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Authentic brand expression in cultural conversations

By in Business, Economy, Finance on November 10, 2016

With the rise of digital communities and social media, marketers saw the opportunity to develop content strategies that would make branding efforts easier. To Douglas Holt’s point, this was a pipe dream: people no longer want to hear what brands have to say.

Today, companies need to understand what customers actually care about, and what their brand can stand for in that cultural context. The more they contribute and shape the conversations that are happening, the more relevant brands remain.

Kantar Added Value’s Director of Cultural Insight & Semiotics, Izzy Pugh, details why creating a cultural vibrancy is an essential element to drive meaningful brand growth.

As we know, technology has become a catalyst for change. We connect differently, we share more freely, our eyes are open to the world in a way they never could be before and 1.8 billion millennials are collectively defining their future, our future, across culture all over the world. Today people have the power to be activists, entrepreneurs, editors’, creators, collaborators and contributors. The simple idea of a classic consumer has been left behind revealing a rich complex world.

As a rule more and more people don’t care about brands, so the challenge is to make your brand an authentic champion of something they do care about.

Creating a cultural vibrancy is an essential element to drive meaningful brand growth. We’re seeing a shift from passive to active, from consistency to disruption, from a linear model of marketing to one that needs to work across multiple platforms.

Most importantly, we’ve seen a move from a world of consumer brands as superficial markers of status, to a world where creating a meaningful experience and contributing to culture have become the key to survival and growth.

To cut through in an increasingly cluttered landscape requires brands to contribute to culture – and even to create culture – in a way that is meaningful beyond their category. This means that you and your business need to connect with culture as a core part of your marketing day job.

The first step is to open your eyes to the changing landscape around you. Our work in partnership with the world’s largest producer of alcoholic spirits, Diageo, proves the value of this mentality.

Diageo have big ambitions to make their brands cultural icons that transcend their categories. And, for them, understanding the shifting culture of socialising has been essential. Nowadays, when people socialise they are looking for experiences that make their lives feel richer, that broaden their horizons and Diageo have had to expand their thinking to understand how their brands can still play a part here.

Next, once you know what your cultural understanding is, you need to turn it into strategy by developing a brand purpose that is driven by your brand’s cultural mission. It’s not about jumping on the back of a cultural movement but taking part in one, or even better, starting one.

Sport for England is picking up where Dove left off to encourage women back into sport without being worried about the way they look. The #thisgirlcan campaign has re-written the rules by really understanding and boldly expressing women and exercise. Fearlessly showing that sweat, curves and determination – regardless of race, age or size – courageously encourages women to leave self-consciousness behind and give it a go.

And other brand examples Uber and AirBNB have drastically changed how the transport and accommodation industries work on a global level. These are not niche challenger brands; they have in a short space of time become global cultural icons.

These brands are united by one thing – they have all looked outside their category at the wider world to understand the contribution they should be making to people’s lives.

To move from identifying a cultural mission to really contributing to culture and changing the world in a tangible way, you need to activate your brand’s cultural strategy.

Diageo did just this by identifying cultural spaces they could play in with Smirnoff ’s cultural mission, to move people to be more ‘Open’. This is based on the insight that the brand’s biggest purchasing power lies with millennials, the most networked generation for whom inclusivity is a way of life.

So how do Diageo seek to make the world more inclusive through vodka?

By taking inspiration from the music category and the most inclusive genre that anyone can create in their bedroom, Electronic Dance Music. They set up ‘Sound Collective’ which not only showcases music, but brings people closer to artists, contributing to a cultural space that is fundamentally linked to openness.

Meanwhile Guinness has always had a reputation as an epic advertiser, but Diageo now see the opportunity to look at how the brand’s purpose of inspiring people to make bold choices plays out in culture. Enter Guinness Black Africa pioneering in young African culture.

The final step is to prove it; by turning culture into significant data. Doing this will allow you to see the brand world differently, and at a deeper level.

Brand presence, health and equity studies are useful for brand owners, but these will only tell you how well brands are delivering in the now and won’t always tell you how well a brand is set up for growth.

Kantar Added Value has identified a forward looking metric – by adding culture as a third dimension – which can measure a brand’s resonance in culture, regardless of its size and stature in the market place.

A brand’s cultural connection can act as a leading indicator of growth, allowing you to see what lies ahead for your brand.

We’ve seen that over the last 5 years, the automotive sector have been taking lessons from the tech sector and have climbed ahead of the leader board. Jaguar for example has climbed 11%, building on its beautiful design with its #goodtobebad campaign which broke the rules and gave the brand a delicious dark side vs. the technologically slick. They went on to see their US sales rise by 20%.

Businesses would be wise to think about culture first and their brands second. This means creating a culture of culture within your organisation, identifying a cultural mission that will allow your brand to make a meaningful contribution to the world and then activating it, all while treating culture as data.

See the world differently; deeply connect your business to what is happening today. Create growth by consciously driving what will happen tomorrow.