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7 Steps to Shift Your Marketing Culture & Achieve Your Strategy

Posted by Ben Waxman Posted on Dec 6, 2023 5:30:00 AM
Ben Waxman

We’ve all heard about how company culture eats company strategy for lunch, yeah? People are everything. How we achieve our strategic differentiation and meet our institutional goals really comes down to the team we have to do the work (the team that creates and delivers the product). 

An interesting observation here: within any industry, organizations really are all the same, right?  

Sure, there are categorical differences: think 2-year vs 4-year in higher ed, community vs specialty hospital in healthcare – but these categorizations, when you get down to it, are not that significant, right? They are all ultimately producing the same thing in the same ways in the end. 

Raising an eyebrow? You should be. Yet, you know there are marketers out there – perhaps even among your circles – who see marketing as rinse and repeat, cookie cutter stuff that simply requires you to replace one logo with another and voila, new campaign.  

These cynical marketers will tell you the standard storyline is this: 

  • We really care about you and your family. 
  • We have fabulous faculty/staff/nurses/surgeons/tech. 
  • You will get the results you want. 

Those ideas can be delivered with a whole bunch of hype and glitz. Fancy videos presented with digital ad campaigns. You know the drill. 

And if this is all you have, your institution truly is just like all the others and your marketing plan truly is the type of thing that allows a marketing agency to take one institution’s marketing plan, swap out the logo, and Boom! There’s a fresh marketing plan. Ugh. 

Really, so much Ugh. 

Putting Cynics In Their Place 

What you truly have to offer to your discerning audience is value. Doesn’t matter what you are selling. Toasters, laptops, gardening tools, vacations, health, or an education, what you have to offer is value for the level of effort and money I have to give you in exchange for that value. 

Your job as a marketer, a communicator, is to give me reasons to believe your toaster, laptop, wheelbarrow, hotel room, surgical procedure, or academic program has value to me right now and in my future. And even the shallowest consumers among us are discerning. We evaluate the options we hear about and are either convinced to believe in what you are selling, or your competitor convinces us better.

Quality and authenticity win in the end 

Hype has short term gains that are seen for what they are sooner or later. Usually sooner, given our instant word of mouth environment. (TikTok anyone?). 

So enough with the observation and critique of the bad influences. What’s an organization to do? Two things: 

  • Give your audience real reasons to believe that you deliver value – establish credible, relatable justifications. Real stories win the day here.  
  • Develop and encourage your internal team’s culture to celebrate innovation and try new things. 

In our experience, the first one, identifying authentic, provable, relatable reasons to believe is the easier one. The second, and this is where we started today’s blog post, is really, really hard. 

Culture eats strategy for lunch 

So many organizational leaders are producing a culture of laziness or fear.  

How? They tout that they are an operation that wins, that thrives, on innovation. They point to a few innovative successes from the past and celebrate those who led an innovative initiative that achieved great things for the organization.  

And what of the failed experiments? Those who pursued innovative ideas and did not succeed were chewed up and spit out. 

And the lessons from that failed effort were lost to the team. Except one: don’t stick your neck out, don’t try anything new. Because if you don’t succeed, you’ll go down in very embarrassing flames. 

Celebrate the inherent risks of innovation 

Trying something new, by definition, means that you don’t have historical data to offer you full confidence in the results. Sure, there’s data needed to support the direction, the plan, but it only goes so far in developing confidence for the risk averse. The risk averse typically say no to unproven initiatives. They ask, “Is anyone else doing this?” 

And if they grudgingly say yes to the innovative plan, they underfund, which typically produces less than stellar results. Which then allows them to point to the innovative initiative and say, "I was right, not worth it." The proverbial self-fulfilling prophecy. And there we have the company culture encouraging laziness and fear rather than innovation. 

To get your team to embrace the risk and take the smart chances, they must feel safe and supported. Watching your colleagues get chewed out (or worse) has a chilling effect. 

7 Steps to Cultivate a Culture of Innovation 

  1. Read the landscape in front of you (trend data and competitor monitoring - market research). 
  2. Look to the horizon and point to where you want to go (strategic planning). 
  3. Align the team around the plan and the destination, get their creative input, build buy-in. 
  4. Be clear-eyed, action-oriented, adaptive, measured, supportive of the team. 
  5. Track progress, because proof is in the pudding. Good planning requires tracking and reflecting (interpret the data). 
  6. Learn from the effort. Celebrate  the results (even poor results) because you now know something you didn't know before. Consider what you and your team talked about as you started and where you are today, 6 months later. Adapt and improve. 
  7. Always improve on what went before. 

Let’s move people. Curiosity drives us. Need a nudge? Be in touch. 


Topics: Incremental Innovation


This is where business analytics shape artful marketing. In marketing, it's about insight, industry expertise and team dynamic. We take the time to ask the right questions and listen (really listen) to the answers. At the outset, we are more intent on, and curious about, what you and the industry have to say than about expressing our ideas. Once we have gathered and analyzed the information needed, as quickly as possible, we have insights to share.

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