As marketers, we often get caught up in defining our unique value proposition, distilling it into an elevator pitch, and shouting it in as many ways as we can to a target audience. The problem is that when people are targeted, they take evasive action. And besides, most people really don’t care what you’re trying to sell or why it’s so much better than everything else out there.
They just need to like you.
Here, I’ll offer tips on how you can create and use branded content to convey the personality of your company — the people who work there; the ideas you live by; the sense of fun and vitality you bring to work; your core values. In addition, I’ll share some examples of how companies, from giants like IBM to much smaller companies (like my own) have used culture-related brand content to compete successfully in the market.
The big party
Picture going to a party full of people you haven’t met — for example, an industry gathering where you have the opportunity to connect with potential clients or business partners. What’s the first thing you do when you meet someone there?
What you probably don’t say is, “Hi, I’m Mitch and I work for OmniCore. We make the world’s best flat screen core sampler detectors for the mining industry. Would you like to see my catalog?”
Sounds ridiculous, right? And yet that’s exactly what most websites do when you first arrive on their home pages. They immediately start trying to pound in why they are so great; but from the customer’s perspective, this is often just annoying.
A better approach would be to start the conversation just as you would at an actual party: Introduce yourself in a friendly way; talk about things you’re interested in; learn more about the people you’re talking with; tell a joke; find common ground. If there is good chemistry, you will like them and they will like you. Then, if the time is right, business might come up, and you may uncover opportunities to work together. Ideally, this is how the web works in the age of social media and content.
Grow your business without pitching
At my company, we used to have a website that was focused on selling what we do; our sales were decent, but not spectacular. In December 2012, we took a different approach, launching a new site that featured a company culture video front and center on our About Us page, rather than our usual sales pitch.
By the end of January, we landed more new business than we had in all of 2012. Nowhere in our video do we say we are better than anyone else. We don’t even say what we do for clients (we leave that for other parts of the website). Instead, we feature our employees and our office, and ask a series of questions that, over the course of a few minutes, convey the feel of our company, the great people, the sense of fun and irreverence — in short, the things that drive us. When we met with prospective clients for the first time, they had already “met” us through the video — and found that they liked us.
Another example of this comes from IBM — a company that recognized early on that it needed to convey its culture to the world in order to win over customers and attract the best and brightest employees. This particular web video of theirs blew me away:
Designed to demonstrate the company’s commitment to diversity, the video goes much deeper than the usual HR drivel. Any prospective customer watching this would be more inclined to like IBM — and to buy from them. No sales pitch required.
7 tips for creating culture content that works
1. Research: Identify the top things about your company culture that employees and current customers really like. When I say “team,” I don’t just mean senior management, but rather your entire staff. This is a valuable process that often uncovers fascinating aspects of a company that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.
Speaking with customers is equally valuable to this process. You might find, for example, that customers particularly appreciate how much your salespeople really listen to their needs. Or you might find that customers love visiting your office because of the fun vibe. Everything you find is food for thought that can lead to creative ideas.
2. Analyze, and reach a consensus: Cross-reference what you hear from staff and customers and find the top 3 to 5 attributes of your culture that most people like.
3. Get creative: Pull together a group of creative-minded people on your staff (or include an outside firm) to come up with creative content ideas for your website that can convey your culture in an engaging way. This can take the form of videos, podcasts, infographics, quizzes — anything that helps prospective customers understand your culture without involving a sales pitch. The goal is to build your cultural attributes into the story in a way that feels organic, not forced. Perhaps, as in the case of the IBM video above, there’s a piece of your company history that has never been shared with outsiders — something that will illuminate one or more of your core values. Your task is to get this on camera, or into the design of your content, in a way that engages people on the web.
4. Integrate your ideas: No piece of content is an island — it’s always part of a larger experience or conversation. So you’ll need to look closely at the user experience for your website and determine the best place to include culture content for optimal benefit. For example, if your primary goal is to bring in more business, you might create a video to use on your About Us page. If you’re in hiring mode and need to attract the best and brightest employees, maybe there’s content that would be a good fit for your Careers page.
But regardless of where you place the content, be mindful of the other content around it: Do the pieces work together to tell your larger story? In my company’s culture video, we never talked about what services we provide for our clients. But all that information is easy to find with one click on our About Us page.
5. Test: I’m not a fan of focus groups for testing creative, but it never hurts to run the nearly finished culture content by a few people you trust, both inside and outside the company. If they love it, run with it. If not, ask them how they think it can be improved.
6. Set goals, and measure success: Any content strategy should start with defining the goals of the particular piece of content, and outlining the metrics you’ll use to determine its success. It can be quantitative (e.g., how many outside blogs picked up and shared your content) or qualitative (e.g., what was the anecdotal feedback from customers who saw your content?). Be sure to use analytics tools when applicable to get a complete picture of how people are interacting with the content on your site.
7. Keep plugging away: As with any publishing platform, your website should be continuously refreshed with new culture-related branded content that tells your story in different ways. Over time, you’ll find some content is a hit, and some is not. The key is to keep publishing and maintain momentum. Over the long haul, you will build brand awareness, win new business, and attract and retain the best employees to fuel company growth.
The way people gather and digest information about your company has evolved rapidly over the past few years, driven by social media and the ability to publish in-depth, engaging branded content online. Today’s consumers demand more than just superficial “messaging” packaged in gloss. They want to know who you are, what drives you, and if they can relate to your business and its values. They want to like you. Culture-related content can help make this happen, and it keeps working 24/7 on your web channels without having to waste money on a media buy.
Interested in more tips for creating content that promotes your company’s values and culture? Read the CMI book, “Bold Brands” by Josh Miles.