David Ogilvy, the British advertising tycoon often known as the ‘Father of Advertising’, coined the famous phrase: “The customer is not a moron, she’s your wife”.
The politically incorrect point he was trying to make, back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, is that the customer values ‘authenticity’.
The same statement can be made today about the evolution of company culture. People doing business with your company – suppliers, staff and customers – are not morons. They are not in fact excessively moved by smart branding – at least not after the first purchase or service contact. But they are moved into action by what they mentally and emotionally detect as your ‘Culture’.
Marketing folk too easily mix up the value of branding and the value of Culture. They are distinct from each other and different.
Marketing is proclaiming a message – often short-term – which changes according to the season, economic cycle, market conditions etc. Culture is proclaiming who you are, what you value, what your purpose as a company is and why you exist at all. It is far longer term, and much more substantial. Great marketing may produce short-term sales, but great company Culture will produce commitment, retention of great people and loyalty from customers. The paradox is, that corporations that spend time delivering a great ‘Cultural Experience’ for their staff and customers will not have to spend nearly as much money on either recruitment or advertising.
Our Partners, Denison Consulting (USA & Europe) have been measuring the impact of company culture for more than 30 years, well before it was fashionable to do so. Their survey benchmark of over 1000 companies worldwide spells out very clearly how employees view what management and leadership are doing, including peer review of the leaders by the leaders. Where companies record strong and developing culture scores – where it is evident to all stakeholders that the people both in and behind the company are walking the talk – then profits and returns on investment grow.
But where leaders do not walk the talk on culture, profits are threatened – and there is evidence to suggest that they can crash.
Of course, when they do, excuses roll out, most of them missing the point. The government’s change in economic policy must be to blame; the supply chain is screwed; the spending power in the hands of consumers has been attacked. Even if some of those things are happening, and even if they are contributing to the decline, they are not as important as evolving a culture which is genuinely authentic.
There are some tell-tale signs of companies which are authentic and where the people working in the company, supplying and company and leading the company walk the talk:
- The way they do business is simple and transparent;
- Staff are generous and understanding to customers when things go wrong, and leaders are caring and supportive of staff when they make their mistakes. This doesn’t mean they are ‘soft’. It means they know the real difference between Value and Price.
- They exude a sense of unity and togetherness. Teams communicate well and quickly.
- Leadership can see, not only around the next corner but several miles down the road. Strategies are consistent and build on previous approaches which worked while ditching those elements which didn’t. They don’t make the same mistakes over and over.
Over recent years, as the Private Equity market has developed into the powerhouse it is today, investor recognition has been growing that a sound investment is into companies where culture is purposeful, where management and teams are aligned to clear goals and where the best people are retained, adaptable to market change and consistent in the way they do things. Such companies have “Corporate Discipline”.
There’s an equation I use: Corporate Discipline + Company Culture = Long Term Profit Growth and far better returns on investment.
Companies without an authentic “Discipline & Culture (i.e. the way they do things, especially when nobody is looking) will be flaky. Their marketing messages will not stick long-term in the mind of the consumer and workforce. What will stick is the way complaints are dealt with, the way young talent is nurtured, the way disputes are resolved and the way opportunities are given to the next generation.
The customer is far from being a moron. Nor are those with talent looking for great jobs.
Authenticity can never be a slogan. But it can become the company culture which gives longevity, prosperity and happiness to all who come its way.