• Adam Conner

Special Edition: Culture, Connections, and Content


This is the Authentic Avenue podcast episode featuring Dana Marineau, Chief Marketing Officer of Rakuten, with host Adam Conner.


This is a link you can use to find Authentic Avenue, a marketing podcast hosted by Adam Conner, on Apple Podcasts. Remember to subscribe, rate, and review!

Today: I reveal the results of a study I conducted with 50 brand leaders on the intersection of culture, connections, and content. In this post, I'll be sharing the visuals from those results, as well as the full transcript of the podcast. You'll also be able to find this on LinkedIn (and wherever else I can get this published).


Enjoy!


Where is the intersection of employee culture, connections and content? It's a question I was curious about. I went out and I asked 50 amazing brand leaders about it. I aggregated their results and I put it in a survey, which I'm going to share with you today on this special episode of Authentic Avenue.


[00:00:23] All right, I'm going to cut the music. Normally I would slate that with a really impressive guest and a super impressive company. But since I'm going over 50 of them today -- again, 50 -- that'd be too long to do. I'm not going to mention any of those specific 50, because this is a broad and aggregated (and thus sanitized) survey that I produced a little earlier this year on the connections between podcasts and people.


[00:00:44] But I wanted to bring them to you because I found some pretty surprising things. And mostly what I'd like to do is to vet out whether these are surprising to you -- and hopefully inspire a conversation for you and your leaders, and your colleagues at your businesses, about how to cover some of the gaps that this survey perhaps unintentionally brought to light.


[00:01:04] So strap in, this is a special episode of the podcast. There's no guests today. It's just me. And the story that I'm telling is one which weaves together these various findings that I found. I hope you take a lot away. And so without further ado, I'm going to get started with it.


[00:01:19] As context, I did this a little bit earlier this year. Took a little while to pull this together. As I said, there were 50 folks who ended up putting their thoughts into this study that I did. I asked a select group of people for whom two things were common. The first was that they were a chief executive at their business. And almost every single time it was a CMO or a chief brand officer. You know, this podcast, that's mostly who I talk to.


[00:01:42] So there's the odd CEO thrown in here and there, but that was the center mass of who I was going after. And secondly, the thing that was common was that they had all done a podcast with me. So if you've listened to Authentic Avenue since I started this show in September (by the way, thanks, if you have done that), or if you've listened to past episodes of past podcasts that I've done with marketing executives, this is the pool of people who I pulled these results from.


[00:02:08] And I asked these folks a series of questions specifically about how they assess employee culture and relations and content today. After all, most of today's great marketing and authentic marketing (what I talk about), it depends just as much on the external audience consuming that as it does on our advocacy internally.


[00:02:28] And you definitely need both. Ideally those look roughly the same. So I wanted to ask a couple of questions around whether there were any gaps. The result were these insights from 50 of the world's most interesting marketing leaders aggregated here.


[00:02:42] And so today we're going to learn more about how leaders think of culture in an increasingly remote world. Uh, the implications of belonging and togetherness, whatever that means therein. And I'll also pass along a few ways in which leaders are most effectively engaging with the most important audience of all. If you're growing a business, which is their people.


[00:03:02] Just so you know, here at the top, these results are going to go roughly from most obvious to least obvious. And you'll understand why right here as I get started.


[00:03:09] So let's start with the most obvious: being on video all day is harder on us than we thought it ever would be. So I asked folks: "To what extent do you personally believe your colleagues are "Zoomed out," whether they actually tell you so or not?"



[00:03:24] And so I said on a scale of, not at all to a hundred percent, so like a one, two, three, four, five. Uh, almost everybody gave me, uh, you know, that three, four, five. Moderately, severely, a hundred percent. And those results skew even higher when I asked to what extent they believed the employee connection and culture at their business right now was fragmenting in that increasingly remote work world. It wasn't just Zoom fatigue. It was everything fatigue. The remote obligations were fragmenting, the way that we interact and thus the way that we relationship-build -- the way we truly get to know each other. That stereotypical water cooler, so to speak, doesn't exist.


[00:04:02] And so I asked folks on a scale of not at all to completely, again, that one, two, three, four, five, what extent they believed this culture was fragmenting.



And nobody gave me below a three, or "somewhat." I got a lot of "somewhat," "quite a bit" and "completely," and by the way, all of these will be published on the website to which this podcast is attached. It'll be at authenticavenuemedia.com. I'll put links on it everywhere. You're probably accessing this from LinkedIn or somewhere like that. And you can see, you can see these results. And I'll also have a link in the show notes to that page and to the study itself.


[00:04:35] So those first two things were not surprising to me. It surely is not surprising to you. But despite the fact that it's not so surprising, my assumption included a silver lining though: that in this "always on" context, employees actually have the potential (again, potential) to be more directly connected to their leaders since no one has to be face to face. You don't have to fit a hundred people into an office with one executive in the same way that you can do so in a Zoom call. And so there's potential for more direct connections. And that can actually be fantastic for team building, to tell the human side of the story, to really get to know someone.


[00:05:11] Most leaders that I asked agreed. 96% -- this was the most insane stat I think of the whole thing, when combined with the one I'm about to tell you. 96% of leaders surveyed believe their employee base is somewhat, well, or strongly connected to its senior leadership.



I gave, again, those five answers that one, two, three, four, five. Nobody gave me the bottom, which was "not connected at all." And one person I think gave me "barely connected." Everybody said, oh yeah, we've got an average or better level of connection between employees and senior leadership. Yes. Check on that.


[00:05:43] That threw me a little bit. I was like, okay. Leaders are awfully confident about this. I wonder what their employees would say. But I left all of that skepticism out of the study. I left that for me. And I'm of course now talking about that here. But that was a standard that I figured there might be something to foil later in the study. And it turns out it only took one question to do that. Very next question that I asked was okay, well, "How well do you think your employees with whom you don't have a daily interaction [as is the case with these businesses, almost everyone is in that bucket] know you as a person, rather than as a C-suite leader?" Rather than an operator of the business? I did the same scale. One, two, three, four, five. "They don't know anything about me" all the way up to "they know everything about me."



[00:06:31] 45% -- again, this is from a pool from which 96% said they had an average or better level of connection between employees and the senior leadership -- 45% of them admitted that the broad employee base either knows nothing or very little about them as people.


[00:06:50] Half of these folks that I surveyed said that their employees really don't even know anything about them as people! And yet I got a strong indication that there was an average or better level of connection between employees and senior leadership.


[00:07:05] And that, that struck me. I sort of suspected it, but it struck me. So the very next thing that I asked was, okay, well, "What do you believe is the most effective way your organization is engaging employees right now?" Because everybody's got to get creative, right? Culture is fragmenting a little bit. You can't do anything really in person, not fully. And so I thought I'd get a couple of silver bullets. Everybody's got to have some secret sauce. What is it? Hopefully I can make a little recipe right here in this study. And so every response to that of course, was unique. Can't put that into a fancy bar chart or a pie chart or a donut chart, or any of these other things that I put together, which you'll see if you look at this study on authenticavenuemedia.com.


[00:07:46] But what I was able to do was make a little nice word cloud, and I can't vocalize that here on the show, but I can talk about the words that appeared most frequently in these answers.



The most common words were: "meetings" -- that was number one by a long shot -- "weekly," "team," "virtual," "town," "hall" and "hands," I guess for "all-hands." Almost everybody gave me some version of, "we do weekly virtual Zoom, town hall, all-hands meetings where anything goes, ask me anything, no questions off topic."


[00:08:19] And so I started to piece together. I said, okay, right now we are defining connection as a quantity of meetings. Maybe senior leadership before met quarterly or monthly with the broad employee base in an all-hands context. Sometimes it happens more frequently at places than others. But no matter what, in this time, in this world, everybody pretty much moved more frequently, at least twice as frequently I would think, as they did before. More connection because more meetings.


