Capturing Culture

Capturing attention of a consumer is one thing. Maintaining it is quite another. And making it connect in such a way that your brand becomes meaningful in the shared human experience, perhaps the hardest part, is another still. There’s nothing new in the challenge, but as we are increasingly bombarded with marketing and advertising in every possible channel, it’s getting harder. We can easily be ignored, overlooked, or simply dismissed. Ads are competing with blogs, memes, selfies, games, cat videos, gossip, and news. Entertainment value and sharability are now the dominant forms of currency in our lives. Content has become a constant layer of engagement with the world. So how does a brand stay relevant? It almost feels overwhelming. To compete in this increasingly fluid landscape, where every interaction with the world has the potential to become a messaging platform, brands need to focus less on traditional measures like awareness and share of voice and more on connecting with the culture of the audiences they are trying to reach. Brands must compete for share of culture.

Competing for share of culture is about shared experiences where everyone can see themselves in the stories, content, and events of the day. It is about creating meaning in a broad spectrum of interactions. Why? Because at the most fundamental and unchanging levels of our being, people seek to create culture and community around the things they care about most. Whether we’re talking about broad national cultures (e.g. New Englanders), subcultures (e.g. Punks), or cultures of practice (e.g. engineers), belonging to a culture means having a shared a set of values, shared customs and history, a common language, and common worldview. They share stories, practices, and even brands. And that shared experience means that a brand has far greater relevance if it can become a fixed part of that cultural structure. The question for a brand, is how does it go about it?

The future of marketing lies in the intersection of cultural knowledge, data, technology, and content. Insight springs from being able to craft a story that is transformative – it must react to changes in the environment, but it must also drive change through creating conversations that shape more than individual targets. Those conversations must change (or have the potential to change) worlds. To gain share of culture, brands (and agencies that support them) need to develop expertise in generating real insight. Any and every approach to a marketing problem will need to integrating cultural understanding, data, technology, and content into their platforms and campaigns. Gatorade is one example of how this comes together. They have developed an entire marketing ecosystem around the idea being a Sports Fuel Company. They use data to better understand both social and athletic trends allows them to organize their users into different audience groups and adapt the conversation at a moment’s notice. The tools on the website allow users to tailor their nutritional needs with their workout and improve their performance. And, perhaps most importantly, their brand represents more than food and drink – it represents the aspirations and needs of athletes who see themselves as a special group with a shared understanding of the world. It speaks to their dreams as well as the practical realities of daily training.

In the end, brands that focus on owning cultural moments in people’s lives, and develop the expertise to speak to them at the right place, in the right way, at the right time, will do more than capture consumer attention. They will capture something more valuable than share of voice. They will capture share of culture and become fixtures in peoples’ lives.


Published by gavinjohnston67

Take an ex-chef who’s now a full-fledge anthropologist and set him free to conduct qualitative research, ethnography, brand positioning, strategy and sociolinguistics studies and you have Gavin. He is committed to understand design and business problems by looking at them through an anthropological lens. He believes deeply in turning research findings into actionable results that provide solid business strategies and design ideas. It's not an insight until you do something with it. With over 18 years of experience in strategy, research, and communications, he has done research worldwide for a diverse set of clients within retail, legal, banking, automotive, telecommunications, health care and consumer products industries.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: