Well, we made it to the last of three posts on our company culture. If you haven’t yet read Part I: Who We Are and Part II: What We Do, go check them out! Once you’ve finished, come back and learn how we do what we do. It all has to do with attitude…
We Approach Our Work With Optimism and Tenacity
One thing about the world of marketing, especially Internet marketing, is that it’s always changing. If you fight that notion or aren’t accepting of that reality, it’s easy to get frustrated.
Google and Facebook make the rules in a lot of instances, and we have to stay within their boundaries and guidelines if we want to play the game. Sometimes we work really hard for a result only to have the “rules” change a week later. But that doesn’t mean we can just throw in the towel. We have to keep at it.
In a world like this, some days it can seem like no progress is made at all. But being committed to approaching our work with optimism and tenacity helps us persevere and press on when facing daunting tasks, ever-changing rules and algorithms, and long and arduous processes.
Maintaining positivity and being committed to giving it our all, day in and day out, inspires us to work hard for our clients and helps us remember why we’re here and what we’re here to do. It reminds us not to give up when the going gets tough or hide when we don’t have the answers. Instead, we brainstorm. We research. We test. We look at the challenge from different angles. We try and try again until we meet, and in some extra-rewarding cases, exceed our expectations.
It can be easy to forget who we’re working for and with and why we do what we do if we don’t maintain a positive outlook and feel truly invested in those we partner with. A commitment to approaching our work with optimism and tenacity helps prevent burnout so we can continue serving our clients. But what helps us get to the bottom of things and do the real problem solving? The next value…
We Face Our Challenges With a Curious and Open Mind
Challenges come at us in different ways and from different directions, but solutions are not always cookie-cutter or universal in scope. Although it can be tempting to dive in and tackle problems the same way we always have or resist changing our way of doing things, facing challenges with a curious and open mind allows us to see things we might otherwise miss, and discover new, creative solutions to challenges we’re facing.
This openness and curiosity enables us to find faster, more efficient ways of doing things, and helps us overcome challenges that would be overwhelming if we were rigid and close-minded. It also opens us up to the opinions and suggestions of others – and we all know two heads are better than one.
Ultimately, this doesn’t just make our daily work easier and more enjoyable; it also benefits our clients. When we’re open, curious, and willing to listen to others, we are able to provide better, more customized service to our clients. And that is, after all, why Spark Marketer exists.
In our last post, we talked about who we are as a company, as determined by the values outlined during our company-wide culture workshop. This week, we’re talking about the values that define the culture surrounding what we do.
Without further ado, Values, Part II: What We Do.
We Cultivate Meaningful Partnerships
When asked what we do here at Spark Marketer, we don’t think about securing, hosting, and building websites, creating listings, building citations, posting blogs, or managing social media. We do all of those things and more, but our first thought is the relationships we cultivate each and every day.
We work alongside our clients to help them achieve greater success and extend their services to more people within their communities. Our goal is not to do just the bare minimum, and the phrase, “that’s not my job” is a four letter word here in the office.
Instead, our goal is to partner with our clients, come alongside them as they navigate their way in business, and do everything we can to help. We seek to become an integral part of our clients’ marketing and operations and help them succeed.
When our clients have questions, even if it’s about supplemental marketing services or business decisions, we want to be a resource and a help. Why? A success for our clients is a success for us – whether it’s a marketing success, a business success, or even a personal success.
We win only when our clients win, which is why we strive to build long-lasting partnerships, grow with our clients and their businesses, and help them reach new heights. This brings us to our next “what we do” value…
We Invest in People and Their Dreams
Here at Spark Marketer, we realize that every person has his or her own individual dreams, and we’re all about creating plans of action to help others achieve those dreams. That’s why we get to know our clients and their dreams and goals for both their businesses and their lives.
Once we know these dreams, we align our efforts and personalize our approach to marketing to help them reach their dreams faster. When you know that the work you do for a client is getting them closer to their goals and allowing them to pursue their dreams, nothing you do is a waste of time. It’s all rewarding!
Whether we’re encouraging an employee to develop her artistic talents launch a business, or helping a business owner realize his dream of expanding his business nationally, starting a non-profit charity organization, putting his kids through college, or changing the world by providing spectacular customer service, we work to provide the support and encouragement needed to make dreams realities.
We firmly believe that by helping those we work with and for reach the goals they’ve set for their lives, we can help make a larger, more meaningful impact on the world around us. And this culture of support and encouragement starts at the top here at Spark Marketer.
Taylor and Carter are always willing to invest in continuing education and training for employees when there is a desire to grow and learn. Interested in Google Ads? No one’s going to stop you from exploring that path. Why? If you’re doing what you’re passionate about, you’re going to be happier, and you’re going to do a better job. All of these investments strengthen our company and our partnerships, and encourage better service for those we serve and those our clients serve.
