Last week, I found myself rocked back in my chair, eyes to the sky, taking deep breaths, hoping and praying for a miracle. I wasn't searching for a real miracle, but rather a minor business miracle.
I was hoping for a particular client to suddenly "get" content-driven marketing, because after months of preaching and practicing, the message simply wasn't sinking in.
And in that moment, it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, this company understood content marketing, but didn't have a culture to actually allow it to grow and flourish.
It got me thinking, "How much does company culture matter to a successful content marketing approach, and what type of culture is required for success?"
The first part of that question's easy - culture matters... a lot. But the second element is not so simple.
Let's explore what your company needs to have success with content.
Be obsessed with listening to customers
Your culture needs to foster an "always be listening" attitude.
This comes first because it's indisputable. You're in business because your customers pay you for your products or services. They are your lifeblood - both the good ones and the bad ones. Content-driven marketing starts with listening to those customers about needs, pain points, goals, and concerns.
The customer's not always right, however, the customer is always worth listening to.
If your culture doesn't support that, you've lost the game before the opening tip.
The sales bully has to back off
Your culture has to allow for sales and marketing to stand on equal footing.
This one's a deal killer. Too many organizations - especially those stuck in the past - allow sales to dictate the marketing agenda.
Don't get me wrong, revenue is, and always will be, what keeps the machine running. But the average sales leader doesn't have time to make thoughtful marketing decisions, and definitely doesn't understand, nor have the patience for, the content-driven marketing game. He or she has other priorities.
If your organization allows sales to dictate moves for the other critical areas of the company, the content-driven marketing thing may have a tough time getting off the ground.
The training (and evangelizing) must be ongoing
Your culture has to accommodate an everyday training mentality.
For most companies, content-driven marketing represents a new approach and involves new people. Those people have to embrace the approach and understand what their contribution is to the effort.
Inspire them, educate them, and make it clear that content marketing is an endeavor that's supported by the entire organization, from the very top down.
You have to sell the approach and then continue to evangelize it until it becomes clear that it's working. Training people who will contribute is an effort that needs to be ongoing and consistent, and you'll have to truly nurture those who want to participate. This role is likely not part of their job so inspiring them is key.
If your company doesn't make the room for ongoing education/training - and it can totally be informal education/training - the adoption and appreciation for content-driven marketing will be slow going.
What you did in the past may have no bearing on the future
Your culture has to be forward thinking and progressive.
So you say you're used to spending dollars on something like 15 trade shows a year, but you know the focus needs to shift away from hand shakes and iPad giveaways to giving away free information on your blog.
Too often, companies know, deep down, that their approach is outdated and backwards-thinking, but they can't extract themselves from doing what's worked in the past. Before they move forward with something "different", they want to track and know the exact ROI of everything, including any of these new-fangled content marketing programs they might be considering.
Do you have any idea what the return is from sending 10 people to a trade show including airfare and accommodations, booth space, electricity, internet, needless collateral, meals and entertainment, the aforementioned iPad giveaway, and tchotchkes - not to mention the lost productivity of those 10 people who spend their time checking their phones while waiting for someone to show up at the booth?
That process has always worked, right? Why worry about ROI on something that's always seemed to work?
If your company culture is ruled by a bunch of guys and gals who think "the old way worked just fine", don't even consider a content-driven marketing approach.
The rules and the rule makers must be crystal clear
Your culture doesn't welcome swim lane violations - from anyone.
At this point, I've probably made you think that each one of these culture characteristics is a deal killer, but this one truly will mess with everything. You need a strong leader in charge of this effort, and that leader, along with the influencers he needs to influence, must set up the rules of engagement - who creates content, who reviews content, who approves content, etc.
How many medium-to-large sized company CEOs out there approve the company's automated phone greeting? The company's invite to a user event? Business cards? So why, oh why, does the CEO need to review the latest blog post or email newsletter? That's a recipe for snail's-paced content marketing, and will lead to snail's-paced results.
If your culture embraces the notion of leadership - or even worse, non-leadership, dabbling in whatever areas they want to dabble in - run.
Here's the good news. For every one client who brings on the eyes-in-the-sky-deep-breathing exercise, there are three others who elicit the confident, calm smile. They get it. Their organizations embrace content-driven marketing and everything that's necessary to make it work.
It's clear that many companies are changing their cultures not just to accommodate something like content-driven marketing, but to accommodate a changing workforce, new technologies, and progressive thinking that are often the hallmarks of growing, successful organizations.
Now it's your call: Will your organization's culture help or hinder your content marketing effort?
They say that culture eats strategy for breakfast.
I'd rather have both, and eat breakfast burrito instead.