within your organization, and who thinks they own the culture. It’s one thing to say “culture comes from the top,” and another to determine who is actually setting and reinforcing norms. CEOs, for example, might be expected to set the tone, but if they’re too busy or too removed from the workforce, others may step in to fill the role.

  • Build allies. Once you understand the key stakeholders, reach out to establish open lines of communication and build psychological safety—everyone should feel like they’re participating in the effort to create a better workplace. If these relationships aren’t effectively managed, it can quickly devolve into a turf war.  

  • Ruthlessly prioritize. If you’re taking on more work to build culture, you’ll have to cut back somewhere else. Again, make sure these priorities are aligned across teams to avoid duplication or conflict, and check in with your team so they’re comfortable with the workload.

 
 

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