[00:08:53] Well, I went and asked another question right after I sourced that word cloud ("What are your silver bullets?") I asked: "How much information do you think your people take away from general business updates?" These are all hands meetings. It could be like earnings calls, that sort of thing, but those types of meetings. How much information do you think your people take away from those general meetings?



[00:09:16] And the answer was a perfect -- with the exception of one -- perfect bell curve. Again, I did one, two, three, four, five. "They learn little to none," you know, "just the essentials," "they learn a fair amount," "they learn a great amount," "they learn everything." About half of the answers, just under half of the answers, fell in "just a fair amount," the exact same number of responses on either side of that, "they learned just the essentials" or "they learn a great amount." And then there were a couple of outliers on the edges. A perfect (nearly) bell curve centered on a perfectly average result.


[00:09:50] That confused me. Because I'd asked that right after I said, what's your silver bullet? What's your best way for engaging employees?" And because almost everybody gave me some version of the same instrument, which they then said had a perfectly average impact on their employees, I was struck. Why was that true? Why were the best ways to get involved with people right now producing an average result? Why would you stick with that now? Now I understand. I mean, nobody's out there asking 50 brand leaders about this and nobody's aggregating all those results and seeing it from that macro level.


[00:10:25] That's why I thought I was sort of privileged here. I was able to see that result. And I asked the same question that maybe you asked: well, why? And there are a couple of easy initial answers, like, "well it's certainly easy, if I was doing monthly all-hands, I can just do bi-weekly all hands right, or weekly ones." That's fine. Oh yeah, I give a little bit more of executive time and I give a little more face time with people and maybe that inspires more connection. And whether that's true or not, I don't know. I didn't ask about that. I can only make guesses. But right along with that, my guess is that, perhaps, creative options exist to address them.


[00:11:00] So, so far, just so you're, you're hanging with me here. Here's what we have figured out. I asked brand leaders at organizations spanning a wide range of industries, a wide range of head counts (I think the lowest was like a hundred or 200 people. The highest was well over a hundred thousand.), again, these are at the C-level, asking about perceived connection between employees and leadership, which was perceived to be very high. But about half of those people said that the employees didn't even know them as humans. And then upon being asked what the most effective way to engage their employees are, they gave me an answer which they then admitted only has an average impact on people in terms of what they take away.


[00:11:39] So I thought that gap was interesting. Hopefully you do as well. Here is my hypothesis on how to start to close that gap, and it's where my world collides with yours. It's where my world connects with these guests' world: I asked everybody in this study, after I asked those questions, I said, okay, well, "In your experience [that experience being between me and the guest], who among your community [the guest's community] got the most value from our podcast together?"



About 75% of them said other chief executives, other CMOs, other CEOs, other marketing leaders, or external partners.


[00:12:16] And I didn't refine that further, but just people outside of their business got the most value from it. And then I had about a 10th of folks saying, uh, internal colleagues, which I thought was interesting. And about 10% of folks saying prospective employees, again, interesting. And then small slivers with, with other custom answers.


[00:12:34] But 75% of these leaders said that they got the most value from a podcast in an external-facing context. And that does not surprise me as somebody in this field because I see every quarter or six months, Spotify will drop tens of millions of dollars into something else, whether it's a platform or an entertainer or something to bring their podcasts onto their platform. And that is the legacy way in which to think about podcasts. Yes, I want to build this large external facing consumer audience in an addressable market that I can then monetize. Individuals do that to build their businesses. Businesses do that to build their awareness and become thought leaders, generally speaking. And so that didn't surprise me. Yeah. Three out of every four people, they see podcasts as great in an external-facing context.


[00:13:16] And then I just had one more qualifier that I asked. I said, well, "Are you also responsible for comms?"



