Why Brands Need a Culture Stack

By Adam Kleinberg

Today, great brands are built through experiences people love at the speed people live. Brands must penetrate culture and harness data through marketing technology to create an amazing omnichannel experience.

For brands struggling to sustainably reinvent themselves, I offer a new construct, the Culture Stack. The Culture Stack brings process and capabilities together to form an operating ethos that meets the most critical needs of today's marketers.

Today's CMO sits between a rock and a hard place.

On one hand, performance marketing has gotten harder. The majority of marketers are seeing declining efficiency. Facebook's removal of targeting capabilities, Apple's IDFA changes, and the impending cookie apocalypse have all contributed to this. Marketers addicted to predictive analytics and guaranteed ROI are trembling with withdrawal shakes.

The other implication is a shift in focus to brand. But media consumption has fractured the mass market into a million omnidirectional screens of glass. Opportunities to achieve the scale we used to reach through TV are few and far between.

Many companies have looked to technology as a panacea, investing millions in licenses and consulting fees to build out massive tech stacks in response to Big Tech (Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon). Some agencies freaked out and made Frankensteining a proprietary tech stack a top priority.

Is that money being spent wisely?

Often, no. When Traction conducts martech audits, we regularly uncover tens or hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of dollars in tech debt. Redundant features being paid for with two, three or more vendors. Other powerful features being paid for, but not being used because no one either knows how or has the time to implement them.

Having a tool isn't the same as having a capability. I own a power saw, a drill and a hammer, but I had to hire someone to build a fence in my backyard (and they brought their own tools that were better than mine).

The Culture Stack: Your Capability Portfolio

The Culture Stack is necessary to deliver experiences that will fuel sustained growth. This spans from technology and data expertise to creative development through a lens of culture.

A complete Culture Stack connects the dots between technology and culture. It includes measurement and analytics, data and infrastructure on one side; omnichannel distribution, publicity, and social media on the other; and the elements of your narrative in between: branding and positioning, experience and product design, and perhaps most importantly, creative and content development.

At the foundation of this stack lies clean, well-structured data, advanced analytics, and a marketing infrastructure that is mapped to an enhanced customer journey. This requires strategic planning to understand, improve and measure that journey, and the analytics expertise to implement the best mar-tech to bring it to life.

The Culture Stack also ensures that you create stories, campaigns and experiences that tell your message through a lens of culture. Babs Rangaiah, formerly the top digital executive at Unilever (and now a strategy consultant with Traction), learned that lesson on campaigns like Dove's "Real Beauty," which spurred massive growth of the Dove brand.

Critical Ways of Working for a High-Performing Culture Stack

Many marketers may have most — or even all of these capabilities but are still not delivering.

The way you approach these capabilities is the secret sauce. There are three of them:

The first is culture lensing. Being attuned to what's happening in an audience's culture is a powerful lens to express your story. This is what can elevate campaigns to high engagement through a powerful narrative that best distinguishes your positioning.

Design thinking is an ideation methodology, using empathy, common sense and testing. It should be used in journey mapping, communications planning and even data structure and technology implementation.

Often, these essential marketing practices are constructed around internal goals and pre-existing infrastructure. Design thinking empowers you to build your stack around the needs, desires and behaviors of your actual customers.

Finally, marketers need to future-proof their brands through applied foresight — becoming true thought leaders through experimentation and knowledge sharing around emerging technologies.

Of course, it may be impossible for most brands to have in-house, best-in-class expertise in every one of the capabilities required in a Culture Stack — especially in an environment where great talent is scarce. A fourth enabler is building expertise in managing a liquid workforce of fractional talent and strategic partnerships to fill the gaps in your in-house capability without skyrocketing operating expenses.

Building a Culture Stack is really about building your end-to-end marketing function around the needs, desires and behaviors of your customers. Satisfy those and you'll earn and keep customers that love and are loyal to your brand.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Adam Kleinberg is CEO of Traction.