Cashing in on Culture: Breathing New Life into Old Brands
One of the biggest challenges of consumer research is that it is often focused on the present; consumers tend only to play back what they are currently experiencing and what they know is going on around them right now.
For brands this is tricky. On the one hand, understanding ‘now’ is useful to get a sense of context and to course-correct on current strategy or to adapt to consumers needs. But on the other, it’s hard to get a view on the future; how the bigger picture is changing and what opportunities – and threats – those changes might bring.
One of the strongest indicators of change is culture. Mapping how culture is changing can give brands a deeper insight into where their markets are heading. Cultural insight looks at how the world is changing, picks up on emergent shifts and then suggests to brands how they could adapt their positioning or creative execution to either remain relevant in existing markets, or seamlessly enter new ones.
In other words, cultural insight gives you the equivalent of a ‘Rough Guide’ to a market or category. And, like any traveller, once you know where you are going and what to expect when you get there, you can plan with more efficacy and make better decisions en route.Gathering the information
The modern brain encounters more cultural input in a day than the average 17th century person would have encountered in a lifetime. Which means most people have developed a huge bank of subconsciously learnt meanings to draw upon when they see something new.
Basically, it’s how we know the red light means ‘stop’ at a traffic light and that a skull and crossbones means danger. It gets more complex when we consider that in Western culture we assume that a women in a white dress is likely to be a bride, while in the East, the same image might indicate someone at a funeral.
Most of this bank of meanings is biased to the particular culture a person has grown up in. This is why many South Africans think beer in green bottles is ‘posher’ than beer in brown bottles, while the Greeks think about the category the other way around. These meanings are typically so integral to our experience of the world that most times, as consumers, we don’t even think to articulate them in traditional research.
Cultural insight is what we use to map that bank of meanings. Rooted in anthropology, semiotics and literature studies, a lot of cultural insight tools are academic in origin and evolved from critical thinking developed at the beginning of last century to understand the production of political meaning in literature and art, (starting with Structuralism and Marxism and developing into the marginally more user friendly discipline of Cultural Studies.)
The approach relies on careful observation and analysis – of consumer behaviour and social interaction, of magazines and advertising, of retail floors and shelves. The researcher may also interview academics and specialists who are at the forefront of their industries and likely to reveal clues into specific cultural changes. Any direct interaction with consumers is rooted in the tenants of ethnography; observation and conversations are held in the consumer’s own environment, with the emphasis on noting behaviour and cultural influence. To continue reading, download Cashing in on Culture: Breathing New Life into Old Brands
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