Again, these are mostly marketing leaders. And about 55%, so just over half, so technically the majority said that, yes, they were. They're responsible for employee communications as well as being responsible for marketing. And that makes sense. That goes back to the very beginning. A lot of times you want to have your external, authentic marketing message, uh, be as close as possible or the same as to the messages with which you build internal advocacy.


[00:13:44] As I said before, this gap I think raises a couple of questions. Some of these questions you may be asking yourself, or you might ask yourself later today, later this week, if you think more about this, and if you read and look at these visualized results. Again, it's on authenticavenuemedia.com. I'll throw a link in our show notes to it and I'll post it everywhere that I am. Mostly LinkedIn. And those questions might be, well, "Why does that gap exist?" And then maybe, well, "Does that gap exist at my organization?" And then probably the third question is, well, "If it does, how do I begin to close it?" Because there's going to be no silver bullet to close this, all right, everybody's going to have different results and different answers and nothing will be a hundred percent the silver bullet.


[00:14:24] I have one suggestion. It's a creative option. It's probably obvious because I do it every day. If this medium is so externally valuable, and there's a gap between the way that employees are connected with their senior leadership and the extent to which they know them as people, why not turn this medium inward as a way to communicate from leaders to employees, or on general business updates, or on social issues of the day, creatively?


[00:14:55] It's not a Zoom meeting that employees are required to attend. There's no remote obligation. You're not contributing to the fragmentation of culture that way. It's accessible at any time. It's on demand. It's focused on the stories of people, ideally. Ideally, it's not just an earnings call in podcast format. And because of that, I believe it can help to close the connection gap.


[00:15:17] It doesn't hurt that when I presented these findings and these suggestions to the very folks I asked to be a part of this survey, I got a lot of virtual head nods. Yes. This makes sense. No, this isn't surprising. Yeah. It's maybe a good idea. In fact, some of these folks told me that they're already using the medium, which I applaud.


[00:15:37] I have to give a shout out to the very first person I presented these survey results to. Very first one, it was a gentleman by the name of Brian Kenny. Had him on a previous podcast that I produced. He's the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer of Harvard Business School. Now, obviously they're very well-versed in the podcast world externally through HBR. But what you might not know, and actually you wouldn't know it at all, if you weren't part of that organization, is that some of their podcast work never sees the light of day because it tells these stories internally. It is used as a creative bridge.


[00:16:07] Thankfully, I've seen that sentiment echoed across a couple of other industries and a couple of organizations and with a couple of leaders that I admire. But today I just want to leave you with that thought. I'm going to leave you with the survey results, which shows that gap, and that thought.


[00:16:23] Is it worth a shot? I think it is.


[00:16:26] And with that, I'm going to sign off from this special episode. I'm pretty sure I kept under 30 minutes. And just to let you know how you can connect with me broadly, I'm mostly on LinkedIn. Adam Conner and Authentic Avenue, join that community, follow me. authenticavenuemedia.com is the website where you'll find all of my podcasts. You'll find everything that I do. You'll find this study. You'll find the results. I'll put them up there. I'll hope to get this reproduced in some sort of mass media so that it's not just you, my devoted audience, that hears this. Cause I think more people deserve to hear it.


[00:16:56] And if you'd like to send me an email, get a conversation started, let me know what you're thinking about the podcast, get some advice, I am available, adam@authave.com, and adam@authenticavenuemedia.com will work too. I just also got that other domain to shorten it a little bit. Cause it's easier to say.

[00:17:14] I do this sort of thing every day. I have a lot of opinions here. I can share them. I can not share them, but reach out if you need a resource or just plainly curious.


[00:17:24] And with that, I'm going to go back to bringing guests on the show and I'm going to do that starting next week. So until then I've been Adam Conner saying: until the next time I get real again with you, thanks for taking a walk with me down Authentic Avenue.


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Learn more at https://authenticavenuemedia.com/.


Theme Song: Extreme Energy (Music Today 80) Composed & Produced by Anwar Amr Video Link: https://youtu.be/8ZZbAkKNx7s