SLT’s corporate culture
Sweet Leaf Tea
Ch. 3, Question 1: What are the strengths and weaknesses of SLT’s corporate culture in terms of communications, as described in the case?
The corporate culture and image Clayton Christopher and David Smith (founders) established and developed at Sweet Leaf Tea (SLT) was based on “laid back and fun” (Argenti, 2013, p. 70) similar to the brand of RTD (ready-to-drink) tea and the customer base (young) to whom they were targeting. It seems the overarching biblical principle for SLT, like any other small start-up business, comes from Zechariah 4:10 (NLT), “10 Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” The founders of SLT realized the importance of branding of their product coupled with marketing and customer relations as confirmed in an article by van Rensburg (2012), “The brand is a powerful intangible asset that can create significant shareholder value and provide leverage for a firm from a strategic management and marketing standpoint” (p. 5).
Communication was highly centralized at SLT in the formative years, primarily from founders, Clayton Christopher and David Smith, and predominantly due to the nature and size of the business. In fact, Argenti (2013) reflects upon the communication strategy, “SLT’s communication strategy had traditionally focused on connecting to their customers. Initially the core communication for Sweet Leaf Tea was through direct-to-customer marketing at music festivals” (p. 70). There are several ironies to this stimulating company that are built into the strengths and weaknesses of SLT’s corporate culture in terms of communications, both with internal and external constituents.
One of the founding strengths of SLT’s corporate culture with the start-up and growth of this business was the intense face-to-face customer relations and strategic marketing from the founders, Christopher and Smith. However, as the business grew, these founders had to decentralize direct customer communication and interactions, ultimately becoming the nemesis for Christopher.
Two of the glaring weaknesses in the case of SLT’s corporate culture with regard to communications are that SLT’s primary target audience, with regard to branding or marketing strategies (i.e., music festivals, Whole Foods, product placement on MTV’s Real-World and CBS’s Big Brother, and later with social media such as blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and Gowalla) were all geared for a younger customer base. “Brands today, of course, live in the boundaryless world of social media…brands in the context of the most powerful social media platform on the planet, Facebook” (Jones, 2012, p. 79). It seems older customer constituents were excluded from the direct-to-customer marketing base as if this segment of population would not enjoy “Grandma’s” tea. The other obvious weakness in the case of SLT’s corporate culture was the lack of internal constituency communication with employees. “Internal communication merits close attention as employees may be the most important audience for a company’s organizational communication and corporate branding efforts” (Stegaroiu & Talal, 2014, p. 69). The company was founded in 1997, and it wasn’t until 2009 one of three major advertising changes took place, one being “SLT empowered every employee to be a spokesperson for the brand” (Argenti, 2013, p. 70). Certainly this is something that should be embedded into the corporate vision and culture of the company’s mission; nevertheless, it seems like missed years of opportunity to not have employees (internal constituents) selling SLT’s brand to customers (external constituents). The final and probably most obvious weakness in the corporate culture regarding communications for SLT was the mishandling of communication with the most valued constituents….the employees. The case does not state how in 2010 Clayton Christopher announced his departure from SLT, it only states he sends an email praising his employees commitment and performance….not the proper channel of communication for an announcement of this magnitude. Christopher was sure to be attentive and face-to-face interaction with his external constituents over the years, but not the constituents (employees) that supported the mission of getting “Grandma’s” sweet tea in the mouths of many customers.
SLT all began because of a love for “Grandma Mimi’s” sweet tea that Christopher and Smith wanted to share with others. From the small beginnings of the start-up, to the music festivals, to Nestle Waters investment, and even Christopher’s departure, Grandma’s tea tradition continues reflective of Deuteronomy 8:18 (NLT), “18 Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath.” This truth must never be forgotten.
Argenti, P. A. (2013). Corporate Communication (7th ed). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill
Jones, R. (2012). Five ways branding is changing. Journal of Brand Management, 20(2), 77-79. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/bm.2012.51
Stegaroiu, I., & Talal, M. (2014). The importance of developing internal communication strategy. Valahian Journal of Economic Studies, 5(1), 63-70. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1672099493?accountid=12085
van Rensburg, D. J., (2012). Strategic brand venturing: the corporation as entrepreneur. Journal of Business Strategy, Vol. 33(3), 4-12. Retrieved from http://www.emeraldinsight.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/doi/full/10.1108/02756661211224951