Conversation Agent - Valeria Maltoni - Our Search for Meaning

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Clearly, everything is perception -- we see the world as we are. So we have a personal philosophy about culture and a sense of what the right culture (or fit) means for us. Culture informs brands, and is distinct from them.

To give you a local example, W. L. Gore & Associates (makers of Goretex) is an extremely flat organization where people join projects on the basis of interest -- "our culture is a model for contemporary organizations seeking growth by unleashing creativity and fostering team-work." They have 8,000 associates in more than 45 locations around the world; it's not a problem of scale, it's a problem of leadership and attitude.

From their site: "Everyone can quickly earn the credibility to define and drive projects. Sponsors help associates chart a course in the organization that will offer personal fulfillment while maximizing their contribution to the enterprise. Leaders may be appointed, but are defined by 'followership.' More often, leaders emerge naturally by demonstrating special knowledge, skill, or experience that advances a business objective."

Does it matter to consumers? I think you say it yourself -- yes. While we may not be conscious of it, it shines through in the products.

Culture... Such a strange term. Some, like Metlife, sponsor cultural events. (They also sponsor golf tournaments, so go figure!) Others, like one company I worked for, spoke often about their "collegial" culture. (I didn't know, than, that that ridiculous phrase stood for "asinine political backstabbing!" I do now.)

Corporate culture can affect so much; Harley Davidson, when they affected their turn-around concentrated on two things: their own corporate culture, and creating a new culture around their brand. They considered the two things to be different - and they are. I look at how Harley-Davidson resuscitated themselves, and I look at how Ducati's corporate culture operates... And I know that Ducati's will be an exclusive, and excellent, machine for quite some time. :-)

(Ducati's corporate culture is described very readably by David Gross, in "Fast Company". I somehow doubt the company he talks about is Moto Guzzi!)

But what does the average consumer care for the corporate culture? They don't; I wanted to know how Ducati's were created: Mr Gross was kind enough to write a book about his experiences, and it was published when I wanted to know. Fortuitous, perhaps? :-)

On the other hand, I once had the unenviable job of explaining IBM's communications protocols to an "apprentice". I didn't actually explain the protocols: I explained how IBM was structured, and how they thought. (At that time - I hasten to add!) After that, the protocols and the logic behind them was explainable. Believe me: it isn't, otherwise.

But when I buy an Apple computer, I'm not particularly concerned about their corporate culture. Actually, I don't a hoot. I know something about it, simply because I pay attention to these things. But as a consideration in my purchase decisions? Not a factor. Steve Jobs created an external cultural reference to sell his products, which is a bit different to Harley-Davidson.

Microsoft is endlessly tooting how they employ these incredible geniuses (geniuii? :-) ); but the products don't match the perception, created by popular culture, of what a genius should produce. Apple, somehow, manages to convey both a genius and a rebel with their "think different" campaign. Which is such a success it's become a popular cultural reference in its own right! (When was the last time anyone thought about Microsoft advertising?)

People will buy into a perception of culture more than they will buy into anything else. Harrod's has, for quite some years, exploited that fact very successfully. You can get many of the products they sell elsewhere, and cheaper. But walking into the neighborhood with the Harrod's groceries, or having their delivery van turn up? It's still the bees-knees for many. It's not the products they sell, it's the entire cultural reference. People pay for it, and gladly! (Heck, when I lived in London, Harrod's was my regular Saturday afternoon event!) I guess Nordstrom's is a sort-of-not-that-far-off US equivalent, but without anything like the cachet.

Harley-Davidson, getting back to them, created a factory where workers could feel they were contributing to the company. Not so much to the bottom line - that's fairly unimportant to many people - but to the satisfaction that people got from the products. They sold over 350,000 bikes - in the US - last year. (For comparison, Ducati sold a little less than 34,000, worldwide!) "Queer Eye" just had an episode where an NYC firefighter showed Carson an entire closet of Harley-Davidson clothing. This is beyond brand recognition: this is a culture, all of its own. But if, say, Ford suddenly came out with a factory's worth of clothing - they would be perceived as frauds, trying to create what doesn't exist: not enough of their products are "special" enough to elicit more than a bewildered grunt that it actually exists. (The bewilderment coming from the bemusement that such a product actually exists...) BMW worked hard t create a culture around the Mini; they didn't exploit any of their existing cultural references.

Now, how you create a culture... That I'll leave to those who know what they're talking about. Like Valeria! :-)

Carolyn Ann

PS Sorry, I got a bit carried away! It started as a small post, but, like me, expanded a bit, unintentionally... :-)

@Karen -- I think it's the same reason that some sales people use FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) in their pitches; it works enough times to think it will continue to work all the time. Of course, they do not see or experience how much better it would work with a different approach. Think about a mash up of MBA programs and a culture of "entitlement" and you can see how unless the pain from toxic is felt deeply and personally, that is the default position. It doesn't mean that people do not feel the need and desire for a different approach -- that is what they say to products and services that do not meet that need. It just hasn't caught up with the companies making those products/services as connected.

@Joe -- oh my, I wish companies stopped using language that does not reflect practice. Thank you for sharing resources, I will explore both. We are all craving action, making things right...

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