In this episode of The Master Marketer Show, host Mike Grinberg talks with Dr. Marcus Collins, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, about the connection between culture and marketing. They discuss how culture influences consumer behavior and brand affinity, as well as how leaders can shape organizational culture. Listeners can expect to gain insights into how understanding culture can be a “cheat code” for more effective marketing.


Unleashing the Influence of Culture

To kick off our discussion, Dr. Collins emphasizes the relevance of culture in shaping human behavior. Culture, as he defines it, is a system of conventions and expectations that differentiate individuals and govern their actions. It encompasses a wide range of aspects, including artifacts, behaviors, language, and cultural production such as music, film, literature, art, and dance.


Brands, Dr. Collins asserts, act as vessels of meaning that elicit thoughts and emotions in people’s minds. These brands are then interpreted through various cultural lenses, as individuals perceive and understand the world based on their cultural background. Even those who believe they are immune to marketing influence may actually be more susceptible, as they underestimate the power of marketing and the forces that shape their behavior. Recognizing and understanding this influence empowers individuals to navigate it effectively.


The Power of Culture in B2B Marketing

While B2B marketing may seem different from B2C, the importance of culture in influencing human behavior remains constant. Culture holds sway over almost every aspect of social living, including consumer decisions and professional interactions. Thus, marketers need to comprehend and leverage culture to appeal to their target audience’s humanity.


Instead of solely focusing on creating communities from scratch, Dr. Collins suggests finding individuals who already share your beliefs and facilitating connections among them. By nurturing existing belief systems and connecting like-minded individuals, businesses can strengthen their relationships and potentially drive growth.


Emotional Appeals and the Trust Factor

Dr. Collins highlights that emotional appeals are often more effective than rational appeals in influencing behavior. People tend to trust other people more than traditional marketing communications. By leveraging community-led growth and harnessing the voice of their customers, businesses can tap into the power of shared beliefs and emotions.


An exemplary case study is GE’s “What’s the Matter With Owen?” campaign, which focused on shared ideology and beliefs. As a result, the campaign witnessed an astonishing 800% increase in job applications. This success underscores the significance of shared beliefs and emotions in driving behavior and encouraging people to take action.


Cultivating a Strong Organizational Culture

Culture not only plays a pivotal role in marketing but also within organizations themselves. Dr. Collins underscores the importance of being intentional about establishing and aligning the company’s culture with its beliefs. If an organization finds its culture going astray, they should first have a clear understanding of what culture truly is and take stock of their current culture.


Conducting a thorough cultural inventory allows leaders to identify areas where the existing culture may clash with the desired one. From there, steps can be taken to align the culture through storytelling, changing behaviors, and reinforcing core values and beliefs. Taking inventory of cultural artifacts, social norms, and unwritten rules enables organizations to construct a stronger culture that fosters a sense of belonging and connection among employees.


Leadership and Culture Alignment

Leaders play a vital role in cultivating and modeling a strong organizational culture. The first skill of a leader is conviction, the bravery to stand for something and drive action aligned with the organization’s beliefs. Effective leaders embody and preach the company’s purpose or “gospel,” inspiring and uniting employees around a common vision.


To be a successful evangelist, leaders must deliver their message sincerely, believing in the purpose they communicate. They also display empathy, understanding how the purpose manifests in others’ actions and addressing any pain points that hinder employees from fully embracing the desired culture.


Real-World Examples of Culture-Driven Marketing

Real-world companies have exemplified the power of culture-driven marketing. State Farm, for instance, shifted its marketing focus from cost competitiveness to embodying the belief in helping people. By consistently communicating this belief, State Farm transformed its marketing campaigns, fostering a sense of pride among employees and connecting with customers on a deeper level. This shift resulted in increased customer loyalty and improved business growth.


Morgan Flatley, the global CMO of McDonald’s, stands out as a leader who effectively builds and models culture within an organization. Her vulnerability as a leader creates an environment where teams can communicate openly and admit ignorance, granting them agency within the company. Under her leadership, McDonald’s marketing function has witnessed remarkable success, both in terms of business growth and employee satisfaction.


The Impact of Culture on Identity and Behavior

Culture extends beyond organizational walls, influencing personal identity and behavior. From cult-like followings associated with certain brands to the incorporation of past employment in one’s identity, shared meaning plays a vital role in identity projects. Individuals strive to align themselves with cultural characteristics that resonate with their beliefs and communicate shared meaning.


Understanding and leveraging culture can provide a competitive advantage in the market. Organizational culture predicts long-term financial success and talent attraction and retention. By cultivating a strong culture that aligns behaviors with beliefs, businesses can foster a sense of belonging that transcends a mere job, resulting in engaged employees and enhanced productivity.


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