To successfully engage in culture, brands must commit for the long term in meaningful ways, according to Nicole Estebanell, North America Transformation Officer at Mindshare.
Brands have the ability to leverage immense power in cultural movements. They can bring along brand loyalists and connect with new audiences by thinking beyond the moment.
It is not enough for your brand to make a cameo on International Women’s Day or Earth Day so you can check a box and say you offered support. Support isn’t a line item on a budget. It's identifying how you can lean in and continuously align your brand’s values and mission with your customer’s needs.
Going beyond a moment requires acknowledging the “other 364 days”, or the “other 11 months”, of the year.
Inclusive activation goes beyond promoting a product to a specific target, whether it’s grounded in diversity, equity and inclusion, sustainability or human rights. Support needs to be pervasive and embedded in your brand’s purpose – giving the issue or idea a greater sense of awareness. It won’t work if it’s a separate strategy and team.
Be part of and amplify the day, month or event, but spend as much, if not more, time creating a strategy that allows you to add value perpetually. Think beyond paid advertising and commit to outreach that may not be as easily captured in a key performance indicator. And to do so, there are three questions every marketer needs to ask themselves.
1) How do you authentically show up?
Not every brand’s rainbow-washed logo translates into support. According to research by digital marketing agency Reboot Online, for example, only 64% of companies with a Pride campaign donated money to LGBTQ+ causes.
How does your brand best support, defend or celebrate an audience and the causes that are important to them? Don’t settle for one-off solutions. Start by identifying your priority audiences, then think about the best way to grow and win with that core base. For example, Subaru has been authentically marketing to the LGBTQ+ community for over 25 years, grounded in deep consumer insights and understanding.
Once you’ve identified your audience(s) ask yourself “Are there any consistent challenges they’re facing?” Explore the nuances of where you can establish a consistent presence and emotionally connect.
By framing the needs of your audience, you can more accurately identify an inflection point.
For example, the strategy for Calm, an app that promotes mental health, is to split its marketing budget 50:50 between planned campaigns and leaning into conversations happening in culture. So, when tennis star Naomi Osaka pulled out of the 2021 French Open, Michael Acton Smith, Calm’s co-CEO, looked for the right way to show up. Within 48 hours, Calm had donated the sum of Osaka’s fine to a French mental health organization and committed to paying fines and donating the same amount for any player who opted out of media appearances.
2) Who should your partners be?
Look for partners who can help you sharpen your focus. This includes not only buying endemic media content on existing platforms, but also creating new opportunities to invest in a community.
Dove, the beauty brand owned by Unilever, partnered with the National Urban League and other non-profit partners to co-found the CROWN Coalition and introduce The CROWN Act, which prohibits discrimination based on hair texture and hairstyle. This move was prompted, in part, by Dove’s research that found 80% of Black women are more likely to change their natural hair to meet workplace social norms.
Similarly, Dove Men+Care partnered with the National Basketball Players Association to create Commit to C.A.R.E (Care About Racial Equity). The initiative has amplified the voices of Black athletes and worked to address the misrepresentation of Black men in society.
The takeaway: Align with growing, endemic media partners and shift your investment into content-rich platforms where your brand can establish a consistent drumbeat and be relevant and additive to audiences.
3) How do you get them to engage?
Capturing the right tone is critical to engaging new and loyal customers. Consumers will be skeptical of a brand’s intent, especially if it’s a new voice in the conversation. Mindshare’s research has found that almost half (49%) of consumers believe that brands that associate themselves with more meaningful causes are doing it for publicity stunts.
Override that cynicism by appealing to consumers’ desire to effect change in their world. You become the conduit of the stories they want to share – and the impact they want to make.
As the COVID-19 pandemic progressed, for instance, Americans began to feel more doubt about the future, but data shows that hope continues to be their pervading emotion (41%). LEGO’s #RebuildTheWorld campaign is an example of how to bring new relevancy to a brand that for 60 years has celebrated child’s play. It originated in 2019 on Twitter, aiming to inspire creativity and imagination for people of all ages. In 2020, it focused on the optimistic outlook of children. By 2021, it focused on how people can work together to overcome differences.
This evolution of messaging demonstrates how you can deepen engagement by adding cultural relevance to your brand’s messaging in an authentic way.
4) Does your marketing transcend a moment?
Brands have the power to shine a spotlight, elevate voices, and support communities as part of their overall marketing strategy. You don’t have to show up everywhere for every cause, but instead select those areas that make sense for your company’s culture and brand values. Be consistent beyond the moment, whether it’s Women’s History Month or the International Day of Families.
As agency partners, we can help brands make their actions both authentic and pervasive. By not focusing strictly on short-term metrics, brands can win with new audiences by doing more than selling products. By thinking beyond the moment, you can identify long-term support strategies that will ultimately increase brand love and give your company the power to do even more on behalf of consumers.