Ipsos’ Radhecka Roy outlines why cultural contexts have taken on heightened importance for brands trying to connect with consumers in varying stages of recovery in the coming year.

We are drawing to a close on 2020 and calling it a watershed of a year would be an understatement. While there is cautious optimism and anticipation for a fresh start with 2021, we also know that most things that were familiar have been changed forever or even made redundant. If the elements of disruption wreaked by the virus are still with us, we will continue to be anxious. The vaccine promises relief but not necessarily an end to potential disruptions.

While the experience of disruption and the resulting anxiety has been universal, we also saw that not everybody reacted the same way. The prospect of curtailing our freedom, dealing/ coping with constrictions brought out very different responses across different parts of the world. And what these reactions brought into the spotlight was the role of culture and how it has shaped responses to the pandemic.

What the pandemic has also taught us is that while we may wrest back control over the virus with the advent of vaccines, the threat of disruption is here to stay. We live in an increasingly inter-connected world where decisions can no longer be exclusively intra-community or insular. We are all conscious that volatility and vulnerability will keep increasing. This will put enormous pressure on brands to be ready to pivot on operational models as well as how they stay emotionally engaged and connected with their consumers.

The cultural context becomes very critical for this future world.

To read the whitepaper The role of culture in a global crisis: Understanding how identities and values shape behaviour, click here.

Culture kicks in stronger in times of crisis

Crisis is a time when all our established tenets of meaning collapse – and throw us in a void. How can we make meaning of this new world where things we relied on have all collapsed? In such times of uncertainty, it is culture that anchors consumers to the familiar, providing a way to make meaning out of the chaos and helping them to cope with the anxiety that arises. What does this mean for brands?

In our whitepaper, we discuss the role of culture and how this strengthens during a crisis. And explore government messaging and personal responses to the crisis to understand how this has been shaped by culturally relative concepts, highlighting the importance of understanding cultural drivers and local nuances.

There are also some lessons to be learnt from the China experience of the pandemic and the role for brands. Without a deeper cultural understanding, brands may struggle to build meaningful, authentic and intuitive engagement now and in a post-COVID-19 world. Brands will need to navigate this new world – with a more demanding, more anxious and more discerning consumer. Both brands and consumers will look for that connecting core of familiarity – and culture can provide that language.

At Ipsos we believe that now is one of the best times to invest in cultural profiling across different markets. This can help to:

  • Know the drivers and dimensions that define cultural identity for your consumers – across countries, segments and regions.

Knowing that the fundamental values do not change easily, endure through generations, it is most useful to identify the cultural profiles and clusters for the different countries. The cultural profile is captured through a comprehensive set of attributes and dimensions, based on the knowledge available through empirical models, combined with experience and knowledge across cultures. This can also afford great efficiency through cultural proxies when considering cross-border marketing initiatives.

  • Understand the role that your brand can play in helping consumers cope with their uncertainty in a culturally nuanced way.

While the overarching need is for reassurance, empathy and support – what this can mean, how it can be manifest can differ sharply across diverse cultures. Knowing how your brand can be culturally nuanced and locally relevant can make a huge difference to the impact and success your initiatives garner.

  • Build authenticity and simplicity in your engagement with consumers through these uncertain, evolving times.

For consumers, authenticity is the touchstone to connect to brands – and this needs to work at an intuitive and emotional level. And this will come from cultural fluency – which is a complex combination of intention, content, visuals and action – to win trust from the more vigilant and deliberative consumers.