One of the most pervasive themes at this year’s Content Marketing World was the need for big changes in our industry. Digital marketing is always evolving, so it’s no surprise the 3,700 marketers in attendance would want to focus on the latest adjustments they should be making to their content strategies and tactics.
But one change featured prominently had little to do with upgrading to new techniques, sophisticated tools and technologies, or measuring and monetizing content’s impact. Rather, the dominant through line was the need to shift the marketing mindset to create a culture that promotes more innovative, responsive, and meaningful consumer connections.
Meet the new cultural imperative
Why is it critical for companies to rethink – and, perhaps, reconstruct – their cultural identities at this stage of the content marketing game? Well, for one thing, customers demand it.
For example, as consumers grow more empowered to discuss and support the causes that matter to them, they’re holding brands accountable for doing the same. Consider the passionate response to Nike’s latest Just Do It ad featuring Colin Kaepernick. No matter which side of the #TakeAKnee debate you take, chances are the campaign affected your perception of the Nike brand – and, perhaps, your willingness to purchase its products.
Was it a risky move? Sure. There are risks every time a brand takes a stance on a highly politicized cultural issue. But, for the record, the company’s decision to “walk the walk” by aligning its marketing message with its brand purpose seems to have paid off so far: Sales are up, and Nike’s stock valuation is, too.
What makes a company’s culture conducive to creating the passion-driven and participative content experiences today’s consumers crave? And what should content marketing leaders do to enable their teams to serve as agents of necessary change and creative innovation? I’ve compiled a few recent news stories that may offer some helpful insights.
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Structure content teams for agility and collaboration
In her Content Marketing World presentation, Kathy Klotz-Guest asserted that every culture (and team) can foster greater content creativity by thinking like an agile, collaborative startup. What might that entail?
For U.K. retail brand Marks & Spencer it meant restructuring its marketing team to take a specialist rather than a generalist approach to all functional areas of the business. In a conversation with Marketing Week, M&S Marketing Director Nathan Ansell said the shift to an expertise-driven service model has made the brand better able to collaborate across teams, respond to customer needs on the fly, and ensure contextual relevance across its marketing channels. “There’s lots of test-and-learn activity, responding to what’s going on in and outside of the environment and how things change. So, it’s a much more agile and dynamic way of running marketing than we have done in the past,” Nathan explained.
Keep team members empowered and focused
A recent Forbes article explores the potential benefits of replacing the standard, top-down managerial structure most organizations have with an experimental, holacracy-like alternative called corporate liberation. Under this model, employees are given the autonomy to take the actions they – not their managers – think will work best to fulfill the company’s vision and achieve its goals.
Theoretically, the approach works like this: When a new content project request comes in, team members are tasked with creating the execution plan – including setting schedules, dividing tactical responsibilities, and deciding how to collaborate efficiently – rather than a manager dictating the workflow. The process liberates individuals to act on their own initiative, giving them ownership of every project and a greater sense of accomplishment when they achieve success.
Strengthen your marketing team’s growth potential
Incorporating ongoing career education and training into your corporate culture can also help your teams improve the content experiences they create.
A recent Adweek article points out that when learning and growth become part and parcel to an organization’s culture, teams are better equipped to adapt and respond to shifting consumer needs. They’re also better equipped to reflect emerging interests and evolving preferences in the content experiences they produce. And providing more personalized opportunities for career development, such as individual coaching and mentoring programs, can increase team engagement and reduce turnover.
Enable diversity and neutralize toxicity
Any decisions a business makes about its culture in the modern era should include thoughtful consideration of diversity. Including a wide range of cultural voices and ideas can add value to any aspect of an organization’s operations – including enriching its understanding of audience needs and interests and enhancing its overall creativity. But there’s also the potential for conflicting norms and assumptions to disrupt the creative process and impact the productivity and effectiveness of content teams.
An experimental study discussed in Harvard Business Review suggests that “cultural brokerage” may be the key to managing the communication conflicts and ethnocentric misassumptions that often occur when cultural perspectives collide. Cultural brokerage leverages multicultural agencies to facilitate interactions across parties from different backgrounds. The research found that the approach leads to greater understanding, increased comfort with asking questions and sharing knowledge, and a boost in creativity at the team level.
However, the HBR article also cautions that management can’t simply assign someone to act as a cultural broker and expect the issues to be resolved overnight. Rather, organizations should actively encourage their teams to view diversity as a valuable resource and a source of learning – conditions that would allow cultural brokerage to emerge more organically and foster increased acceptance and participation.
Unfortunately, openly encouraging inclusivity and enabling diversity to flourish won’t address other negative workplace conditions that may exist – like harassment, intimidation, or lack of career growth – which can inhibit effective collaboration, reduce employee satisfaction and retention, and poison team performance across an enterprise.
Members of the Forbes Coaches Council recently outlined some less obvious signs that an organization has underlying cultural baggage that needs to be identified and addressed head on – including employee apathy, aversion to experimentation, and cross-team projects that commonly stall before getting off the ground. As serious cultural problems like these aren’t likely to fix themselves, the council members urge leaders to acknowledge any signs of toxicity they observe and swiftly demonstrate their commitment to improving conditions.
These critical discussions should serve as a reminder to content marketers that we all play a part in cultivating spaces that are inviting, participative, and conducive to fostering trust as we pursue our business goals. Whether it’s how you communicate with your managers and co-workers, how you approach team challenges, or how you craft conversations for your audience, if you aren’t thinking beyond your point of view to consider how your messages might be perceived – it might be time to search your cultural inventory for opportunities to improve.
Eager to learn more about how to create innovation connections with your audience? Miss some (or all) of Content Marketing World? Learn without ever leaving your office through 2018 CMW’s on-demand videos. Order it today.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute