Why cultural strategy and insight is instrumental to your marketing plan

Think about why those Tide Super Bowl ads resonated so well.

We are living through one of the most culturally dynamic times in history. People are not just more aware, they’re also more vocal and passionate about powerful issues that impact our everyday lives.

Movements like Black Lives Matter, #MeToo and "Fake News" are upon us, and are only gaining more and more momentum. As the world speaks its truths, it’s never been more crucial for marketers to study, understand and tap into these movements and build something great—a more meaningful and relevant brand.

First, we need to understand why this is happening now. There are multiple reasons why these high-level cultural movements are appearing at an increasing rate: the rise of social media, algorithms that push the narrative, access to richer data, shortened attention spans, the proliferation of digital cameras and political agendas. There’s no doubt about it, technology is fueling almost all of these changes, but we are also all individually playing a part.

While these larger movements are hard to ignore, not every cultural trend gets the media attention it deserves. As marketers, we need to make a more focused effort in tracking these smaller trends in order to develop more meaningful and effective "advertising." Some examples of this could include gamification of the purchase process, increasing micro-transactions or putting a budget towards specific issues (i.e. healthcare, space travel and land conservation). However, no matter how we harness these issues, our ability to capture these moments is becoming a powerful and competitive advantage in the industry.

We all know that recognizing and tapping into an insight has always been one of the most important facets of this business; however, today it’s different. Now these trends are multiplying, splintering, evolving and even fading at a much more frenetic and rapid pace.

You can no longer just assume that you and your team have a clear, useful understanding of these movements. Today, you need a defined, dedicated methodology to track and tap into them, fueled by data and aggregated by informed people. It should also be organically infused into your organization to continually pull real insights, understanding the why, how, where and what’s next. Developing a process like this will allow you to make more informed decisions on brand positioning, product evolution, media investments and what issues to get behind.

If you agree that cultural relevance is important to your business, I’d encourage you to start by conducting an exercise: Pick a broad, somewhat random topic, like the SpaceX launch. Next, identify a topic lead and an open-minded group and invite them for a discussion. Prior to meeting, however, send them the topic with a list of thought-starters such as, "How cool is that?" "What does it mean for our business?" "How do you think it could impact our clients' marketing?"

When it comes time to host the meeting, there are a few things to keep in mind, like having a moderator to stimulate discussion, staying on topic and collecting tangents.

After the meeting, organize your thoughts and notes to develop a hypothesis. Your results can then be sent around to a broader team, to see who wants to participate next time and request input on other topics.

Here are some further tips on organizing an open discussion:

  1. Don’t rely solely on one particular person, department or partner. The process needs to be inclusive, and the responses should be open-sourced and not fixed.

  2. Everyone should be involved. It should not be limited to one group, team, department, level, location, age, sex, race or socio-economic background.

  3. Don’t be insular. Involve your partners such as vendors or clients. Bring in behavioral anthropologists or category specialists, or partner with schools.

  4. Moderation, guidance, encouragement and organization are critical.

  5. Dedicate a room. Use your whiteboard wall. Map it out, and write it down.

  6. Encourage participation. Push talkers to listen and listeners to talk.

  7. Be curious. Listen, learn, talk and be patient. Let ideas and direction soak in, and continue the dialogue over time. Your perspective will change, and so will the topic.

  8. Organize and go deep so you can uncover more data and insight.

  9. Document, categorize and publish findings on an open platform.

  10. Listen to the "you know, we should…" and follow through, make it happen.

Remember, insights can be big or small and can be used in every aspect of our business. They can lead to huge decisions like knowing which networks to support with ad dollars or approving one execution over another. For example, why did the Tide Super Bowl ads resonate and stand far above many of the others? Maybe it was a conscious cultural insight based on the level of stress we feel around the idea of blatantly fake information, leading to some comic relief around us "falling for it again." Whatever it is, studying these relevant trends and understanding these cultural movements can provide a wealth of data and information with the power to affect every aspect of what we do, including positively impacting our businesses.