Leveraging culture to drive business growth
I recently started re-watching Suits, the legal series on Netflix, and in episode one, Harvey said something to Mike that struck me. “Threat of sanctions is better than filing for sanctions.” It’s interesting how much research goes into these shows because I strongly felt like I could relate.
I once consulted for a client who was involved in a legal matter in which the plaintiff never actually went to court but kept sending letters threatening a lawsuit; the letters evoked a range of reactions; anger, panic, negotiations, counter threats, etc.
Until the matter was finally resolved. Both parties knew that actually going to court would be a long and expensive process that neither party wanted, but the plaintiff knew that the defendant wanted it far less, because an action by their marketing team had left them exposed. The whole situation got me thinking about the work required to achieve marketing growth.
We live in a fast-paced world in which it requires intentional, calculated effort for brands to hold the attention of their audiences, and more than ever before, “cultural relevance” is essential to brand communication.
It goes beyond Twitter trends or influencers, it is about building relevance by becoming a huge part of conversations that strike a cultural nerve in a way that is consistent with the personality of the brand.
Culture breaks down into a number of different elements, such as language, beliefs, social organisation, arts, etc. It informs the shared heritage, meaning, desire and outlook of a community which serves as a distinguishing factor for its members.
Consider comedy, the greater proportion of Nigerian comedians perform in pidgin/Nigerian languages. Their individual reasons may vary from reaching a wider audience to intentionally propagating and preserving culture to the fact that the joke sometimes just does not have the same impact in English.
The same applies to music, Nigerian music is winning global awards and sitting on global charts, but you can never miss our unique beats, language and style. Elements of our culture #NigeriaToTheWorld.
It is however important to note that culture is much more than its individual elements. One very common mistake I have seen while working on international brands is the idea that simply changing the language spoken in an advertising material or throwing in some pidgin phrases “localises” said material. Language on its own is an element of expression; we know from the study of Psychology that behavioural change involves a series of mental processes.
Context, resonance and evoking emotion is the goal. Coca-cola understood this when they created their “share a coke” campaign. They evoked powerful emotions, and by extension, consumer action when they brilliantly used consumer names on Coke bottles, making consumers feel “seen” and also giving them the opportunity to share a “personalised” Coke with a loved one.
The campaign achieved sales growth of about 2.5 percent, over 18 million media impressions and many more growth metrics.
What do you do when you cannot plaster your customers’ names on product bottles? Well, first of all, remember that it goes beyond names. It is about striking deep emotional connections and meaning.
A lot of brands do this by leveraging music and popular trends. Both are excellent tools which resonate with the audience on a deep level and when used right, can help a brand win the hearts and minds of their audience.
One aspect of leveraging music and trends the right way is the understanding that these tools are the intellectual property of the creators and making use of them without legal authority places you on the wrong side of the law.
When a piece of content (in this case, typically an audio clip or dance routine) is catchy enough and starts to attract a lot of attention on social media, the owner of the work sometimes realises that there’s an opportunity to make some income off the material.
They might not fully understand the science behind it, but from experience seeing how brands work with influencers and sign endorsements with established artistes, they know that when they’ve created something that the market appreciates, brands are likely to want to use it as a point of connection to the audience, so they work with a lawyer to trademark their work. Then they wait, and like flies to honey, the brands come.
Brand managers often do not get legal vetting because they see it as engaging with “just” a social media trend, not realising that they have “just” infringed on the creator’s intellectual property rights and fallen for the trap set by the content creator and their lawyers. Threats of lawsuits are made, settlements agreed upon, payments made and the creator/lawyer team sit and wait for the next prey.
I remember one debate about the ethics of the creator/lawyer team. One side in support, one side against them. For me, the issue is that as marketing professionals, we would be remiss to think only of the creative and consumer psychology aspects of what we do. We must also consider the risk environment and the potential ways your creative idea could expose the business to litigation and other risk factors.
In the “Share a Coke” campaign example used earlier, the first team to ideate and implement the Share a Coke campaign was the Australian Coca-cola team. They are said to have held 25 risk assessment meetings, conducted 225 trademark searches, ensured that over 5,000 curse and vulgar words would never be printed, and multiple other non-creative tasks.
In conclusion, marketing growth is not a linear activity. It’s a lot like making music; different keys, instruments, techniques and skill sets working together to produce one coordinated, beautiful sound.
Ayotunde, a marketing consultant, writes from Lagos.