Culture is not something that begets success, rather, it is a product of it. All companies start with the espoused beliefs and values of their founder(s), but until those beliefs and values are proven correct and successful they are open to debate and change. If, though, they lead to real sustained success, then those values and beliefs slip from the conscious to the unconscious, and it is this transformation that allows companies to maintain the “secret sauce” that drove their initial success even as they scale.
At its core, culture is the implicit influence of leadership based on reinforced behavior:
- If the founders are fanatical about good design, it permeates every decision made at a company for years.
- If testing leads to early user growth, it becomes part of the status quo.
- And if content marketing is embraced by the folks at the top, it's easier to get resources and a budget to create great content.
Culture dictates nearly every decision made at every company, small or large. In this post, we'll dive into how to use that to your advantage.
Content Marketing Is a Layer, Not a Silo
Imagine a company that has never emphasized design, but eventually hires a designer. That person is going to have a hard time getting buy-in. They can tackle projects in a silo, but without support from the org, they will struggle to make an impact. Design becomes transactional: The marketing team needs a landing page, so a landing page is created—but it never permeates the way team members make decisions.
Compare that to a company founded by designers, like Airbnb. Co-founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia don’t need to explain to the 3,000th employee how important design is. Design is a layer that influences—and is influenced by—the entire company. The same is true of companies with a strong content culture.
This framework makes perfect sense in the context of popular SaaS blogs. Intercom co-founder Des Traynor wrote 93 of the company's first 100 blog posts. Writing was not something he did on the side—content was (and is) part of his job. And since it worked well, content is prioritized all around the company. Managers actually encourage developers, designers, and product folks to write. New hires expect to write. Content is baked deeply into the culture.
Any Company Can Build a Content Culture
Intercom committed to content very early on, and the directive to invest in content came from the top. If your company started this way, consider yourself lucky.
But since the vast majority of companies don’t start this way, what do you do?
A content culture is not inherent. You’re not at a disadvantage if your founder wasn’t writing blog posts pre-product. But companies that add content marketing later do tend to treat it differently. They’re more interested in quarterly projections and month-over-month growth. A sharp focus on metrics can lead to prioritizing short-term tactics instead of long-term strategies. It’s a matter of misaligned incentives, not bad intentions.
If your content was not baked into your company’s culture from the very beginning, here are a few recommendations to make sure it’s still an effective marketing channel:
You need . . .
If you plan to do content in any form, an experienced content marketing lead with total buy-in from leadership is a must. Content marketing gives your brand a voice. The messaging needs to be clearly articulated, and the strategy should be tightly tied to product. You simply can’t expect a junior-level content manager to devise and execute a strategy from scratch.
Additionally, management buy-in is key. A successful content culture comes from the top-down.
Set the explicit expectation that it will take months or years to see a return on the investment. Unlike other marketing channels, you can’t flip content on and off. Plan for ongoing effort, involvement from around the company, and the inevitable ups and downs of growing a blog.
As our friend Hiten Shah likes to say, “Content is labor intensive and requires lots of creativity.”
Measurement derails content marketing efforts. In fact, one of the primary reasons that blogs fail is that companies don’t like what they see in analytics, so they abandon their strategy.
Agree on a handful of KPIs early, and make it widely known what they are. Data from analytics is great, but it’s overwhelming. We recommend simple metrics like month-over-month organic traffic growth. Don’t make the mistake of cannibalizing good content to drive more trials or email subscribers in the early days. Growing core metrics like organic traffic will lift other metrics over time.
Quality isn’t cheap. You’ll need a budget to hire or outsource content creation. You may also need dev help or an SEO consultant to improve site architecture. (Each of these expenses is as important as the content itself.)
In a larger company, you’ll want to be careful not to spend too much. This seems counterintuitive, but a large budget is only helpful if there are people and processes in place to spend it effectively. A small team with a large budget will probably produce more content than they can adequately monitor for quality. And as we write often, content overproduction creates a lot of problems.
A content marketing program is only as good as the strategy behind it. We can't do content strategy justice in a few sentences, which is why we recommend our guide to content marketing strategy.
Here are a few core principles to keep in mind:
As content proves to be valuable, it slowly becomes part of the culture. Stay the course and content will get easier over time.