Why culture is more than a marketing tool
Why culture is more than a marketing tool

By on in Branding, Leadership

Why culture is more than a marketing tool

Businesses today love to talk about company culture.

The concept—which is defined as a codification of a business’s norms, values, and beliefs—was first introduced by social scientist Elliot Jaques in his 1951 book The Changing Culture of a Factory. In the 1980s and 90s, it became a popular term among business consultants and leaders.

Today, it’s part of many brands’ marketing—think about the rise of mission-driven companies and how many business websites prominently feature their values.

It’s great to be passionate about how you do what you do. But once culture shifts from a lived experience to a conceptual selling point, it can become decoupled from reality. And that’s where problems arise.


The case of Boeing

Boeing was perhaps one of the first companies to use its culture as a selling point.

In the early days of commercial aviation, Boeing emerged as a champion of safety and top-notch aeronautical engineering. It wasn’t just members of the aviation field who noticed; in the 1960s and ‘70s, the phrase, “If it ain’t Boeing, I ain’t going,” became popularized in the mainstream culture.

Unfortunately, things seemed to shift after Boeing’s merger with McDonnell Douglas in 1997. Following the union, executives began to focus heavily on shareholder value and stock buybacks. Many worried that safety and engineering were becoming secondary priorities.

Whispers about safety and quality grew increasingly loud throughout the early aughts and into the 2010s. The 787 Dreamliner, released in 2011, had problems with batteries catching on fire, which resulted in the FAA grounding all 787s for review and revisions to the battery system.

Things came to a head in 2018 and 2019, when problems with a system in the newly-released Boeing 737 Max 8 resulted in two fatal crashes five months apart, with 346 people dying in the accidents. Then, in early 2024, a door plug fell out of an Alaska Airlines plane mid-flight, leaving a gaping hole in the fuselage. (Thanks to some calm and collected pilots, that flight landed safely.)

Now, denizens of the internet have turned that famous phrase on its head: “If it is Boeing, I ain’t going” has popped up on message boards and social media comments.

A glance at Boeing’s own homepage shows the damage the company has done to itself. The brand’s value proposition headline, “Engineering the future of aerospace capabilities,” has been pushed below the fold by a “quality information” update about the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which made headlines again in early April 2024 when a whistleblower flagged potential issues with the plane’s fuselage.

More action, less talk

So what’s a business to do?

If you’re going to use culture as a selling point, either to customers or prospective employees, you have to ensure you’re embodying that culture.

Ultimately, the marketing team cannot drive culture. Culture comes from the top. If you’re a leader who’s asking your marketing team to use your culture to sell your business, you need to hold yourself accountable. Are you doing all you can to ensure the culture you’re cultivating is the one your marketing team is touting?


How to define your culture

If you haven’t considered your culture much or are unsure how you’d define it for your business, take a look at what you do. Culture should flow from your business’s core function.

Boeing, for example, builds planes. The most important thing it can do is ensure that its customers (both airlines and passengers) get from point A to point B safely.

From there, secondary or related culture points may flow. Innovation and safety are inextricably linked in the aviation industry—how can you continue to build faster, more efficient planes while maintaining safety standards? Sustainability might also be a related cultural value. How can you minimize fuel consumption and maximize passenger capacity to reduce the environmental burden of air travel?

Remember, culture is about what you do for your customers, not what you do for yourself. Maximizing profits or facilitating stock buybacks do not a culture make.


While a marketing partner can’t create a culture for you, it can help you identify and communicate the one you already have. If you’re looking for help in this arena, we’re here.