Culture Club

Hot on the heels of our Youth Club event, last night we staged Culture Club - a session with Tea Building buddies BD Network, plus guest speakers Lisa Moretti from Seven and psychologist Dr Dimitrios Tsivrikos, in which we explored how brands face up to the challenge of becoming more culturally relevant. Here's some pics...

Stayed tuned for news of more Culture Club and Youth Club events in 2015.

We've been looking at some examples of brand innovation that come culturally charged. The common thread? The component which makes the difference is very much at the heart of these companies, rather than a marketing bolt-on. And the innovation is crafted from real world sentiment, not just built from a digital breakthrough. All new-ish brands, here's their stories...

Finisterre: cold water surfing

Think surf culture and the bright colours and karma of Hawaii most likely come to mind, or the sun splashed ways of California. But Finisterre are reimagining the sport in the form of ‘cold water surfing’ – casting it as a culture that’s unique from that of the warm water variant, with a completely different set of rituals, behaviours and, naturally, product requirements. In a sphere as codified in deep-rooted imagery and customs as surfing, it’s quite a feat to have you reconsidering things.

Shinola: bringing manufacturing back to Detroit

Few cities have been through tougher times than Detroit – when the car industry and its wealth left town, poverty and a sense of abandonment set in. Shinola have built their watch business (closely followed by bicycles and other product lines) around reinvigorating the story of this American city and indeed of gutsy American industry. Thus the brand comes with a tangible spirit of striving heavily embedded in its DNA.

Story: if a store thought like a magazine

A store called Story ought to come with a good story of its own and it does. Situated on Manhattan’s 10th Avenue, this is a shop that thinks like a magazine, starting completely afresh every four to eight weeks and bringing together a new issue in which the product acts as content. Previous themes have included Wellness, Love and Made In America. This time it’s Home For The Holidays, an ‘editorialised gift guide’ shaped in partnership with Target.

Crowd DNA’s trends knowledge leader, Rebecca Coleman, explores the value created by brands through looking beyond the day to day and connecting with the cultural shifts that consumers really care about…

What’s your brand’s purpose? Great brands have a point of view and mission that stretches beyond the confines of their primary function. Think Coca-Cola and their mission to spread happiness or Dove’s Real Beauty campaign. Google, with its commitment to helping start ups is another great example of a brand with a purpose that stretches further than its primary function or promise. What cultural shifts are happening right now that consumers really care about? What value are you adding to people’s lives?

If a brand has a purpose that stretches beyond its category and functionality, it’s much easier to tap into trends and keep up with consumers as their lifestyles evolve. Take P&G brand Always as an example: it has consistently looked to offer effective feminine hygiene products, but more importantly it has stayed true to its mission of instilling girls with confidence through education at every lifestage.

Knowing its audience and purpose has made it straightforward for Always to align itself with contemporary feminist culture. Although this is a macro trend affecting wide swathes of society, Always has made all its #LikeaGirl communications feel personal by harnessing a universal sentiment. They’ve also accompanied the campaign with meaningful and impactful initiatives that stretch from one-on-one advice for young girls to partnering with UNESCO to promote gender equality across the globe. Showing this depth of commitment enhances feelings of trust and the sense that Always really believes in its long-term mission to boost female confidence.

This fusion of individual and collective value is increasingly pertinent in today’s world of corporate social responsibility over-saturation. CSR on its own has become pretty meaningless to well-informed, media-savvy consumers who – dissatisfied with pure lip service – demand to know how and why a brand is making a difference to their world. In a 2014 survey of 8,000 consumers in 16 markets PR agency Edelman found that consumers see customer relationship management as more important than CSR. Another study from the World Federation Of Advertisers (WFA) uncovered a swing from environmentalism and global issues to supporting communities and ethical business practices as important brand purposes. This indicates a shift from concerns about big, global issues to a focus on tangible everyday topics that pack a more personal punch.

This seems obvious in some ways. It reflects a number of wider consumer trends, such as a growing lack of trust in large corporations and traditional authority figures, as well as an increasing expectation to be part of a brand’s story through conversation, co-creation and collaboration. On top of that you have new definitions of value driven by the sharing economy and the recession. This means that purchases now need to count for more than simply their functional worth. Consumers are looking for brands that look after their needs and desires, as well as those of the world.

Whatever your category, it’s important not to get trapped in a revolving door of convention. For FMCG brands like Always, there’ll always be someone who offers a similar product for a cheaper price. However, by aligning itself with a larger cultural movement it manages to stand-out in a crowded marketplace.

Helping brands to explore and fully realise their cultural relevance is a core theme in what we do. Crowd DNA consultant Alice Ellen explores the roots of such thinking; the work of Pierre Bourdieu in particular.

Academic theories and concepts often fall by the wayside when entering the world of consumer insight. Many books and articles are decades old and densely written in dry academic prose; definitely not something you can have a quick flick through on the commute to work. However, taking a little time to digest these theories can prove extremely beneficial in helping us understand our participants, by building upon and borrowing from relevant information.

