Culture or Strategy?

I’m a huge Peter Drucker fan and with my participation in the upcoming global forum in Vienna, I am reading blogs, HBR articles and books about Drucker’s contribution to management, leadership and organizational effectiveness.

This post is about culture and strategy but from a consultant or sales perspective – let me explain.

If you are asked by a client or potential client to help them create a video, campaign or branding strategy to influence a change or action that goes against cultural norms (whether organization or society) – should you do it?

I think that culture will always trump strategy if they are opposed. As Peter Drucker is rumored to have said:

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” …or lunch or over lunch for that matter!

A few months ago, I read an interesting article by Seth Godin and in it, he touches on how a movie to stop people from driving and texting (or using their smartphone) isn’t going to solve the problem because it is competing against several cornerstones of “our culture” (referring to Western culture I assume). Godin states:

•The culture of the car as a haven, a roving office, and a place where you do what you like
•The culture of the Marlboro man, no speed limiters in cars, ‘optional’ speed limits on roads
•The culture of connection and our fear of being left out
•The culture of technology, and our bias to permit it first and ask questions later

And he advises in this same article that “if you get a marketing assignment where you’re out to change even one of these deeply held beliefs, consider finding a new client. All four? There’s no marketing lever long enough to do this work.”

Cultural norms are so strong that even the best marketing strategy might not work. While this may be frustrating it opens up an even bigger opportunity to consider:

A marketing (or business) strategy that goes along with cultural norms of society or of an organization, is almost certain to be amazingly successful.

So, going back to the question I posed at the beggining of this blog: should you take on a marketing assignment that goes against cultural norms? I would suggest rethinking the marketing strategy – not necessarily stepping out of the box but working within it to find a solution that uses culture to the best advantage in promoting or telling a compelling story.

Culture or strategy? Why not both?

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3 thoughts on “Culture or Strategy?

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