Brands are not faceless corporations; they are living, breathing entities built by humans—groups of real people who gather every day in pursuit of a particular goal, whether it’s baking the world’s best cookie or providing the best marketing automation service. Yet so much marketing doesn’t reflect that. It’s generic and dry, lacking a human voice and a compelling story. People can’t connect to it, and therefore, it doesn’t do its job. Luckily, there is a more powerful way to communicate and share your brand’s story organically: through culture marketing.
What Is Culture Marketing?
In essence, culture marketing is a way to translate your culture into compelling content that piques interest, inspires people, and helps you form a stronger relationship with them. Most importantly, it’s a way to promote what you care about and attract the people who share your values, from employees, to customers, to business partners.
Culture Marketing: A Better Way to Connect and Compete
People demand more from brands, beyond a product or service. They want to support brands who fulfill their needs and reflect their own beliefs and values. As a marketer, it’s your job to communicate this and foster a connection. Content marketing is a great way to do it; unfortunately, if your content is too focused on what your brand does, you’re ignoring one of your most unique selling points: who you are.
Culture marketing is an opportunity to share your whole self and provide transparency into your brand, to bring people into your story by introducing them to the people, places, and values that make you who you are.
To be clear, culture marketing isn’t an exercise in vanity. It’s not bragging about your greatness. It’s simply peeling back the curtain. When done well, this helps you build stronger relationships—and gives you a competitive advantage. How? Because there are all sorts of people interacting with your content, whether you intended them to or not. The more you can tell your brand story effectively, the more impact you’ll have on those people, which can serve you well in all aspects of your business.
Existing customers: It’s always easier to retain existing customers than recruit new ones. Through content marketing, you can form a relationship with them at every stage of their buyer’s journey, including long after your sale is completed. For example, if you create content around your team’s volunteer efforts, people may support your brand by donating to your team’s cause. This creates a shared sense of purpose and cultivates a lasting relationship.
Potential customers: Culture marketing helps people get to know who you are and what you stand for. Whether your culture marketing educates, entertains, or inspires them, it can be the extra nudge they need to make a buying decision. For example, an infographic detailing your eco-friendly manufacturing process can easily sway someone to go with you over your competitor.
Current Employees: Employee satisfaction is crucial to growing a successful brand. Culture has a huge effect on their work life. Celebrating that culture through content helps employees feel more engaged, making them more invested in your brand’s success.
Prospective Employees: Culture marketing is one of the best ways to attract like-minded talent. Whether it’s your vision, work space, or team energy that draws them to you, it’s a great recruiting tool.
Partners: There are many people outside your immediate eco-system who want to know who you are before they decide to hire or partner with you (think vendors, non-profits, industry partners, sponsors, etc). Culture marketing helps them do this.
Your culture is the core of your identity and an important part of your brand story. If you aren’t showcasing it through culture marketing, you are wasting a huge opportunity. (And if you’re afraid to showcase it, then you might be in more trouble than you think.)
How to Do Culture Marketing
Culture marketing is just an extension of content marketing. There are plenty of ways to tell your brand’s story that fit with the formats you’re already working with, such as:
But the key to successful culture marketing is finding the right stories to tell. That means identifying things that are:
Interesting: Culture marketing gives you an awesome opportunity to capture people’s attention by telling fresh, new stories. These can be found everywhere; you just have to uncover them.
Unique: One of the biggest advantages of your culture is that it’s entirely unique to you. Only you have your experience, your specific team, your vision. Highlighting these traits is a great way to create compelling culture marketing.
Not sure where to start? Here’s a step-by-step to guide create awesome culture marketing that reflects your true identity.
1) Start With a Culture Checkup
Every brand’s culture develops over time. Whether you’re a 100-year-old brand or a fresh startup, your culture is reflected in everything you do, from how you talk to your team, to how you treat your partners, to how you ideate for new product ideas. That said, your culture ultimately stems from your core identity. These are your core beliefs, the elements that influence your actions, fuel your business, and shape your culture.
Your core identity includes your:
Purpose: Why do you exist?
Vision: What future do you want to help create?
Mission: How do you create that future?
Values: Who are you? How do you work?
Having a clear understanding of your core identity is crucial if you want to cultivate a culture you’re proud of and want to promote. If you’re pursuing culture marketing, you also want to make sure that any and every piece of content is an extension of your identity. (We hate to sound hack, but culture marketing is all about authenticity. You can’t fake a better culture, nor should you want to.)
That’s why it’s important to start with a culture checkup wherein you reassess your core identity to make sure it reflects your current brand goals. (This is especially important for older brands that have evolved since the CEO’s grandfather launched the business.)
