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Investing in culture is a brand strategy FTW.
If you are looking for building company culture inside the boundaries of the corporate setting, the keyword gods have defied you and this is where you should stop reading and probably close the tab. If you are looking for some insight about incorporating culture into your brand, read on.
For starters, company culture inside the headquarters or any place with employees working for the brand is also important for the cultural implications outside. If you are an ice-cream brand that has tapped into the culture of a family enjoying ice-cream after dinner, you cannot be a company that forces their employees to work overtime and refrain them from the happiness of sharing the ice-cream with their families. These brands would suffer in how they are perceived by the consumer, no matter how aggressive the marketing is.
(Culture > Propaganda)
Branding is not what it was a decade ago. Earlier, companies would introspect and identify defining attributes of their brand and that was the version that made it to the market. Companies had complete control. Now such a concept feels ancient. Now, brands have to proactively and purposefully look and study the culture and then integrate themselves into the world.
This word has a lot of meaning in different aspects. It has been overused and misunderstood. From the bacteria in yogurt to the aspect of tradition and religion, the word culture has been associated with a lot.
One definition suggests that culture is the knowledge, beliefs, art, law, morals, customs and other capabilities of one group distinguishing it from other groups.
In a spiritual sense, culture is primarily the cultivation of the mind through core of ideals. It is a better expression of our existence through the vitality of creative conscience.
Swami Shivapremananda in a discourse in London made sense out of this. He said, “The ‘I’ seeks its security as a body through sensation and possession, as a mind by the exercise of opinion and involvement of feelings, and as a spirit through its sense of being a part of the whole, the infinite.”
In branding or materialistic or just simpler terms, this is the feeling of belonging that you get through the possession of something. He further says that the purpose of culture is the integration of material and spiritual. Which can be interpreted as something tangible, a product characterized by the freedom of choice and opinion.
He even states something that can be interpreted in the lines of brand loyalty and the concept of cults. He says, “You experience the innate instincts through memory-oriented desires, either in preference or rejection, from which arise the love to possess and the passion to hate the dispossesor”
Continuing understanding of the concept of culture in the sense of spiritual philosophy, the purpose of culture is to move our life from:
We have some insight on culture. Let’s dive into branding.
A brand does not exist in a void. It exists in a social sphere where people live and make decisions. Gone are the days when there was a hierarchy and a linear transaction between a consumer and a business. Now, both exist at the same level and the transactions are circular. Feedback completes a transaction. Customers and businesses have an exchange relationship which is not limited to just a product and payment.
Today, a brand is beyond the boundaries of the product or the packaging that it comes in. It is a part of the consumer’s life. Using a product is not just functional, it is a statement, it is communicating what they believe in.
Tribes have the strongest cultural values. That is how the concept of tribes entered the branding conversation. And the thread that tied tribes together was stories. The importance of stories in branding is underrated and equally important. Stories are the social glue that help build cultures. That is exactly why branding requires cultural knowledge.
(Photo by Thomas Serer on Unsplash)
Let’s take the case of Nike.
The Nike ideology was “being a hero” It constantly updated the ideal according to the customer beliefs. The Nike consumer believed in the vision of individual private heroism, not necessarily social or public. It built a culture of heroic deeds without wearing a cape and saving a damsel in distress. It was heroism that was to conquer personal hurdles and those are the roots of “Just do it.”
Globalization is something that is making the world smaller, but at the same time, it is compelling brands to have a localized approach while expanding. It is about maintaining diversity along with a standard identity.
Customers are confident and proud of their local culture. They do not want to fit into a global homogeneity, they want to embrace their individualism and prefer the local element in brands, rather than the global approach. Brands have to find a sweet spot between standardization and customization of their brand before expanding outside the market and culture it was born in.
This was properly understood and integrated by Hindustan Unilever who invented the ₹1 shampoo sachets for rural markets in India. It was such a successful strategy that the culture of sachets boomed. Products like tea, hair oil, and detergent also started coming in sachets. It penetrated the urban markets as travel companions so that one could avoid carrying a whole bottle for a two-day trip. They understood and captured local sensitivities to tap the culture. Now, they are culture.
In the city of Ahmedabad, Subway, the international sandwich outlet started a vegetarian-only outlet in an area that had a dense Jain population. It was a highly successful cultural strategy that was localized in order to globalize the brand.
When the outside does not match the inside; when the body does not match the identity, a person usually feels dysmorphia. The same happens with brands. When the identity does not match how the brand is portrayed outside, brands are bound to break.
Authenticity and what you stand for lies at the core of cultural branding. Ideological myopia and a patchwork approach in branding often leads to the doom of the brand. Brands need to take a stand and participate in the culture. Corporate obliviousness is very unhealthy for the identity of your brand.
People reject inauthenticity at the bat of an eye. The Kendall Jenner Pepsi campaign is the most memorable instance of rejection that the consumer shows to inauthenticity. Although, brands that have a passive, spectator approach to culture seem to receive the same treatment from potential consumers.
Brand and culture integration takes a mix of the concept of tribes, meaning-making, symbolic use, consumer demographics, consumer identity, consumption habits, and representation of ideologies. It takes a heuristic approach to build a brand that becomes a part of the culture.
At Slangbusters, we believe brands should start contributing to culture, rather than solely taking from it. We are trying to build a culture of jargon-less, clear communication so that you can be a part of your own branding process. Let’s build a brand, let’s contribute to culture. Contact us now.
— by Manas, Content Strategist, Slangbusters Studio