Pierre Bourdieu’s Distinction is one such text that contains some interesting and important ideas, including a framework that can still be used today, given a little tweaking. Cultural capital, in particular, is a useful concept to decode the world around us.

In a nutshell, Bourdieu identified cultural capital as one form of capital that your status might be derived from, together with economic, human and social capital. Cultural capital can be displayed through embodied expressions like tattoos and piercings, or by depicting our status through the material objects that we own.

Examples might include:

So what does this mean in terms of consumerism and branding? Delving into how people display their cultural capital can be an extremely useful way of pulling out the differences between various social groupings, especially when thinking about demographics and recruitment; it can help us move away from the sometimes reductionist approach of grouping consumers based on income and qualifications alone. Cultural capital is therefore a valuable concept and analytical process – one we can use to capture the nuances between social groupings and in mapping what different groups value.

A good example of how Bourdieu’s theories have been built upon for use in an up-to-date, culturally relevant context is Sarah Thornton’s work on youth cultures in the 1990s. Here she draws on the idea of cultural capital and extends it into the world of subcultures to explain how different social groups express their identity. Thornton describes “subcultural capital” as the way members of a subculture depict their status and differentiate themselves from other social groups, by obtaining cultural knowledge and expressing taste and style through commodities. Therefore, it is important to understand that different tribes in society express their cultural or subcultural capital through shared passions, as a way of measuring their cultural worth in the world.

This is why cultural capital, and more broadly speaking, culture in general is so important for a brand to both understand its target audience and relevance within the world. For, brands, as we know, don’t exist in a vacuum. Brands that understand this, instinctively focus on how to cultivate cultural capital first, playing an intrinsic role in consumers’ lives, and thus not just planning at a market level but really honing in on cultural strategy to gain a competitive edge and boost brand value.

Exploring trends isn’t simple. For every development, there is most likely one headed in the opposite direction. But as explained by Crowd DNA’s trends knowledge leader, Rebecca Coleman, in today’s world of shape-shifting lifestyles it is regularly the same people that are following both trend and countertrend…

We live in a world of extremes. This means that for every significant shift in our cultural fabric, there will be a pull in the opposite direction. These countertrends may not be as dominant as their mainstream forebears, but they are no less important. In a market where everyone is following the trend, sometimes it pays to be the one offering a rebellious alternative, no matter how niche it may seem at the time.

A trend is not a fad. Trends have longevity. They are a distillation of the effect that major and minor social, political, technological and economical shifts are having on people’s lifestyles and behaviour. By understanding the current consumer landscape in this way, forecasters are able to predict more accurately how our needs and desires might be shaped in the future.

However, humans are not simple creatures and as soon as something becomes a trend it is inevitable that there will be some movement against it. This is the countertrend. It used to be the case that this was often an act of cultural rebellion – for example, when the mainstream trend was to aim for corporate and capitalist success in the late seventies, the punks sprang up to offer an extreme alternative. Interestingly, in today’s world of shape-shifting lifestyles it is regularly the same people that are following both trend and countertrend.

One of the most prevalent examples of this right now is the trend for being “always on” versus the counter trend for digital downtime. This is manifesting itself in a number of ways, from busy urban people taking occasional time out by visiting an off-the-grid holiday home to wearable tech, such as Kovert that alerts people only to urgent calls so that they can live without a phone in their hands 24/7.

We have also seen this via the notion of living by way of our phones versus truly living in (and for) the moment. Who can forget that picture of a sea of glowing mobile screens at Pope Francis’ election in 2013? It seems that everything we now experience has to be captured and shared. As a response, many are extolling the virtues of not filtering our lives through a screen. In a recent TV interview, musician Jack White said that when on tour he had been compelled to ask audience members to step away from their devices in order to enjoy the show with their “eyes and ears”.

Perhaps it is our modern desire to “have it all” that is also making this a time when trends and countertrends can live side-by-side. If you are constantly busy, there’s little point in ever seeking the middle ground. We have both FOMO (fear of missing out) and JOMO (joy of missing out). We want everything and nothing all at the same time and many industries might not exist if it wasn’t for this paradoxical human nature. For example, detox brands would be almost obsolete without over-indulgence.

For brands, it is vital to be aware of both trend and countertrend to tailor the most relevant and authentic response for your audience. When it comes to countertrends, dominance is less important than targeting. Where the countertrend is a niche one, it is often followed more loyally and passionately and is therefore well worth tapping into – if appropriate. Also, often the countertrend can usurp or equal the prevailing trend. Think of slow food starting to overtake fast food (especially with a certain demographic), or the idea of local becoming increasingly important in a globalised economy.

Keep your eyes peeled to the Crowd DNA blog for upcoming trends – and, of course, countertrends.