Continually interrupting consumers is where brands are falling short. Brands need to keep on top of cultural relevance so that they provide value to their audience and ultimately, can form real connections with them.

  • A culturally relevant brand is one that aligns well with cultural events, promotes trends that shape today’s culture, and supports social issues, whilst remaining true to their brand image and relevant to their demographic.
  • Cultural relevance is crucial to understand and respond to an audience in a way that they can relate to.
  • In an ever-changing market, brands need to remain relevant and using storytelling to achieve a two-way conversation between brand and audience is an effective medium to achieve this.

Previously, companies would develop their brand image by identifying the key aspects and benefits of their brand and then projecting this to their target market. They behaved as though they had complete control over their audience and its market.

However, this has now evolved and brands are more actively searching for their purpose and place in the culture that surrounds them, whether it’s in the news, social media, or fashion, they are harnessing this awareness so they can best position themselves in the market.

This method for creating a brand image is far more effective as that brand is more likely to become part of a culture that they can engage with directly. By doing this, brands are demonstrating their understanding of that culture, resulting in a more genuine connection with their audience and this is essential in today’s market.

In an industry where trends are always evolving, brands need to remain relevant, and storytelling is a medium through which they can encompass all of these aspects to portray cultural relevance.

“[Culture] is broad-based, and how you identify what those cultural moments are that are relevant and resident to your brand is where we start to be able to be more targeted in how brands can actually inject and interject themselves in those moments.” Stephanie Prager, global head of agency development, Twitter.

Stories shape brands and culture:

Culture is built by humans and advertised by brands and this is demonstrated most effectively through storytelling.

Storytelling provides a way to make sense of the world and a brand, and this goes back centuries, from cavemen telling stories to understand the stars, to tribes telling stories to build communities.

If a company can appreciate this, they will learn that this creates an opportunity for brands and their audience to form a connection - the best brand experience will be defined by their ability to tell great, authentic stories.

Great storytelling is achieved primarily by understanding the target audience, their values, opinions, and annoyances. Once a brand is clued in on the opinions of their audience, they can start to build a relationship through the correct use of tone and execution in their advertising and social media.

Brands have changed the way they tell stories:

MAGNA and Twitter teamed up to conduct a study called, ‘The Impact Of Culture’, where they investigated how much consumers - especially young users on Twitter - value brands that are culturally relevant. The report states that 25% of their product purchase decisions are motivated by cultural relevance. These brands are the ones who attach themselves to the culture that surrounds their key demographic, and the study found that this is almost as important as a strong brand image.

Attempting to integrate this into a brand’s marketing strategy should not pose too many obstacles, as the market brands find themselves in today is far more accessible than before, they can interact with their audiences directly and less intrusively in their day-to-day lives through social media platforms.

If a brand image was developed without taking into consideration what is going on around them and their audience, they will fail to connect with their surrounding communities. Consumers are responding negatively to intrusive advertising as they no longer want to be told what their culture looks like, instead, they want to form part of its development.

Therefore, a brand should aim to tell stories that merge a brand into the culture their audience resides in.

How can this be achieved?

Put simply, to achieve this, brands need to incorporate the relevant elements of the culture into their brand image.

A brand needs to connect with recent events that also reflect their values so they can demonstrate an engagement with the culture of their audience. This is key to gaining your consumers’ trust as they want brands that represent their values. So, not only does a brand need to appreciate what’s happening in their audience’s culture, but they also need to identify the parts of that community which make sense to associate with, according to their brand image.

Two years ago, Dove successfully demonstrated how not to be culturally relevant through their limited-edition ‘body-shape’ bottle range. They intended on inspiring ‘real beauty’ and an appreciation for women of all shapes and sizes but instead were slated by the public for being patronising.

“I don’t know about you, but I have never felt so oppressed by the shape of my toiletry bottles - I do not appreciate a company that so oversimplifies the complicated issue of how our society views women’s bodies.” Kristen Bellstrom, Fortune’s Broadsheet Newsletter.

Dove is one of many brands that have been noted by its audience for inauthenticity. In a time where storytelling is used to build and uphold relationships with an audience, can brands justify neglecting the importance of cultural relevance? 

However, a business that was able to successfully integrate cultural relevance into their branding, while standing the test of time, was Always with their #LikeAGirl campaign. Just by watching and comparing the Dove and Always campaigns, it is obvious which is more empowering, inspiring, and relevant for girls and women. They identified a current cultural issue that was relevant to their brand and spoke about it, while remaining true to their values, and providing their audience with a great story.

A campaign like this shows the effectiveness of authenticity in advertising. In a world where gender inequality is at the centre of most communities, with many brands attempting to tap into the attention surrounding this topic, Always managed to respond to it in a way which was not intrusive for their audience, but instead, completely relevant and memorable.

This process is not easy or a quick fix, it requires a lot of time and hard work to achieve this. Brands need to understand what motivates and upsets their audience so that they can build real connections with them. Through understanding the culture they want to influence, in turn, their brand image will prosper.

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