How Smart Brands Harness Culture to Create Growth

Commercial value and social value are still of paramount importance. But a new, third form of value is rapidly gaining ground – cultural value. Brands are vehicles to create meaning beyond their categories. This is where culture comes in. Added Value’s study into Creating Cultural Value study has highlighted 3 key challenges faced by brands today. Helen Firth, Senior Vice President of Kantar Added Value, explains these in greater detail.

The world is changing. The question of how brand management should keep pace led us to revisit the fundamental reason brands exist – to create VALUE – and consider how this should evolve.

Normally by value, we mean commercial value. Kantar Millward Brown’s BrandZ tells us the 100 most valuable global brands are worth $3.4 trillion. Brands also increasingly play a role in creating social value. Unilever’s Keith Weed asserts global spending on ‘responsible consumption’ has risen to $400bn annually.

Both these are still of paramount importance. But a new, third form of value is rapidly gaining ground – cultural value. Why?

Most recently, brands have been tasked to deliver not things, but experiences. Put another way: brands are vehicles to create meaning beyond their categories. This is where culture comes in. Meaning is created through shared culture –things we use to create our identities and express ourselves.

This is why brands must deliver cultural value. They need to champion an area of culture that gives meaning to their actions and expressions over and above anything they could say about themselves. This means going beyond claiming a share of market – rather, it’s about seeking to claim a share of life.

The issue of cultural value is snowballing among the marketing community. To illustrate this, we spoke with over 100 senior brand leaders in 3 countries (US, UK, France).

  • They told us culture is crucial for brands:
  • 83% believe connecting with culture is important for business growth. They also said it’s imperative for brands to contribute to culture:
  • 71% will seek to contribute to culture and deliver value to consumers beyond products and services
  • 73% say marketing should act like a ‘cultural radar’ by talking about what is relevant to consumers at that moment in time

Our study also highlighted 3 key challenges faced by brands today. Brand examples below show how creating cultural value can help:

  1. Stand up and stand out

Lush leads the cultural conversation around what defines an ethical brand, understanding that consumers increasingly expect concrete action. It uses fighting animal testing to create stand-out via the annual Lush prize. This endowment rewards advances in safety testing that privilege alternatives to animal experiments. Lush also seeks to push cultural boundaries by using shop windows as ‘laboratories’, where a human ‘subject’ undergoes standard experiments performed on animals. The brand creates cultural value for its audience by contributing to a conversation they care deeply about.

  1. Be more human

Airbnb takes its cue from the emergent conversation in Millennial culture that seeks to avoid being seen as a tourist, undertaking a ‘humanisation’ of the entire brand experience. Recent expression has refocused Airbnb as a community that shares the desire to belong and to travel with authenticity. The ‘Belong anywhere’ campaign exhorts travellers: ‘Don’t go there. Live there’. It also puts faces to the homes people stay in by telling stories of Airbnb hosts, elevating the human connection inherent in its business model.

  1. Be more real-time

Gatorade is embracing an ambitious shift: from a sports drink to a sports performance brand. It has understood the cultural narrative – winning or losing is decided by the narrowest margin, and athletes need tools to monitor performance moment by moment. Gatorade’s Mission Control plugs into hot topics for athletes, letting it respond in real-time, and driving innovation – the brand has recently launched a smart cap water bottle, incorporating fitness measurement technology via sweat.

In conclusion, what can we conclude about the role for brands in a changing world? To deliver value today, brands must champion aspects of culture that create meaning for their audience. They can do this in real time, forging human connection and salience, to create business success.