In an overcrowded on and offline world, startups are battling it out to carve a niche for themselves and get heard amongst the noise.
But little do the best startups realise they have one secret weapon up their sleeves; company culture.
This may be a prime tool for attracting new talent, but businesses can also use internal culture to their advantage within their marketing to encourage brand loyalty and enhance customer acquisition.
While the number-one goal for company culture is of course to create a positive and productive working atmosphere for a startup’s employees, it can also benefit how the company is viewed in the wider market, from outside in.
Using real-world startup examples, this article will highlight some of the ways you can tap into one of the most effective, affordable, and attainable integrated communications tactics.
What is company culture?
First of all, let’s define the term, company culture. Investopedia describes this as;
“The beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company's employees and management interact and handle outside business transactions”
In other words, culture is the personality of the company, and must originate from the startup’s goals, mission, “why”, ethics and expectations for the future.
Company culture can be loose and unintentionally set, or it can be written out and defined by a ‘culture code’, as Bristol-based business Sift Media has done; but it always comes from the example set by the CEO or senior team. Startups must therefore take time to physically document their company culture, or, as the flexibility of being a newer company allows, define what you would like it to be.
This has to run deeper than bean bags, gaming consoles and beer fridges in the office; it is be the feeling you want prospects, clients, and your employees to get when they interact with you on a regular or irregular basis.
For example, are you an edgy, challenger brand like BrewDog? Your culture - right down to logos, office design, communications language, employees and even physical establishments - should reflect this from top to bottom.
Targeting your market
Defining your company culture is just one step on the way to developing a strong marketing message. You can’t “fake it until you make it” with this; it’s something that needs to be actually present within a company before you start to promote it. These ethics and values remain core to your approach and identity.
“It’s not written and it’s not stated yet it is one of the most important elements of creating and designing the employee experience. Typically corporate culture is what energizes us or drains us, it motivates us or discourages us, it empowers us or it suffocates us. We all experience the corporate culture of our organizations every single day, whether it be positive or negative.”
When you’ve reached the point of employee buy-in to culture however, as defined above by Forbes contributor Jacob Morgan, you can then shout more loudly about it in various ways.
Digital marketing channels are highly effective when it comes to sharing internal values of your company with the outside world; and there are a wealth of innovative ways to get your message across, through the means of visual, written, or audio content.
Giving your team space to voice opinion on industry news or events
Incentivising activities such as blog-writing and photo-posting
Encouraging and incentivising your team to become speakers at events
Celebrating your team members’ natural talents outside of their profession
Inviting clients and/or customers to attend the office, to check out what you do daily
Documenting the challenging times, to highlight effort and determination
Publicising team rewards, achievements, and new client acquisitions
Language and identity within content
Language will play a big part in reflecting how your company’s culture is seen in the outside world, and whether or not a target audience will relate to you. While not a startup, Google is without doubt the best example of how a company’s language reflects their ethos.
The tech giant is known for having an amazing company culture - including innovative office spaces, an emphasis on diversity in the workforce and open communication channels between senior management and junior employees; all very positive things, and completely in-line with their “world-opening” wider mission.
Not only does it have its mission and values clear for everyone to see on its website, but it also writes in a clear, authoritative but simple way, using positive words and playful, simple language on its official blog. This tone of voice is something that can be achieved by a good digital copywriter, marketing team or journalist, and is instrumental in winning over customers.
This paves the way for content to be shared via social media; but that’s not the only use of these channels when it comes to marketing your startup culture.
Encouraging your employees to Tweet, Facebook post, blog on platforms such as LinkedIn and Medium about and share content relating to your startup’s everyday culture is a powerful, guerilla way to win over customers and highlight authenticity at the same time. Of course, this will mean you will have hired the right culturally-fitting employees in the first place, as this blog by Xero outlines - or at least received buy-in from existing ones.
Hubspot is a great example of a startup which grasps this concept. Most of its employees are clearly visible on Twitter, have their Hubspot job titles contained within their bios and share content that is posted about Hubspot around the web, as well as writing LinkedIn Pulse posts about the internal workings of the company.
This is important because it gives customers an honest view of the company culture, in addition to informing contacts that they’re buying into a product or service that’s cared about, and truly valued by the people who are selling it.
Take Airbnb as another example. All of its employees stay at Airbnb accommodation when travelling for work, and making something as simple as this fact visible through your digital advertising, startup marketing and content creation (where relevant) is a powerful advocacy tool.
Visual imagery is important here, too, and there’s nothing more powerful than a picture that reflects a strong office culture, from charity work the company is involved in, to how you work with clients and ‘behind-the-scenes’ peeks into startup life. Instagram is a great tool for this purpose.
Always ensure that the content you’re featuring on social media brings value to you, as well as your audience. At the recent Online Influence conference in Bristol, Social Chain CEO Steve Bartlett said the company’s marketing team had recently Facebook Live-streamed the adventures of their company dog. Bartlett understandably questioned what value was in this - aside from showing the audience that the company had a ‘cool’ internal office and culture?
The leadership team
This is where the CEO and upper management team comes in. It’s clear that, for example, Unruly is a solid example of a company using its culture to market itself effectively; the company sold itself to News Corp last year for over £62m, but its co-founder Sarah Wood has stayed on in the business.
From even just a quick glance at their site, you can see that everything down to the language, website design and office (complete with foosball tables and coworking spaces) are aimed at living the company culture. This includes, not least, the people within and CEO herself.
Wood is a regular media commenter and has won numerous awards for her work. She’s a staunch advocate for women in business and also works as a London tech ambassador. This is a great example of a company that is holistically using its culture within not only its digital marketing, but offline efforts, too; and one that is doing so in a very authentic way.
Having the CEO publicly appear isn’t always possible, though, as speaking opportunities may be rare depending on your industry - so having a budget to push the PR and startup marketing agenda even further to get noticed by publications (such as BusinessZone’s coverage of RefMe) will spread a positive perception of your startup.
Considerations for Company Culture Marketing
Going down the route of using internal company culture in your startup marketing must be carefully considered and planned. Ensure that the goals you are trying to achieve with your marketing fit in with wider business plans, i.e. growth, specific customer acquisition strategies or disrupting a particular market. Use your internal company life to bolster these and add personality to bring marketing efforts to life.
As with all marketing campaigns, make sure you keep track of, measure and record how you use internal culture, so as you scale you can keep track of what works and not lose sight of the startup culture your audience loves. All promotion requires businesses to be honest when promoting a product or service, and honesty must indeed be your best policy when shouting about your company culture, too. Make sure your culture actually fits with what you are marketing.
Fun and games are crucial part of attracting customers these days, and many brands that have a sense of humor and are lighthearted are seeing great engagement, particularly on social media.
This means that while having a pool table, bar or office dog isn’t crucial to company culture success, ‘fun’ elements of office life that improve your employee’s everyday wellbeing, be it fresh bread delivered to the office every morning or themed meeting rooms, should be included and used in marketing communications where relevant. If nothing else, physical perks around the office will encourage your employees to share pictures on social media, meaning your customers and clients get visibility as to what kind of an organisation you are.
Remember though, as every startup is different, so too will their culture be, so don’t try to copy what others have already done. Find a culture that is uniquely you, and work to integrate that into your digital marketing and business goals instead of following someone else’s blueprints. After all, isn’t that the point of being a disruptive startup?
As Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky once said:
“There’s no such thing as a good or bad culture, it’s either a strong or weak culture… And a good culture for somebody else may not be a good culture for you.”