Here at Spark Marketer, we’ve always had a cherished unspoken culture. But over the last couple of years we’ve nearly tripled in size, which got us thinking: As we add to our team and grow as a company, how do we protect and preserve our prized culture?
Without taking the time to define that culture, it’s really quite impossible, which is why we decided it was time to put who we are, what we do, and how we do it in writing. And that, of course, meant meeeetings.
Since we all play a part in creating and preserving the company’s culture, we all need to be a part in determining just what makes up that culture. So, we got together as a team and dedicated three days in May to identifying our culture and values, so we could define and set our mission, purpose, and vision for the company going forward.
What came out of this culture workshop was so important and so telling of who we are, what we do, and how we do it as a team, we thought it a good idea to share each value and what it means to us. So, over the next three posts, that’s just what we’ll do. Let’s jump right in with the values related to who we are…
We Are Honest and Accountable
While discussing our personal values and the character qualities we each felt were essential to our culture, honesty and accountability came up over and over again. But these qualities weren’t just discussed as being important for others to possess, they were discussed time and time again as valued personal traits. Every single member of our team felt that honesty and accountability were cornerstone traits to who we are as a company and keys to longevity and success.
Honesty and accountability are especially important in our industry, because one commonality between almost all of our clients is that they’ve been misled by a marketing company. This past deception is almost always to blame for any challenges we face when onboarding clients, and we get it. We have to earn their trust. We have to show them that, even though they’ve been lied to in the past, they’re now working with a company that values transparency and honesty.
We strive to be honest in everything we do – honest with ourselves, our co-workers, our clients, and our vendors. Because we have great respect for each other and those we work for and with, being honest is really the only option. But beyond that, we’re a company that does what we say we’ll do.
We know talk is cheap if it’s not backed up by action. In the words of Taylor, “the reality is,” our word is only as good as our follow-through. Together, honesty and accountability are crucial, not only because it’s what our clients expect, but because it’s what our clients deserve.
We hold ourselves and each other accountable to provide our clients with the best possible results and to follow through with what we say we’re going to do. Not following through and keeping our word is a form of dishonesty, and we believe those we work with and for deserve better. We cannot serve our clients well without being honest with ourselves and others and without being open to being held accountable.
What’s this look like in every day life? It’s taking great effort to be upfront about the length of time a project will take and what is and isn’t possible, because we want to be truthful in all our dealings. This doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes have hiccups or obstacles that pop up and change those expectations – it simply means that when those hiccups occur and obstacles pop up, we communicate this with our clients and work to get beyond them to get the work done.
The weight that we give honesty and accountability is tied to the high value we place on respect and the importance of showing respect to others in regards to how we speak, how we act, and how we treat their time, which leads us to our next value.
We Act With Compassion and Respect
One of the things we believe about respect is that it’s not something that should wane and wax over time and with interaction. It’s not something that depends upon whether or not we agree. It doesn’t differ from person to person. You deserve respect because you’re a fellow human being. Period. Respect should be present always, in all our dealings.
Each and every one of us is unique. We bring our own unique talents and knowledge to our work and to the way we approach problems and life. By showing respect, we open ourselves to the possibility of learning from others and seeing the world through a different lens or from a different perspective. This respect breeds compassion and helps us to be mindful and considerate of others. Alternately, as soon as we stop acting with respect, we instantly lose the ability to learn from others and we shut our minds to countless possibilities.
So how does compassion and respect show up in our every day?
Every morning, we share what we are working on. This isn’t a backdoor version of micromanaging – it’s so we can be respectful of each other’s time and consider what each member of our team has going on each day. It gives us all a chance to see into the lives of those we work with, look for ways to be helpful, and give each person the space and support needed. This simple task-sharing exercise helps build compassion and respect as we work together for our clients’ success.
But this compassion and respect extends beyond our office – we strive to act with compassion and respect towards our clients as well. Stepping back and shifting perspectives to see where a client is coming from isn’t always easy, but it’s imperative. We can’t serve our clients well if we don’t respect them, empathize with them, and try to understand where they’re coming from. We can’t help our clients if we think we’re above them or better than them on some level. Anyone lacking compassion simply isn’t able to lead or serve others. As partners with our clients, we MUST have compassion.
That said, we are only human, and sometimes we mess up, which leads us to our next value.
We Own Who We Are and What We Do
As a team, we need to know we can count on each other. And this means taking ownership when something goes wrong or we fail to follow through effectively. To err is human; to own up is divine.
Everyone makes mistakes, but the best way to learn and prevent widespread damage is to take responsibility and work on solutions. Pointing the finger doesn’t do any good and it certainly doesn’t encourage teamwork and cooperation.
Here at Spark Marketer, we strive to minimize mistakes as much as possible, which is why we have so many SOPs and systems in place. But when we do err, we’re honest about it. We own up to our shortcomings, we take responsibility for the repercussions, and we hold ourselves accountable.
Not one of us is perfect, but we can’t get better if we aren’t honest with ourselves and others and willing to work on getting better. Together, we can be better, do better, and serve better, which brings us to our last “who we are” value in this post.
Together, we __________________
Fill in the blank. Because whatever happens, we’re in this together. We partner with each and every one of our clients and each and every member of our team, so whether we’re having fun, helping veterans (with Warrior Horse), solving a problem, or struggling to keep business afloat, we do it together. We’re invested in the success of this company and in the success of every company we serve. And that means every success, every failure, every mistake, every opportunity impacts us all.
Every person here at Spark Marketer and every client we partner with should feel that support and know that we’re really in this together. From sending cards to clients who are dealing with the loss of a pet or loved one, to helping with the vet bills of an employee or going in together on Wrestlemania tickets for a diehard fan (Alex, our graphic designer), we strive to cultivate a real sense of community and communicate the message that whatever we do, we do it together.
A brand message breakdown can have far-reaching negative effects on your company’s image, and can ultimately affect your company’s fate. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Yelp, Google…there are more soap boxes for dissatisfied customers to shout from than ever before. And because these platforms don’t have borders, messages can go further, faster. All it takes is one negative experience to change the perceptions of many.
Most of us have come to terms with this reality and know that businesses can’t afford to have an “off” day or even an “off” moment. There is no “on” or “off” time for service businesses in the Internet age. But should this level of speed and transparency really change anything? We’d argue no.
If you think about it, there’s never been a time when it was okay for service businesses to be inconsistent in their messages or service experience The only real difference is that now, we, the business owners, can very clearly see the messages our customers are putting out there regarding their experiences with us. And these messages can go much further and be seen by a lot more people.
These messages are heard by other customers and potential customers, and become part of our brand message, whether we like it or not. For many of us, just the thought of this is scarier than running out of TP in a public restroom.
But many business owners are so consumed by their fear of negative online reviews and comments that they shut down – they miss the treasure altogether and forget to ask the questions that really matter. Questions like:
Are certain people or behaviors in my company sending out the wrong messages and hurting my business? Where is my message breaking down and why? Do my employees know what our brand message is and how they’re expected to communicate it?
You see, it’s not that business owners got breaks or “had it good” in the pre-Internet age. It’s not that you should fear (or hate) the platforms that now give your customers a far-reaching voice. And it’s not that you should focus your efforts on trying to weed out the Negative Nancys that might leave your business a bad review.
Instead, you should focus on where, how, and why your brand’s message is breaking down, so you can work on making that message clearer and more consistent. When you do that, you’ll find that some of that fear around online reviews dissipates.
And as you do that, remember: Your brand message isn’t just coming from your marketing department these days, but from every post on your social accounts and every single employee that is a part of the customer experience. So, if you’re cringing at the messages your customers are receiving and the messages your customers are sharing about their experiences with your brand, zoom out and take a hard look at what’s really wrong.
All it Takes is One Inconsistency to Destroy Brand Trust & Skew Brand Message
I recently went to a new coffee shop in town to grab a Green Tea latte and get some work done. I was pretty excited when I walked in to find the place empty, with the exception of one employee. In fact, I texted my coworker several confetti emojis to express my joy.
Post-text, I placed my order, took a look around, and chose the perfect little table with the perfect lighting. As jazz music played softly, I opened up my laptop and prepared for a record-breaking productivity streak. But shortly after I started typing, the barista picked up her cell phone, prematurely ending my epic productivity streak.
She talked with her friend about every car her brother had ever had, when she had last taken the bus to work, how her mom had been nagging her to get her flu shot…yada, yada, yada. It completely ruined the atmosphere and made it impossible to focus. My hopes were dashed.
But, as a relatively easygoing person, I decided to give the barista the benefit of the doubt. I figured she would hang up any minute and restore the focus-friendly atmosphere that we’ve all come to love and expect in a coffee shop. Instead, she committed the cardinal sin: she talked about the customer and the job as an inconvenience…in front of the customer (me).
“There’s nobody here…just one person. It’s so slow…” “I told you, I’ll do that when I’m able. I have a customer and it’s a very small place.” “I still have hours to go and I just want to leave…”
Ok, now I just felt awkward. My patience had worn thin, so I packed up my stuff and headed to the door. As I left she said, “Have a nice night.”
Now, I know everyone thinks millennials are the worst and have no idea what professionalism looks like, but I’m here to defend at least some of us. I’ve had several jobs in the service industry and I would never have considered having a personal conversation in front of a customer. In fact, I would have lost my job if I pulled out my phone while working. But this millennial…she didn’t seem to have a problem completely decimating the line between professional and personal.
