The Insights Blog

How marketing and agency leaders use traditions to enhance culture and business

How marketing and agency leaders use traditions to enhance culture and business

marketers can use tradition

A number of major holidays were celebrated recently across the world. Holidays are full of traditions. Traditions have the power to create positive memories that can last a lifetime.

Traditions can create a sense of comfort and familiarity, connecting us to our past and to the people around us. Whether it’s a family holiday tradition or a cultural celebration, participating in traditions can foster a positive emotional experience. Overall, traditions can create a sense of belonging, community and a shared sense of identity and purpose.

And traditions can be a positive force in business! They can positively impact an organization’s culture, behaviors and success. We asked some business, marketing and agency leaders about the role of tradition and heard an earful!

At Ulta Beauty, a CEO Tradition Highlights the Importance of the companies’ Associates and Customers

Ulta Beauty CEO Dave Kimbell has created a tradition of getting into Ulta Beauty stores nearly every week. He engages with associates and customers and captures a “selfie” lionizing the role of the associates on every visit. Dave told us:

Throughout my time at Ulta Beauty and now as CEO, I take every opportunity to spend time in our stores – whether it is a planned visit with other leaders or a drop in when I am in town for other business or on vacation. My focus is simple – thanking the team for everything they do and listening to their ideas on how we can do better. Every time, I learn so much about opportunities specific to the store and to our business overall related to our guests, our operations, and the environment in which we are competing. Nobody in our company knows this better than our store associates who are taking care of our guests and bringing joy and confidence through beauty every day. An open, inclusive culture is part of what we stand for at Ulta Beauty, and that starts with me. I hope my time spent with our associates makes a positive impact on our culture by reinforcing how much I care about all of them and how much I love the work we get to do together every day.

Ulta Beauty

Ulta Beauty CEO Dave Kimbell visiting with associates in a Denver store. In Dave’s words:
“Brittney and team have our Northfield Stapleton store in the Denver area dialed in.”

Fair Trade USA’s “Trips to Origin” Create Shared Understanding

Our friend Larry Ruff knows a thing or two about the impact traditions can have on culture and business. Larry started his career in Brand Management at Procter & Gamble prior to a series of leadership roles over 25 years at Levi Strauss Company including Chief Strategy Officer and Global Marketing Officer. Now President of Fair Trade USA, Larry shared the following highlights with us:

“To help drive continuous learning & ensure focus on impact (social, environmental & economic benefits related to our Mission) – at Fair Trade – we leverage Trips to Origin (i.e., where products are sourced, developed or manufactured – in Latin America, Asia-Pacific, Europe & U.S.). These trips enable leadership & staff to get closer to producers – farmers, factory workers, fishers, their communities, etc. – to see how our programs (audits, certification process, producer services, collaboration with brand & retail partners, etc.) – are working on the ground.

Oftentimes these trips are done in conjunction with Business (Brands, Retailers) & Philanthropic (Major Foundations, Financial Contributors) Partners – to help deepen everyone’s understanding of how the Fair Trade Model works – and to identify areas for program improvements & changes. They also fuel evidence of impact – which is important for a social enterprise or non-profit.”

OKRP Personally Acknowledges their Clients

The folks at AdAge A-List agency OKRP have a few annual traditions that they share with clients that have become both fun and anticipated. The main one is the annual holiday client “gift.” It is not really a gift in the true sense, but more like a creative thank you and acknowledgement of their support of OKRP. For example, this year the folks at OKRP created a song called POSITIVITY that they wrote, sang, performed and recorded in a choir like atmosphere. And (as you can see in the video!) instead of sending the usual holiday swag, they made a donation in their client’s names to NAMI in support of mental health awareness. Click the link below the image below to enjoy the video.


See the OKRP team sing POSITIVITY here (it’s a must see/listen!)

Curiosity’s Traditions Add Depth to Client Relationships

Curiosity, another AdAge A-List shop, has a range of traditions that are centered on creating deeper, lasting relationships with their clients. It starts at the beginning of the relationship: they invite the new client to announce the new relationship to the agency staff. The new client either films a short video or the agency brings them into an all-company zoom. This tradition accomplishes a few things: the new client gets to see the whole agency, it builds excitement for the business at the agency, and the client team gets to explain why they selected Curiosity. As agency partner Ashley Walters said: “It’s nice to hear those words directly from the client, instead of me. I’ve yet to have a client turn me down.“

When it comes to strengthening the client/agency relationship, Ashley explained that Curiosity has a program called Love the One You’re With. They built this program to make sure the love that was established in the pitch process doesn’t fade. In fact it gets stronger. This program aims to surprise and delight their clients throughout the relationship. A few examples include:

The Team at Tombras Loves to Break Bread

Tombras’ Dooley Tombras is a force of nature with clients, one of the most energetic and thoughtful leaders in the agency world. Dooley told us:

“We’ve noticed after that pandemic that it makes a huge difference to do an in-person client kick-off onboarding (usually at the client’s office) that is a multi-day meeting with a dinner. Then we try to have the clients to our HQ in Knoxville within 30-60 days for another working meeting that also involves a dinner. This may sound incredibly basic but coming out of the pandemic I was noticing some relationships starting off completely remotely and they didn’t seem to be going as smoothly. Even though we are in a hybrid world I’m a big believer in developing relationships face-to-face. We don’t have a lot of data points to go off of but directionally this approach seems to be making a difference.”

UScellular Brand Marketing is Creating a Tradition in How to Start the Day!

Verchele Wiggins Roberts and the team at UScellular are creating new traditions to better compete in the wild world of telecommunications:

“One of the things we are doing that is proving to provide value and perhaps may become enduring is a morning “stand up” meeting (3 days a week), borrowing from Agile practices. It takes place with a small tight group of agency and brand leadership. I think it has strengthened the work and the relationship.”

A Few Final Thoughts

Traditions can have a powerful impact on our cultures and behaviors. They help us balance the crazy world of business with shared experiences that provide clarity and consistency. These shared experiences can strengthen the bond between partners and deliver better results. As Tevya notes in Fiddler On The Roof:

“And how do we keep our balance?
That I can tell you in one word… Tradition.”

What traditions are you creating? Let us know!

Steve Boehler, founder, and partner at Mercer Island Group has led consulting teams on behalf of clients as diverse as Ulta Beauty, Microsoft, UScellular, Nintendo, Kaiser Permanente, Holland America Line, Stop & Shop, Qualcomm, Brooks Running, and numerous others. He founded MIG after serving as a division president in a Fortune 100 when he was only 32. Earlier in his career, Steve cut his teeth with a decade in Brand Management at Procter & Gamble, leading brands like Tide, Pringles, and Jif.