Today’s consumers have a plethora of choices of available to them for virtually every need or want they may have. With so much competition and unprecedented access to companies thanks to the internet and social media, how can marketers hope to be able to cut through all the noise?
In short, there’s no magic bullet . . . no one thing can guarantee any company success. However, there is one thing that marketers and the companies they work with can use to set themselves apart and put themselves on the right track. And it happens to be something no other company has.
What’s that one thing? What is it that your company has that no other competitor does? Your company culture. What do I mean by company culture? At its essence a company’s culture is their identity. It is who they are and what they stand for. It encompasses their core values and goals.
Every company and organization is made up of vastly different people who interact and work together differently; and just like individual people, not two companies . . . no two cultures or company identities are alike.
The employees, products, branding, customer expectations, and the experiences customers have had with a company or their product(s) all make up who they are and how they are perceived. After all, customer perception can be the key to everything.
As the co-founder of Intuit, Scott David Cook said:
“A brand is no longer what we tell consumers it is, it is what the consumers tell each other it is.”
Success or failure can hinge on your company’s identity and how it is framed or perceived by the public.
Knowing who you are, what you provide, and how you interact with customers is paramount to understanding the idea of company culture and being able to move forward effectively.
Everything your company provides, as well as the interactions customers have had with you will you shape their feelings and ideas about who you are. The key to true success is not only knowing what your identity is in the eyes of the people, but embracing it.
Those that decline to recognize the identity, reputation, and relationships they have formed with customers have often been met with failure.
The misalignment of marketing, branding, and company culture leads to failure.
Walmart abandons its identity and goes high-end.
For decades Walmart was known for being a one-stop shop for the everyman. No matter what you needed, you could bet on finding it in on their shelves. Perhaps most importantly it could be purchased at a low price. They were never accused of being fancy and didn’t carry a multitude of high-end products, but they gave the customers exactly what they wanted.
Somewhere along the way they decided to attempt and change their image. Stores began adding high-end electronics, organic food selections, and better wines – all at higher prices. Though the store was offering what they thought were better options to their customers . . . it wasn’t what the average Walmart shopper expected or wanted from the retailer.
After years of buying typical products at cheap prices, they simply refused to buy into the new offerings. As a result Walmart sales fell for the first time in a decade.
The failure of New Coke.
One of the world’s most iconic brands, Coca-Cola got its start over a hundred years ago. Few products have managed to have its staying power. In that time they managed to become a beloved beverage the world over. However, when Pepsi began its now famous “Pepsi challenge” ad campaign, which pitted the two colas against each other in blind taste tests, something changed.
It can be argued as to whether the taste test results were legitimate or manipulated, but one one thing is certain. Pepsi’s sales began climbing and Coca-Cola was left scrambling for an answer. This led to the launch of a brand new product, one initially intended to replace the classic formula to better compete with the noticeably sweeter Pepsi brand.
Looking back now, we all now the formula was a disaster. The interesting thing is, in blind taste tests performed before the launch, New Coke was actually the preferred beverage. What went wrong?
Coca-Cola had become more than just a soda. It had become a part of people’s lives. Even though they were trying to offer a more competitive, “better” product, customers couldn’t stomach the fact that the drink they had known their whole lives was being changed. One famous quote from a letter sent in by a dismayed customer sums it up:
“There are only two things in my life: God and Coca-Cola. Now you have taken one of those things away from me.”
What can we learn from these famous missteps in marketing history?
Both Walmart and Coca-Cola started with good intentions. They both attempted to give what they thought was a better product to their loyal customers. Both failed. Why?
Walmart Coca-Cola had the same problem. Their branding and products had become misaligned with the culture and identity they had established. People didn’t want to buy designer clothes from Walmart. Just as they didn’t want the Cokes to taste different. Over time companies have taught customers who they are by what they sell and how they present it.
Going against the grain and trying to change this perception can lead to failure. However, knowing who you are, what you do best, and how you are perceived can lead to major success stories.
Companies have embraced their identity and reaped the benefits.
We’ve seen how having a disconnect between what a company attempts to do and how their customers view them can be detrimental to a company. What about those who have a clear idea about what their identity is and have embraced it?
The genius of Apple.
Apple is one of the most dominant and well known companies in the world today. One look at the iconic logo and people know exactly what to expect. The tech giant has become synonymous with sleek, clean designs, and cutting-edge mobile and computer equipment.
Their iPods, iPads, and iPhones have led to growing technological revolution. Every new reveal has millions waiting on pins and needles for latest innovations. Over time the company has become known for their creativity (in everything except the product naming department) and world changing products. They are secretive with products in development and give very few updates outside of the highly controlled and produced unveiling events.
This all works together to create a feeling of importance and makes every new product seem special. Even if a competing manufacturer has something similar or perhaps even better it doesn’t seem to matter. Apple has created the identity of tech and stylings innovator, and because of this have developed a loyal and rabid fan base willing to pay higher prices.
Chick-Fil-A dominates with a sandwich and a smile.
How can a company with relatively limited offering fare so well in today’s battle for fast food supremacy? They know who they are, what they have to offer, and have yet to stray from that identity.
Chick-Fil-A’s culture is centered around what they call “servant leadership.” They strive to make sure every customer has positive experience both with food and staff while in their stores. This standard leads the company to attempt to only bring in employees who feed into this culture and identity.
The attitude of servant leadership and effectively recruiting to bolster their culture has led to an unheard of franchise and corporate retention rates. This also translates into the bottom line of sales. Since 1946 the fast food franchise has seen 10% growth or more in sales every year. All this from a company who’s primary offering is a chicken breast on a bun topped with a pickle.
What should you take from these companies’ successes and failures with identity and culture?
The discussed examples of both success and failure can serve as lessons to us all. The key to your future success may well lie in your ability to successfully maintain an identity and bolster the culture you’ve created.
It is possible to change the perception and culture of your company, but it is a long, slow, and difficult journey. Making sure to positively frame and align branding with the company identity you have established can lead to major success.