The last decade has produced some of the most salient trends and cultural shifts to date, augmented by the advancement of technology, the booming state of social media and the expansion of the global sharing economy. The result is an increasingly fast-paced marketplace that leaves brands unsure of how to keep up with trends and cultural shifts. Marketers today are faced with hard-hitting questions around how to best use consumer insights to tap into these shifts today to maintain relevancy for tomorrow.
In recent years, more marketers have started leveraging cultural insights to help drive solutions that resonate with their audience without being out of step with culture. But what is cultural insight, and more importantly, how can it actually work to improve the state of your business?
So…what is cultural insight?
The practice of analyzing culture, known as “cultural insight,” tracks, measures and highlights the invisible cultural forces impacting the lives, perceptions and choices of consumers today. It provides brands and marketers with the knowledge and resources necessary to create resonant messaging strategies that can stand the test of time.
At Material, we believe that understanding culture is the key to unlocking full, comprehensive consumer truths, beyond reliance on consumer input. Our cultural strategists are trained anthropologists who study culture and human behavior. They utilize semiotics and trendscanning– along with a full portfolio of cultural insight tools and methodologies– to help brands and marketers see a fuller picture of their consumer today, and in the future.
Now that we’ve covered what cultural insight is and why marketers depend on it, let’s explore the benefits of using it to futureproof your brand
Uncover the “why” behind numbers
With the boom of the data-driven economy, many marketers rely on hard numbers to determine where to go next and how to reach consumers of today. However, focusing on data alone can lead to some serious blind spots. Marrying numbers with cultural insight, and taking the time to understand what is driving and influencing those results, differentiates truly culturally immersed brands from those who fail to be a part of the cultural conversation.
When used correctly, cultural strategists can help marketers paint the space between the data and bring life to often static metrics of measurement, ultimately creating a way for data-dependent decision makers to make better, more informed choices about the direction of their marketing strategies.
Identify the origins of each cultural phenomena
Understanding how certain trends, consumer perceptions and behaviors came to exist is the first step to creating messaging strategies that are authentic and meaningful.
Cultural strategists are able to examine the cultural atmosphere both before and after a key trend or shift hits the marketplace, enabling marketers to make more savvy decisions about the direction of their brand marketing initiatives. By asking the right questions to determine the origins of a trend, cultural strategists equip marketers with the tools necessary to futureproof their brand– especially when, through that process, the full historicity of those shifts is recognized and acknowledged. Only then can brand marketers understand the impact certain trends and shifts have had on consumer perception, behavior, and purchase decisions.
Latch on to cultural shifts — not trends
Trends are a great way to get a read of what is happening in the now, and to understand key cultural artifacts that are pushing consumers to think about themselves and the world differently. However, trends can be risky investments for marketers to consider, especially given the amount of time and energy it takes for an idea to be developed, produced and activated against. Often, the digital world has already moved on to the next new thing by the time most brands have trends figured out.
This is why the examination process of identifying the origin of each cultural phenomena is so important. When cultural strategists take the time to investigate trends, the end result is often an identification of bigger, meatier territories in the form of “cultural shifts.”
When these larger cultural shifts are identified, marketers gain access to a broader foundation on which to ideate, create, test, and develop strategies that can withstand the constant changing nature of trends. What’s more, the permanency of these shifts means that the race for marketers to integrate those learnings into to their own organizations can be done in a more informed, purposeful way, ensuring marketers enough time to get it right while guaranteeing a positive ROI.
Understand the link between multicultural insights and cultural shifts
The relationship between multicultural insights and cultural insights can be a complicated one. This complexity results from the very well-known fact that multicultural consumers often serve as catalysts for the very cultural shifts that marketers find themselves needing to pay attention to, even though minorities are rarely credited for doing so.
Minority consumers ironically exist both as curators of cultural trends and as the receivers of the cultural shifts those trends ignite. So when utilizing cultural insight, it is important for marketers to first acknowledge the role of multicultural consumers in those shifts by understanding the source of the shift, and which groups or audiences are more or less impacted by them.
Marketers must also understand that, while each cultural shift may have one definition, the way they show up in the lives of minority groups is — and always will be — nuanced and different than that of mainstream consumers. When marketers understand when, and how, to dial up or tap into the cultural nuances of their consumers, they are able to make more authentic connections with their core customer base.
Innovate while staying in step with culture
Cultural insight doesn’t only provide marketers with the tools to develop more culturally sound strategies, it also helps brands innovate solutions for their target market.
Brands that are seeking to develop new products, points of view, or positioning initiatives can tap cultural strategists to partner with and ideate new solutions that are both in line with consumer expectations and future facing, leaning innovation efforts into the direction that culture is organically moving toward.
In this case, the utilization of semiotics is key. Understanding all of the meaning and perceptions associated with an emerging idea or concept is critical to ensuring the best version of a final product is put into the marketplace.
Identify nuances in international markets
It is not rare to run into a brand that has created a product or communication strategy that is not well received or understood in all of its activation markets. What may seem good or positive in the US could be perceived as bad — or even negative — in China. An easy way to avoid such a mishap is to utilize cultural strategists from the onset, and throughout the entire creative process.
When marketers and creative agencies incorporate cultural insights into their communication strategy, cultural experts can conduct a constant analysis of the signified meaning of verbal and visual cues and symbols within the collateral being deployed across a wide number of countries and international communities. This way, when a brand decides to create messaging around a central idea, they are able to do so with a culturally-driven activation plan that highlights the nuances and cultural context of that idea, as well as the parts that will, or will not resonate within particular marketplaces.
When used correctly, cultural insight is a powerful tool to elevate the output of your consumer findings
In this increasingly fast paced environment, brands and marketers can only benefit from the additive effects of incorporating the cultural elements that impact and influence consumers on a daily basis. Whether its by understanding the full cultural context and historicity of a trend or cultural shift, identifying emerging trends, ideating for innovations, highlighting intercultural nuances, or decoding concepts through a semiotic lens, there is ultimately a role for cultural insights in all aspects of consumer marketing.