Jean Giraudoux once said, “The secret to success is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”
It’s a funny indictment of how to take exactly the wrong approach to authenticity. But too often, brands and marketers miss the sarcasm. We target an audience, then carefully cultivate an image to appeal to them. We create the appearance of a culture that matches theirs. And then we’re surprised when our target audience sees right through it.
What if we stopped trying to fake sincerity and turned the whole process inside out? Instead of crafting a culture to match an audience, why not attract the audience that matches your culture?
In his presentation at Content Marketing World, adidas’ Frank Thomas shared how the athletic wear company defines their culture and broadcasts it to their potential audience. Frank and his team created Gameplan A, a content hub that expresses the company’s culture.
The twist is that the site is for internal and external messaging–same channels, same content. They’re not crafting an image, they’re broadcasting their identity. The content on Gameplan A clearly says, “This is what we are like. If you’re like us, this is your community, too.” That approach makes it easier for people to connect and form a lasting relationship with the brand.
Here’s how adidas puts culture at the core of their content marketing strategy.
Culture Is Content Marketing’s North Star
According to Frank, the digital world is so complex and volatile that our go-to tools for audience identification are no longer sufficient. Personas, scenarios, observed past behavior–they all change as fast as we can construct them.
Instead of trying to become what an ever-changing audience wants, Frank says, make culture your north star. Define what your brand stands for and you can become a beacon to your most valuable audience.
Frank identified four crucial components of a brand’s culture:
- Values. What ethical notions form the foundation of the brand?
- Ideas. What unique ideas arise from these values?
- Convictions. What beliefs drive the brand’s actions?
- Behaviors. How does the brand express these convictions, ideas, and values?
Added together, your values, ideas, convictions and behaviors form your identity.
Once your identity is established, you can move from product marketing to culture marketing. As Frank said, “We’re not selling shoes. We’re communicating on behalf of the brand, building trust in our target audience.”
Gameplan A aims to build a community of like-minded people, including employees, potential recruitment candidates, but also consumers who might become advocates for the brand. The brand’s culture, expressed through Gameplan A’s content, acts as a beacon for those who share the brand’s values.
How to Express Your Culture Through Content Marketing
When you filter content through the lens of your brand’s culture, you can form stronger, more valuable connections with your audience. Frank explained how his team uses Gameplan A to promote adidas’ culture:
#1: Align Internal and External Messaging
According to Frank, it’s crucial to start by engaging your employees. Make sure they understand your culture and believe it’s sincere. Then employees can help spread the message to your audience in a more authentic way.
When your internal and external messaging share the same culture, you can have a meaningful exchange of ideas with your community: Your audience can actually bring value to your continued cultural evolution.
#2: Find Your Uniqueness and Focus In
Sports are adidas’ primary focus. But they’re not just addressing people who love sports–that’s too large a segment to create a meaningful connection with. So they refined their audience segment further, zeroing in on people who are creative, collaborative, and confident: Entrepreneurs and drivers of change. Then they further focused in on those who are actively trying to make a difference, continually self-improving, striving for the new.
This process of segmentation, refinement, and focus can help you find the audience most aligned with your brand’s culture. That is, the audience most relevant and receptive to your messaging.
#3: Make Your Personality Shine
Once you establish your brand’s culture, don’t hide it on your “About” page. Apply your cultural filter to every piece of content you create.
For Gameplan A, Frank created a culture guide that creators can follow to make sure each piece of content meets their cultural DNA. The guide outlines what Frank calls “Mega Themes,” the key topics of interest where their expertise intersects with audience needs. Any new content must address one of these themes to be considered for publication.
#4: Commit Yourself for the Long Haul
It takes time to build a culture-driven brand, to build a community with content that expresses your brand identity. So it’s vital to set expectations and allocate resources accordingly. Prepare your team for a marathon, not a sprint, before you step onto the track.
#5: Involve Your Role Models
The people who inspire your brand’s culture can make powerful collaborators for co-creating content. Gameplan A curates content from their heroes, and works with them to create original content.
But it’s not just about working with influencers–some of your most inspiring role models are right in your community. Gameplan A offers their community the chance to suggest topics, ask questions, recommend content, and even submit proposals for drafting content to be published on the hub.
Keeping It Extra Real
To start building your community of like-minded individuals–your most relevant audience–don’t try to fake sincerity. Start by firmly establishing your brand’s culture. Document the values, ideas, convictions and behaviors that define your identity. Then make that culture the guiding light of your content marketing strategy.
When your culture is genuine, shared throughout the organization, and expressed in all you do, you won’t have to chase your most valued audience: They’ll be drawn to you.