To do this, gather your leadership and brand team to assess:
Whether you have a fully documented core identity
If it’s accurate
If it’s articulated appropriately
How and where your culture can be better aligned
Is your mission accurate but presented in dry, corporate-speak? Is every employee familiar with your core identity? It’s important to have your identity written in the language you actually use. You should be able to phrase everything in a few sentences. As a side benefit, the more simple your core identity, the easier it is to remember. (If you’re struggling to do this, your core identity is probably not as well-defined as it should be.)
Pro tip: It’s also helpful to display your core identity as a reminder of why everyone in your company shows up to work each day.
2) Brainstorm Content Ideas
This is the fun part. The more you look for ideas, the more you’ll see them all around. But first you need to know what to look for. During these first brainstorms, gather your creative team and anyone else who might have interesting insight. There are endless ways to do culture marketing, but if you’re just starting out, it helps to brainstorm around specific pillars.
We recommend coming up with 10-20 ideas for each of the following themes. (The more you get the creative juices flowing the more you’ll likely come up with additional themes or content ideas.) To start, focus on these five areas.
1) Share Your Core Values
The benefit of articulating your core identity is two-fold:
Everyone is on the same page, committed to a shared cause.
You now have a useful blueprint to brainstorm interesting stories inspired by your culture.
Break down your identity and consider how you might spin the various elements into different types of content. For example, you might look at your values. At C5, we’ve created all sorts of content inspired by our core five values:
Do Good Work: As we pride ourselves on doing high-quality work that helps the world, we like to share the stories behind our work, especially if we were able to solve a creative challenge (e.g., the time we helped LinkedIn make 400 infographics in a year).
Value Our Partners: To foster better working relationships, we’ve shared our best tips for collaborating with agencies.
Be Good to Each Other: Inspired by our motivation to help each other, we created our People For Periods project, an interactive tool that helps educate and de-stigmatize menstruation for women and girls around the world.
Be Humble: Our Director of Strategy Asher Rumack has written about battling his creative struggles.
Experiment Often: We once created a music-based video game, giving our team a chance to share their musical talents.
2) Showcase Your People
Whether it’s employees, partners, customers, or leadership, think of ways to shine the spotlight on the people who make things happen (or benefit from those people’s efforts). That can include featuring work, testimonies, awards, interviews, etc.
For instance, ColumnFive likes to feature different people on their Instagram, giving them a chance to share their interests and introducing them to the world.
3) Tell Your Origin Story
People are always interested in how a company came to be, whether it was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream or a happy accident (like C5). A good origin story tells that tale honestly, including both the struggle and the joy. There are many ways to craft your origin story, whether as an article, interactive, video, or combination.
4) Share Your Successes and Failures
Again, culture marketing isn’t about bragging about how great you are. It’s about being honest and human. Running a business isn’t easy; it’s important to celebrate the wins when you have them and learn from the losses when they inevitably come. This is especially true for failures. Talking about what you’ve learned humanizes you, and helping others avoid your mistakes is an act of kindness and generosity.
ColumnFive has written about the toughest lessons we’ve learned about building a content strategy, had their team share the best content marketing lessons they’ve learned, and featured award-winning designs on their Instagram.
5) Take People Behind the Scenes
Trust is crucial to build a relationship, and transparency is a great way to cultivate trust. Thus, giving people a behind-the-scenes look at your business can make a powerful impression.
There are tons of ways to do this: giving people a video tour of your manufacturing facility, offering décor tips based on your recent office makeover, writing a blog about where you source materials, providing a look at your team’s creative process, etc.
3) Map Your Ideas to the Right People
Culture marketing isn’t just about telling your stories; it’s about telling the right story to the right person. You have many different people you’re communicating with through content, from employees, to partners, to potential customers. Once you have your ideas, consider which idea would be most interesting or relevant to which group. For example, you can map it out like this:
4) Cultivate a Culture of Content
The more you practice culture marketing, the more comfortable everyone will become with showcasing their behind-the-scenes world. Your entire team can contribute content, too. Welcome ideas through public channels, invite people to create content, and look for ways to work with their skills.
For example, as sales pro Marcus Sheridan notes, the different personality types in your company can be great sources of content. They tend to fall into these four categories:
Writers: People who have the ideas and skill to write.
Actors: People who are enthusiastic, passionate, and happy to chat your ear off on a subject. Record a video conversation and turn it into a blog (or release the content as it).
Talkers: These are people who may have interesting insight but are too shy to chat on camera. You can record an audio conversation with them.
Questioners: These are the people who field customer questions all day long (often sales or customer service reps). The questions they answer regularly can be great content.