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Today's CMO: At the Intersection of Brand Experience and Organizational Culture

Highlights from the West Coast CMO Summit

People. Product. Passion. These three pillars have all played an integral role in the brands — and organizational cultures — of a social media pioneer, mobile payments platform and brewery. Gary Briggs, vice president and chief marketing officer of Facebook; Kevin Burke, head of acquisition at Square; and Maria Stipp, chief executive officer of Lagunitas Brewing Company; served as panelists for Spencer Stuart’s second annual West Coast CMO Summit to share their perspectives on the impact of the organizational culture on the brand experience. Following are a few key takeaways from the discussion:

Culture is not only an internal mechanism. Culture is the culmination of the shared values, beliefs and assumptions that shape the behavior of the organization. These “unwritten rules” guide how work gets done. Briggs observed that the impact of culture reaches far beyond the four walls of the company: “Culture is very connected to the brand. Internally, how do people deal with conflict? How do decisions get made? Outside, it’s the relationship with the customer.”

The company’s mission drives the culture — and the marketing strategy. Fluency in the product — and passion for both the end customer and colleagues — were universally cited as key drivers of the panelists’ organizational cultures and attributes they seek in marketing talent. “You have to love the people and the product,” Briggs advised. As Facebook enters its second decade, the focus has shifted from survival to the elevated purpose of connecting the world. According to Briggs, marketing can play a powerful part in delivering on that vision: “We can do bolder things if the brand is stronger.”

For Lagunitas, its vision is also its biggest differentiator. “Our vision statement is to connect genuinely with everyone we touch,” said Stipp. “If we didn’t, we would be like everyone else.” At Square, the culture is one of transparency, inclusion and innovation — one that Burke had to adjust to after his previous role as CMO of Visa. “Coming from a financial services company, that level of transparency was unsettling at first,” he said. “At Square, not only can everyone participate, but they are expected to. It’s very empowering.” This openness enables the “customer-obsessed” company to uncover ideas from every source, helping them to understand their customers’ needs and find the best possible solutions.

Storytelling plays a vital role in maintaining the culture. The origin story at each of these founder-led companies has set the tone of their respective cultures. Briggs noted that preserving the “tribal legend” becomes even more important amid rapid growth. Additionally, an understanding of the company’s roots often helps bring new talent into the fold. To ensure new team members appreciate the weight behind the words “make commerce easy,” Square brings them to Mint Plaza, where the first transaction took place, as part of the onboarding process. This immersion into where it all began isn’t only valuable at founder-led companies. When organizations have successfully revived themselves, Burke observed it was often the result of reconnecting with their original DNA.

At Lagunitas, the chief culture officer helps to ensure the continuation of the cultural story thread. He leads “dips” into the culture as part of onboarding, where new talent learn about the company’s story, ride routes, visit distributors and clients, and attend events. The company’s taproom is a central gathering place and story-sharing venue for new and veteran team members alike — and one that invites different ways of thinking. “Personal stories lead ideas,” said Stipp. “People will remember a story before a product.” Storytelling also plays a vital role in creating a collaborative work environment. Stipp cautioned, “If you can’t share a story with your co-workers before a meeting, you’ve lost the plot.”

Culture fit has become a more important talent attractor — and talent screener. The “move fast, break things” spirit of Facebook draws top talent and has been integral in helping to build the company’s new marketing team. Burke seeks technologically savvy, analytical people who have “built things on their own” — and has found that Square’s “maker mentality” can serve as a talent magnet. “Culture has become even more important in attracting talent, especially millennial talent,” he said.

However, it can be challenging to find the right blend of technical skills and cultural fit, especially at organizations with such distinctive identities. Lagunitas heavily screens potential talent for authenticity. Stipp noted that if the personal character does not match that of the group, the new talent often fails in a matter of days, reinforcing the importance of thorough assessment of cultural alignment in the hiring process.

Technology can be a great enabler of human connection. As companies expand globally, it can be challenging to maintain cohesion around the culture and brand. Technology has allowed companies operating in different companies to maintain a “one team” atmosphere. Square has “town squares” where teams around the world can hear directly from the CEO, celebrate victories and share best practices. During his earlier tenure as vice president of consumer marketing at Google, Briggs noted that the company hosted weekly Q&As and the omnipresence of video screens allowed colleagues to connect face-to-face regardless of geography.

What lessons can marketers learn from these founder-led companies?

Founder-led companies tend to empower marketers to pave a new way, a spirit of innovation that other organizations can adopt. For example, instead of dedicating resources to conventional disciplines like brand management or consumer insights, Lagunitas’ marketing focuses on music, events and philanthropy. “Rather than standard point-of-sale cardboard signs, we’ll sponsor a grocery chain’s nonprofits,” said Stipp. Square’s “If you think it, you can build it” engineering culture translates to marketers who do not think in silos. “Marketing doesn’t exist as a standalone function, it’s a role you play on a team,” said Burke.

In many cases, these companies have grown organically, requiring marketing leaders to demonstrate the function’s value. Briggs recalled that the success of the promotion of Chrome quickly built marketing’s credibility throughout Google. At Facebook, he noted that time spent is a key organizational metric — one that can help other marketing functions assess whether they are dedicating the right amount of resources to the right initiatives. Ultimately, the most powerful lesson from Facebook, Square and Lagunitas may be that cultivating connection-focused cultures can create a tangible impact on the brand, the customer and the talent.

For highlights from previous discussions, visit our CMO Summit page.
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