As our world becomes smaller and more diverse, brands need to dial into the changing landscape. With an increased blend of cultures, languages, and life experiences, branding is becoming more complex to navigate. While brand personas and segmentation are still common practice, audiences can no longer live in a demographic box.
Redefining cultural and behavioral norms, the new consumer is looking for brands that they can connect to and understand their needs and desires. For the 21st century brand, there are several ways you can build a strong, meaningful image to a new generation of consumers.
Being relevant may seem big picture but it requires a lot of work. Savvy consumers want brands that are at the edge of the latest trends and offer the most innovative solutions for their needs. Being relevant is more that reading up and sitting behind a desk reading metrics in google trends (still important though!). It also requires qualitative research and getting to know audiences perception not only of your brand, but competitors. And rather than trying to fit into current trends and expectations, you need to zero in on what makes you different from the crowd. What are those elements that will have you stand out?
According to Smart Insights, “64% of consumers are now belief-driven buyers who want brands to deliver on societal issues, as well as products.” Brands like Nike, Dove, Heineken, and Ben & Jerry’s have spoken out on the issues that matter to consumers and are coming up with images that are stronger than ever. They are brands that people can stand behind because they are not just looking at business, but how to improve the world. What is incredible about social and environmental issues is that it bypasses cultural, generational, and geographic lines and picks up on global concerns that audiences value around the world.
The last thing you want to do as a brand is to miss the mark on cultural relevancy, or worse, do something completely culturally insensitive. Even established brands have completely gotten it wrong. While lines are blurring in terms of culture, it is still important to take the time to understand your demographic, especially when you decide to penetrate a new market. While the easier way to screw up is when you try to go overseas, locally you can fail as well. By not understanding and the needs of a generation, races, or even genders, you can be on the road to catastrophe. Look at Pelaton’s ad blunder. Whether you feel it was blown out of proportion or not, they failed to understand the female demographic. The ad came across as insensitive and dismissive of body image. Even generalizing generations such a ‘boomers’ as old school or millennials’ as lazy can have a large impact on your brand image. You need to evaluate pain points and core values of audiences when addressing a specific market. And it doesn’t hurt to conduct focus groups to get different perspectives together in one room.
Culture isn’t just about understanding where people come from, it’s about connecting to people’s life experience combining gender, behavior, generational needs, values, and beyond. A brand that stays agile and aware of cultural needs is one that will make it in the long haul.