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Is Personality a Strategy?

hi hat coffeeWhen I originally started this post the title was going to be – Is Culture a Strategy, but I amended it to personality because, while what I am talking about here is commonly referred to as company culture, I think the word personality is more fitting for the typical small business.

Most small businesses I encounter, have a culture that is representative of the thoughts, values, leanings and character of the owner of the business – for good or for bad. Now, can that personality or company culture be molded, grown, morphed and adapted by the customers, practices, and people in the organization? – you bet.

And I’d like to suggest that a great deal of an organization’s ultimate success or failure from a marketing standpoint has to do with developing a culture or personality that people come to know, like and trust. Let’s face it there are characteristic traits that make some people more knowable, likeable, and trustable than others.

Unfortunately, you can’t fake these, but you can adopt habits that create a culture that brings out the best in your company’s personality.

In TrendHunter founder Jeremy Gutsche’s book Exploiting Chaos (a wonderful book on ways to spark innovation – look for our interview on the Duct Tape Podcast) he states that “culture is more important that strategy.” I’m not sure I agree completely as I don’t think anything is really more important than strategy, but I do think that a great culture makes for a great strategy and that you can win by focusing on creating a great culture as a way to meet many other marketing related objectives.

Here are couple examples of what I mean.

  • Freshbooks founder Mike McDermott told me about something his company does. Once a month or so he allows his developers to take a day and compete in what he calls a “hackoff.” The idea is that they can develop anything they like and submit it to an eager panel of employees who get to vote on the winner – over pizza and beer I’m guessing. The thing is, while some of the developments are fun, creative, steam blow-offs, many are fixes to little annoying things in there product. It’s really interesting to see how this spark of innovation in the culture makes everyone want to make the company better. Is that personality or strategy or both?
  • I fly Southwest Airlines a lot. I love so many things they do and it’s no wonder they are profitable in a tough industry. One of the things they do for frequent flyers is send out drink coupons for so many flights taken. Then, instead of paying $5 for a beer, you just use a coupon. But, here’s something they do (I can’t prove it scientifically, but I have plenty of evidence.) Anytime a flight is even 10 minutes late leaving the gate and I order a beer (which I sometimes do!), they never ask for my coupon. They don’t tell me I get a free drink because they were late, they just give it to me. I’m pretty sure they have empowered their people to make this call and it goes hand in hand with some many other personality traits their brand enjoys. Is that culture or strategy or both?
  • Lastly, there’s this little tiny coffee shop by my house called Hi Hat Coffee. The owner is a very outgoing chap who seems to know the name of every customer and loves to chat. He’s actually not there that often, which is even more amazing. However, every employee he’s ever hired has these same qualities. I don’t know where he finds these young, outgoing, enthusiastic, life-loving workers, but he’s never hired a dud. One thing they’ve obviously decided to adopt is to inquire about your day. Not, how’s it going, but – “what do you have planned for today.” Every employee asks every customer, regular and newbie alike, that same question. But, here’s what makes it work – they mean it, they really want to hear about what you are doing and the conversations it sparks are awesome. Is that personality or strategy or both?

So, what personality traits could you shine up and make a part of your overall marketing and people strategy? What traits could you hire for? What traits could you coach? What traits should you keep in the closet? In what way is just being you helping or hurting your marketing strategy? The answers to these question might let you find a story that could power your business for a long, long time.

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  • barbaraling

    Love what Freshbooks does!

    I remember a company at which I worked once had a B.A.D. idea day – (the “bad” stood for 'buck a day'). Never did catch on (and that really doesn't surprise me).

    Freshbooks is far more innovative

  • jonathankay

    John – Couldn't agree more with this post on a whole, or your choice of “personality” over culture. This is a real thing, and frankly it works. Grasshopper actually pays bonuses here 50% based on HOW we do your work and 50% on WHAT we do. On top of that, every employee is empowered to make the work place whatever they want and encourages to share what they are passionate about with their colleagues.

    And that doesn't even count the fact that we get half day Fridays in the summer(where we all BBQ together) or our Nintendo Wii Room!

    I am the living example that the right “company personality” makes coming to work….fun.

    Jonathan

    • lauraclick

      I've long argued the fact that office culture (or personality) is important…not only for the employees, but for the benefit of the customers as well. Perhaps my feelings on this has been exacerbated by the fact that I've worked at places with some poor office culture. If you empower your employees, innovation occurs and people WANT to go above and beyond. Google is another great example of a company with great personality.

      • Elizabeth_H

        The same can be exemplified in the theatre world. In the evenings after my marketing job, performing is what rejuvenates me. If you have the right personality and culture built into the cast it can't help but reflect that in the performances and thus the audience has a better experience. Yes the rehearsals and technical things are important, but it's that personality and culture that give the show the extra sparkle that keeps that audience raving about it afterwards.

  • http://BarkingUnicorn.wordpress.com/ The Barking Unicorn

    > he states that “culture is more important that strategy.” I’m not sure I agree completely as I don’t think anything is really more important than strategy

    Culture is strategy that is not schemed. Culture is simple. Every honest, true thing is simple. The more complex a thing becomes, the less likely it is to remain honest or true.

    • christineadams

      I agree. Take for example the coffee shop. The owner's personality becomes the culture of the business. If he tried to force that by creating a strategy behind it, it would lose its luster. His personality is reflected in his staff and it remains “honest and true.”

      Excellent article! I also enjoyed your comment Barking Unicorn!

  • tomtroughton

    I think that the key here is not just “personality” but authentic care and enthusiasm, which are very attractive to people. Like the employees in the coffee shop – the customers feel great because the interest they receive is authentic.

  • http://www.walton.com/ Conrad Walton

    This is making me think about my own business. I think I know what my “personality” is, but I think I need to ask some of my clients what they think it is. This needs some more research. Thanks for pushing me.

  • deborahrichmond

    I love this subject. Once upon a time I worked at a compay that had an awful and scarry personality. It taught me so much about how a company personality can affect your bottom line. I adore the companies that have a great personality. Working with those clients is so envigorating and exciting.

  • rayramon

    It definitely is a strategy. It's part of the know , like trust – the LIKE is so important.

    Ramon Ray, Editor & Technology Evangelist, Smallbiztechnology.com

  • http://twitter.com/BarkingUnicorn David Hakala

    This is the only personality strategy that works; several examples:

    http://barkingunicorn.wordpress.com/2009/08/12/

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tinu-Abayomi-Paul/703357594 Tinu Abayomi-Paul

    That's excellent advice. I'd add, don't just rely on automatic delivery and autoresponders. Get a phone number, get a live person to answer it. People will work for cheap these days – if your phones aren't busy you can even get an intern to do it.

    And for orders, get your staff to follow up with a personal email at some point.

    And every now and then, maybe one day a week, take some customer service calls yourself. Very illuminating. And people love it.

    (And they buy more. But you didn't hear that from me. ;-D)

  • http://redhotfranchises.com/ RedHotFranchises

    Your company's personality is usually dictated by the leader's personality. Become what you want your company to become is a great starting point to achieving the type of recognition you want with the World. It is indeed a Strategy. Another great post!

  • smallbusinessmarketing

    John:
    There is a restaurant I go to around the corner from my house and I always feel special there. Every member of the wait staff and even some of the kitchen staff have a smiel and a comment for me. The place definitely has personality and the two owners typify what the rest of th estaff does.

    You are spot on with this.

    Thanks

  • Stores_Online

    Hey friend! Of course Personality is a great strategy for all,and for the business professionals its must be needed,bcoz its shows the power or strength of your business which give you success in every business,so thanks for the innovative and informative ideas,keep up post cont………..stay tune with us having new updates.Have a lots of………………………..fun:)