What was the difference between me (a millennial) and this girl (also a millennial)? I’d argue that one of us knew the brand message we were expected to communicate and how we were expected to communicate it, and the other didn’t (or didn’t respect it enough to follow through).
Well, who cares? I had one bad experience at a coffee shop that I otherwise loved. No harm done, right? Eh. Actually, that one bad experience forever tainted my view of the shop. It altered my perception of the brand and made me question the kind of customer experience I would have on my next visit.
I lost trust and confidence in the brand and the experience the brand provided. In other words: even though I had positive experiences with the brand in the past, the honeymoon was over.
The point is: Making sure some of your employees “get it” isn’t good enough. It’s important that every single one of your employees is crystal clear on expectations and brand message, because just one bad apple can end the honeymoon for your customers and decrease their trust in your company. Just one bad experience can communicate a totally different brand message than the one you had in mind.
Let me give you another quick example…
I was on the road recently and stopped in at a Sheetz to grab a water and use the bathroom. If I hadn’t known better, I would have sworn that my 5-year-old twin nieces had just been left unattended in the women’s room for a solid half hour. The floor was covered in water and paper towels, and it looked like the trashcan was more of a suggestion than a requirement.
Now, as a girl who grew up with Wawa and not Sheetz, this one experience was responsible for shaping my expectations of the brand. And I was thinking, “Holly hell…Sheetz is gross.”
As I tiptoed to the sink avoiding what I could of this travesty, I saw it right at the heart of the disaster: A sign from the owner.
“We want you to be satisfied every time you visit Sheetz, so I personally promise the cleanliness of all Sheetz restrooms. If they’re not to your satisfaction, or if you feel there is room for improvement, please call me toll free at …”
Obviously, Mr. Sheetz had a clear vision for his brand message and standards. That message was even written out in his store’s bathrooms. But not everyone got the message or took it to heart.
Maybe there were checklists in place to ensure that the Sheetz bathroom never reached the disgusting level I witnessed, but if so, those checklists weren’t followed. It’s up to you, as the owner, to figure out what’s causing the breakdown so you can fix it.
3 Tips For Keeping Your Brand Message Crystal Clear & Consistent, Even When You Aren’t Around
Running a business is hard work (That’s an understatement). You may not be able to anticipate and prevent every brand message breakdown and customer service disaster. But there are some things you can do to help ensure that everyone in your company maintains professionalism and upholds your company values, culture, message, and customer service standards, even when you aren’t around.
Hire Right. The first step is to hire right. This is easier said than done, but if you take the time to do things right and really evaluate whether or not a candidate will make a great employee and be a good fit for your company culture and values, you’ll have employees that you can trust to uphold your brand message and maintain your expectations for professionalism and customer service — whether you’re in the room or not. Here’s a great article on how Southwest Airlines approaches hiring to ensure a clear brand message and consistent culture.
Clearly Communicate Your Brand Message Repeatedly. Does your team even know what brand message you’re trying to communicate? Do they know what qualities you value and what kind of company culture you’re trying to create and uphold? If this isn’t communicated clearly to your employees, how can they work with you to keep your brand message consistent and protect your company culture? Team meetings, SOPs, employee manuals, and company mission statements are just a few ways you can communicate this to your employees. Everyone should know what you stand for and why your company exists. With a clear vision and purpose in mind, it’s much easier to hit the mark.
Set Expectations & Lead Well. As a business owner, it’s important that you set expectations for your employees. For example, when I worked in the service industry, my employers made it very clear that I was expected to stay off of my cell phone for the entire length of my shift. When I was at work, our clients were my world. And because I knew what was expected of me and what types of behaviors were and weren’t acceptable, it didn’t matter if my bosses were around. I communicated the brand message they wanted me to communicate: that we were a professional company that was 100% focused on our customers, not on what was happening in our Instagram feeds. But you don’t have to get out the employee manual or make a long list of rules to communicate these expectations – you can lead by example. If you maintain professionalism and handle yourself appropriately at work, your employees should hear the message loud and clear and follow suit. Still, it’s always wise to clearly state expectations, so there’s no room for misunderstandings.
Don’t Wait For a Bad Experience – Crystalize Your Message Now
We all get a pit in our stomach when we see a nasty review online or have to face an outraged or disappointed customer. And hey, you can’t always avoid these things. But if you’re proactive and you take a long look at your company and staff now, you can find ways to make sure your brand message doesn’t break down or get altered by employees that don’t know what message you’re trying to communicate or understand (or care) what’s expected.
Ask yourself what could be done differently to ensure that your customers are receiving your brand message clearly and consistently. If you see areas that could use some improvement, don’t be afraid to make those changes. Your business, your customers (both existing and potential), and your employees will thank you for it!