As the CEO of a four-generation family-owned company, I’m often asked about the secret ingredient behind our success. Founded in 1945, The Beach Company is well known for high-quality real estate development in the Southeast. While our company’s goals and products have certainly evolved through depressions, recessions, wars, hard times and good times, it’s my job to maintain our original mission at the core of the brand’s DNA. Taking the helm of a family owned business is not as easy as you may think. Like any business, family businesses need to constantly adapt. What worked a generation ago likely doesn’t work now.
In reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned over the years, I’ve identified five key elements of leadership I believe represent how a company can adjust its marketing and cultivate new customer bases while staying true to the original mission.
Give History Lessons
Tracing your company’s lineage is a critical exercise for those with long-standing legacies to maintain staying power. It is vital that we map our founders’ DNA to educate The Beach Company’s growing employee base on our history to instill the same principles and values in them that were introduced to employees by our company’s first generation of leadership. In these lessons, we leave nothing from our 73-year history uncovered – the good, the bad and the ugly – to foster a strong sense of pride and consistency. It’s not enough to simply tell employees what your company does – you must also show them why you do it. The Beach Company’s history is something our employees should be proud of since our work is a direct reflection of our team.
As real estate developers, we are only as good as our last project. However, our future success and reputation must build upon the tradition of excellence we instill, beginning with our employees.
Make Everyone a Brand Ambassador
The educational process creates an opportunity to turn employees into individual spokespersons. When I joined the company in 1990, we had 18 employees. Now, with more than 300 employees, it’s more important than ever that we deliver a consistent voice to the public at every internal and external touchpoint.
Make sure you create and promote a culture of consistency. Whether you like it or not, every part of your company – from your internal newsletter to social media messaging to your employees’ interactions – is an extension of your brand. One bit of misinformation or misinterpretation can damper decades of a stellar reputation. Treating employees like corporate ambassadors opens the door to an often-underutilized opportunity for a business to reach a wider audience in a genuine way.
Don’t Be Afraid to Change the Family’s Recipe
Unlike a cherished grandmother’s recipe, marketing strategies must evolve alongside other aspects of a brand to meet the needs of a modern market.
Customer demands change constantly, and we must reinvent our product just as often to stay relevant. Our marketing strategy is equally as nimble, as we understand current trends and how our audience is changing with society’s needs. Early in The Beach Company’s history, we focused heavily on developing affordable housing for veterans after the war. Since then, we have diversified geographically, entered new and adjacent industries and calibrated our products over and over again.
Businesses must keep up with the latest technologies and the opportunities they provide. Where door-to-door marketing or even email marketing worked in the past, today’s social media presence and online advertising can be more effective in reaching a larger portion of your target audience. Companies must be open minded to changes or risk becoming stuck.
Today’s customer researches online prior to purchasing. Smart companies utilize public relations and content marketing to show up wherever customers are searching with relevant content.
Respect Your Elders, But Listen to the New Generation
While you’re busy tweaking recipes, you’ll likely find someone who resists those changes. As a family-business leader, you must be able to turn off the noise and stay focused. Stick to your principals, believe in your brand and your products and, most importantly, don’t be afraid to learn from the upcoming generation.
Millennials may get bad press, but they grew up in this diversified, ultra-connected world in which we are now operating. If anyone understands the current or future customer base, it’s likely them. Listen to their ideas regarding business and marketing evolution.
When I started leading The Beach Company 20 years ago, there were few minorities or women holding leadership roles in businesses nationwide. Today’s workplace, while not perfect, is much more diverse. That diversity creates opportunities and cultivates new ideas to keep companies relevant and growing.
Integrate Your Past into Your Present Message
Our family-owned status is an important source of pride, especially when it comes to developing our marketing strategies. As noteworthy family-business consultant and author Henry Hutcheson pointed out, a company’s family business status could be its best message. “SC Johnson calls itself the family company. Why does that matter? Because they’re individual people there that actually care about the individual customers. They take that business personally, and it is their business. It was their father’s business, and it was their grandfather’s business.”
We have ramped up marketing in recent years and touting our family owned status and history is a part of our core message. Earned media, SEO, blogging, etc. all works more cohesively than it used to. How we reach people – via social media, grassroots public relations, etc. – has changed, but who we are has not and we must continue to convey to the public that we are both nimble and rooted in tradition.