Your marketing team is bigger than you think.

Recognized or not, and without respect to title or placement on the org chart, your firm is investing mightily in the human resource side of the marketing equation.

Doubt it?

When guests encounter the receptionist, a marketing message is delivered.

Every time a billing clerk, administrative assistant, IT or finance manager has a conversation with a client, vendor or allied professional, the firm’s brand is being enhanced. Or diminished.

And yes…even the partner that puts as much distance as possible between her/his profession and the marketing staff is a reflection on the brand of the firm.

Protests aside, in today’s enterprise everyone is a marketer.  Whether this extended force is delivering a message and experience consistent with an over-arching go-to-market strategy depends on the marketing fabric of your firm’s culture.

Zappos has it. The Ritz-Carlton has it. A couple of airlines seem to try hard…and get partial credit. The same is true for one or two unnamed big retailers. You may have a favorite restaurant that looks for ways to connect from the moment you walk in.

And it should be a watermark of your firm.

But you can mark this down: wherever fights for credit, perpetual turf wars, or disparate goals and objectives occupy attention and energy — not to mention, wherever there is a pervasive CYA mindset — your culture is at odds with the potential you otherwise possess.

Building Blocks of a Marketing Culture

A marketing culture is not at odds with the decorum of a dignified profession. Nor is it about one department being more important than another. This is not a provincial discussion.

Rather, a highly functioning marketing culture is rooted in a firm’s mission and vision. It connotes a mindset that maximizes every intersection with the market. It seeks opportunities for interaction with targets and clients. It is about seeding and nurturing strategic relationships.

In the best organizations, it transcends department, and is embraced by all.

In his book, Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit, Jim Stengel documents a decade long study of the world’s 50 leading businesses. According to the study, businesses that invest in culture experience a growth rate 3 times that of other companies.

Adapting Stengel’s findings to the professional services sector, here are five ways in which leadership can cultivate a culture that leverages human resources for, growth and business development.

1. Share the vision.

Most firms establish business goals. But culture is about two things that transcend goals, action plans and budgets. These are:

  • what brings you together — what consultant Roger Hayse of Hayse LLC refers to as shared aspirations; and,
  • communication — the kind that gives rise to the relentless pursuit of a clearly understood vision. This pursuit becomes the framework for initiatives, the test for opportunities, and the foundation of a pervasive marketing perspective.

2. Define the language.

Every culture shares a vocabulary that reflects what is valued. It is easily accessible, and resonates inside as well as outside the firm. Far from marketing fluff or spin, it is the lingua franca of priorities, principles and even big hairy audacious goals.

3. Build for the pursuit.

A firm’s vision is as unique as its makeup. The pursuit of that vision calls for a set of unique capabilities. The highly productive and profitable organizations maintain a laser-like focus on what is required in pursuit of the vision. This focus shapes growth and investment.

4. Establish the highest standards.

Visions that stir are seldom second-rate. The standards for the performance of everyone in the firm should be no less aspirational. An insistence upon excellence taps into the best that a team has to offer. And it is a cultural hallmark of organizations that win.

5. Recognize and reward.

Reinforce the culture you value by putting recognition where your mouth is. It need not always be an economic reward; HR and behavioral scientists have long extolled the virtue of a spectrum of recognition. But make it real. Recognize those that embrace the pursuit of the vision.

Culture communicates. It becomes its own eloquent and memorable message. When aligned with aspirations and vision, it underscores and instinctively supports strategically targeted business development efforts.

It does not supplant the highest caliber counsel and service as a firm’s chief deliverable. But a culture of marketing — a perspective that seeks the opportunity to connect with the market as a tangible representation of the firm’s commitment to serve — might be one of the most significant investments in growth and profitability a firm can make. It is certainly a key to empowering a legion of (oft times reluctant) marketers.