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Co-creating culture: A brand’s role in cultural moments

Just think of Moët & Chandon’s role in Western party culture and celebration moments; Nike’s recent foray into global equality and ethnic diversity conversations with its ‘Pro Hijab’; the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign by Sport England to encourage women to overcome the fear of judgement that is stopping them from joining in with sports and fitness; and how Red Bull’s brand is inextricably linked with extreme sports and adrenaline-inducing activities. While some brands fade into the background, others become associated with a particular cultural movement.  

Brands successful in this area are able to elevate themselves beyond basic value propositions and product benefits. No longer do they have to compete on functional benefits (larger, smaller, cheaper, brighter, faster) – they are able to offer something to their customers that truly speaks to them, their life stage, and the cultural influences they are tuned into. For example, Moët & Chandon’s brand is so closely aligned with the concept of glamour, success and celebration that it provides these elements simply by association. That is Moët’s true point of difference – not taste, price or packaging.

A brand that is culturally attuned is in a position to become a disruptor with a strong voice to advocate social issues. If we look at Nike’s Pro Hijab, the iconic brand used its global and highly visible reach to open a conversation around the role of Muslim women in sport to great effect. Similarly, Levi Strauss & Co have a history of speaking out about social issues including gay rights, HIV/AIDS and gender equality. Issues like these form the fabric of conversation for brands like Nike and Levi’s – to stay in step with their customers they must be involved in the dialogue.

Whether it is becoming ingrained in cultural occasions, or capitalising on a platform to comment on social issues, the key is staying relevant in people’s minds. In our ultra-competitive world, for brands it really is stay relevant or die. So what is important for brands is their ability to listen to what their audience is talking about, and what matters most to them – and use this information to communicate meaningfully. Some of what people talk about is personal and details everyday life, but a lot of what they talk about concerns external cultural issues and is big-picture focussed.

Since 2010 we have finally seen the voice of the customer become louder than that of the brand. Social media has played a big role in enabling this. The way culture is consumed and created has changed – no longer do brands and mass mainstream media determine the direction cultural thought and discussion take. It is now open to anyone in the world to influence.

This crowd-sourcing of culture, and brands’ subsequent loss of control, has made it harder for those wanting to capitalise on cultural shifts to create a meaningful proposition. To really nail social media marketing in 2017, brands must be in-tune with what their audience is talking about, 24/7. They must understand and engage with cultural movements that emerge out of social media, both within their audience and looking broader towards social media influencers and communities.

In this new environment, what we’ve seen emerge is a unique opportunity to co-create culture. The brands that are taking off on social media have realised this already. They’re getting involved in conversations that matter to their customers – gender diversity, immigration, gay rights, body image, mental health and sustainability – as well as connecting themselves with cultural moments. And this is making their social media messaging more powerful than ever before.

But it’s not too late for those who are yet to realise the true power of social media to gauge the cultural dialogue of a group. Social media holds a wealth of information on a brand’s audience – who they are, what they talk about (and what they don’t), what they like and dislike, what they think about your brand, and what issues matter most to them. Brands that are active on social media already have access to this data, they just need the right tool to capture, filter and activate its insight.

There is a sweet spot where a brand and culture collide – the key is to find it. For some, it may be taking insights and making a deeper connection with an audience through bold cultural statements; for others, it may be as simple as aligning the brand to a cultural occasion and embedding it in ritual; while other still may look to anticipate the emerging everyday needs of a group, and use that information to tailor a specific product or service.

Regardless of what the brand/culture nexus looks like, the how still remains the same. Brands must listen to their customers and observe how they interact with culture. Social media is the best place to pick up important cultural cues, and now this can be easily realised with an analytics tool like Zavy. 

Ultimately, the closer brands listen to people and their influences, the more likely they are to say things that are meaningful to their customers and what they want to hear. 

Dave Bowes is CEO of Zavy, a social media monitoring platform for brands.
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