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?