If there’s a communications problem, it’s usually the fault of the sender.

I’ve been thinking about this lately, particularly as it relates to how brands leverage contemporary culture. Generally, I think most brands do a poor job of leveraging culture for activation purposes, let alone for product and service innovation.

Maybe, just maybe, those of us who come out of the culture space have been thinking about “leveraging culture” in entirely the wrong way.  Here’s what I mean:

Even though I’ve never been one, I’m trying to put myself in the shoes of a brand manager.  From that perspective, it seems more useful to think about how cultural phenomenon are indicative of evolving consumer needs, lifestyles and interests. With that in mind, it’s not really culture that’s important as much as the behaviors, expressions and expectations that they highlight. Which is maybe why brand managers focus on gaining the “consumer insight”.

Also, if it’s the case that “culture” is only useful as a gauge of how consumers are evolving–and exhibiting new/different needs, lifestyles and interests–then the reading of culture is important as an indicator of how a brand needs to behave: contemporary, authentic, supporter, advocate, enabler, facilitator, etc.

Business problems are never about culture itself.  Rather, culture is a means to a business end:  Engagement, loyalty, advocacy, etc.

That said, the following questions are appropriate:

  • Is cultural phenomenon only important as a way of mapping back to consumer preference?
  • Is it more important for brand managers to stay away from specific trends and focus on overall consumer implications of those trends?
  • At what point do brand managers venture down specific cultural channels: Music, film, fashion, etc?
  • Are we spending too much time and effort selling a particular aspect of culture?

For those of you who have experience in client-side brand management roles, I’d really appreciate your feedback on this.

H/T: Indy Neogy at Kiln for the conversation last week that crystallized some of this.



Posted by Rob Fields

Observer. Curator. Marketer. Dot connector.