The 5 Rules of Creating Culturally Relevant Brands
By Tim Coffey
Founder & Chief Revolutionist
1. It’s Not You, It’s Me.
The first rule of creating culturally relevant brands is to understand that this process is not primarily focused on defining your brand. More fundamentally, it is about understanding the consumer from the standpoint of their desires and needs in a particular circumstance or setting. It is about them, not you. Harvard Professor Theodore Leavitt is oft quoted as saying that…
“People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”
In this analogy, your brand is the quarter-inch drill and they don’t want to buy it…they want a quarter-inch hole! So, step one is discovering what is your “quarter inch hole.” Sounds easy enough, but in our experience, you need to “drill” a bit deeper.
2. What is Culture?
Ahh yes, culture. One of those sexy words which defies easy definition. Pop culture? Human culture? Sub-culture? Counter culture? Corporate culture? There are a lot of ways to go with this one, but for purposes of branding, I like how Merriam-Webster approaches the word:
“The characteristic features of everyday existence shared by people in a place or time.”
The real essence of this definition from a marketing POV, in my opinion, are the words: shared, people, place and time. That’s because these words focus our attention on what really matters when in comes to creating culturally relevant brands. We need to be specific when it comes to what we are trying to understand… remember it’s not about you?
3. So What’s the Need?
So, in the context of “culture” as defined above, we need to understand the need? That is, for a particular group of people (shared), in a particular circumstance (place and time) what are the emotional, functional, and social jobs to do. This is a big job and the most important one when it comes to creating culturally relevant brands. In order to be relevant, you must know for what you are attempting to be relevant. Breaking this down a bit, you need to start looking at the people (shared), in a particular circumstance (place and time), where your brand lives. In other words, for whom, when, and where is your brand relevant?
4. How Do You Uniquely Meet The Need?
So, unless you are the as yet undiscovered cure for whatever ails mankind, then functional needs are probably not going to be the the place for you to focus on being unique. Take water for example, the functional need is to quench your thirst and provide hydration. Ok, so your brand of water really, really quenches thirst. So unless I am in a desert and your water is the only one available…but you are not the only one available, so let’s look elsewhere. Again, the answer is to stop focusing on yourself and focus on the consumer’s deeper needs that are likely emotional or social. In a world where most people focus on themselves (or their brands) you are more likely to find a unique proposition in the emotional or social realms. Are these needs unique? No, actually they are more general, more broadly applicable… translation… big ideas. Net, what you are really looking for is a need (probably emotional or social) that is not already associated with another brand and can be authentically associated with your brand.
5. Insert Your Brand Into The Circumstance.
So how does that work? Well, this is where you need to understand that your brand in just a prop in the drama of life, in a particular scene, or circumstance. You need to become part of the story. An article in Psychology and Marketing, 2008, Dr Arch Woodside wrote…
“Consumers often use products and services as props or anthropomorphic identities to enact story productions that reflect archetypal myths. Storytelling of such enactments includes conversations between consumers and brands on both unconscious and conscious levels of thinking (cf.Wang et al., 2007; Zaltman, 2003).”
Yep, that is a mouthful! But, that is where we come in. Our expertise is helping you to sort through and craft the storyline into which your brand becomes a prop… and in doing so, you are well on your way to becoming a culturally relevant brand.
Modelo Especial Beer.
People: For young adult males
Circumstance: Who are working hard to overcome humble beginnings
Emotional Need: So that they can achieve honor and status
Prop: Modelo Especial is “the gold” that symbolizes and celebrates their journey.
Archetypal Story:Rags to riches)
Archetypal Character: Knight/Warrior (fights for honor)
Brand Experience: Taste that’s pure gold. Gold embellished packaging. UFC sponsorship.
This blog offers stories and discussions on how to build more relevance and differentiation for brands. The author is Timothy Coffey, Chief Revolutionist of Launchforce Strategy, a consumer research consultancy that specializes in highly creative qualitative methods. His experience ranges from brand and research management at Procter & Gamble to innovation management at Tupperware to founding and leading an integrated marketing strategy agency. He is the author of three books, Innovation Myths & Mythstakes, The New Super Consumer, Mom&Kid, and The Great Tween Buying Machine.