A few weeks ago, I spoke with Lauren Kren, the brand manager on Kimberly-Clark’s U By Kotex and the Generation Know program. I still need to go over those notes. But one thing we agreed upon: Research reduces risk. At least on the front end. It allows you to go into a program or propose a course of action that addresses and audience need. That’s how K-C knew that generation know was the right thing to do.

But as it relates to cultural leadership, it seems that research and its attendant risk reduction only get you so far. Let’s say you’ve got a high degree of confidence on the front end that you heading in the right direction, that you’d got the right strategic idea upon which you can build your brand. Great. But what happens if things change? What happens if the culture shifts and other issues come to the fore that impact the way you’ve framed this issue.

For example, let’s assume Mountain Dew understood the appeal of Tyler, The Creator to its core audience. But once the furor erupted over the recent Goat ad, how did that research help them respond? Doesn’t seem like it was of much use.

For the time being, I’m willing to agree that research reduces risk. What it provides is the confidence that you’re heading in the right direction and that you’re aligned with your target constituents.  But only on the front end.

But here’s the conundrum: Even if you’re speaking to a target audience, thanks to social media, you’re also being heard by everyone.  When you’re playing in the culture space, one of authenticity, does this front-end confidence make you blind and deaf once you need to change direction?  Does it trap you and prevent you from making the whatever changes are necessary once culture shifts?

Perhaps we should be saying that research reduces initial risk.  Or instantaneous risk, i.e., risk at a particular moment.  But culture is ever-changing.  And it’s context.  So when that context changes, what’s a brand to do?


Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by Rob Fields

Observer. Curator. Marketer. Dot connector.

  • Jason Reid

    I’m not sure if the Mountain Dew Tyler, The Creator “controversy” is a good example. I think the Mountain Dew team were more enamored with being associated with the cool factor of Tyler, forgetting how the ad would be received outside of Odd Future’s core audience. I wasn’t offended by the ad, so I’m not sure if it was a failure of just research. “Good” research is designed to reduce initial risk, it gives the team a sense of confidence in strategy. I would argue that research should also act as the starting point to discuss context & culture. What is research without context? Not just initial context, But what happens after a strategy is implemented, campaign or otherwise. It’s impossible accurately predict exactly how context/culture will shift, but we can pay attention to patterns and trends. “The more informed the better” is usually the mantra, but there needs to be a sense of reason and continuity throughout the strategy and implementation of campaigns. It all boils down to brands needing to be smarter and more aware of how they navigate the ever-changing cultural landscape.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Jason. I agree with you for the most part. For example, no, the MD Goat ad wasn’t a failure of research.

      What I’m interested in are the elements of what makes a brand more responsive as cultural frames shift. It seems that so many brands still aren’t that good at navigating culture. And not just bolting a sponsorship onto some hot celeb or property. But how to avoid getting blindsided by the backlash that, in the case of MD or Pepsi’s sponsorship of Beyonce, wouldn’t have been a big deal (maybe not even noticed) five years ago.

      The other question that comes up: How best for brands to respond when creative executions that are audience specific are viewed by the larger marketplace? Seems like “this wasn’t for you” isn’t a valid response. But then again, it might be. Is it the case that brands just might have to say to people, “we weren’t talking to you. Butt out.”?

      Another question: How can brands be more responsive to fast culture? Better yet, how can brands respond to the responses they get from the executions they put out into the marketplace? Yes, they should monitor culture. But, honestly, that’s a really expensive proposition, per Grant McCracken.

      More questions than answers at this point.

      Again, thanks for taking time to comment.