Cultural relevance: It’s something most brands — at least those in the know — hope to achieve. If a brand earns cultural relevance, you’ve got a base filled with loyalists, also known as brand advocates, who are ready to share your product with family, friends, and colleagues.
But this connection has nothing to do with price or functionality; it’s more about the bond customers feel and what the use of your product says about them. Done right, brands can harness those relationships to create longer-lasting relationships. It builds a protective wall around your customers and makes it less likely that they’ll stray to another brand.
This isn’t something that comes easy. Many brands fail to make the connection, and the issue is usually not having an understanding of culture itself. When CEOs and marketers talk about culture, it’s a model in their heads. It means being trendy and timely. And while both aspects are important, culture is much more than that to your audience.
It’s about connecting what you do, as a brand, to your specific audience’s culture, not what is trending in culture.
You’re making your audience feel like your brand is a part of their lives. If you understand your audience, you’re no longer reacting; you’re helping people come up with definitions for themselves. They buy into you as a concept, and this affinity often means they buy more — and complain less — when compared to other customers.
Making the Connection
As CEO, the weight of this rests on your shoulders. It’s up to you to marry the attributes of your brand to what’s culturally relevant to your audience. The choice is yours whether to steer toward building a deeper connection with customers based on culture or just focusing on sales numbers. If you’re part of the former, I recommend you start with the following:
- Know your audience on a deeper level.You know the demographics of the people you’re trying to reach. You know their age, gender, race, ethnicity, occupation, income, etc. But these identifiers don’t encompass an audience’s culture. If you want to know your customers, you must be able to describe them more than “males, ages 35 to 45.”
Get out there and meet customers. Get to know what the target market likes, eats, wears, watches, and listens to. Try to understand their challenges, goals, and dreams. As a CEO, you should want to know where your product resides in a customer’s life and why he or she chooses your brand over another. Is it for utilitarian reasons? Or could it be aspirational? Maybe it’s completely subconscious. The point is to look past the surface and get to the heart of the brand-customer relationship. That’s where you’ll start to build a connection with customers that will result in more loyalty and longer relationships.
And don’t just rely on someone else to do this. Encourage all the people in the C-suite to do the same. It’ll give the leadership team an opportunity to step back from their roles, look beyond the numbers and their own preconceived ideas, and know how the brand intersects with people’s lives.
- Be authentic.Authenticity will always be important for a brand that seeks cultural relevancy. The brand must know what it’s about and embrace its legacy — the promise it made to the customer. That promise should be present in everything coming from the brand.
Take Daymond John, for example. The founder and CEO of FUBU has never lost sight of how his original vision is tied to his customers. His brand fully embraces the idea of black culture being relevant and important — and it’s done without sounding like he or the rest of the company is pandering. FUBU’s legacy is upheld when John is active in communities, engages with his workforce, and stays true to his customers.
Besides keeping your promise as a brand and always remembering where you came from, it’s also wise to try to find those philanthropic areas that align with your brand. It’s one more way to entrench yourself in the community you’re hoping to serve and become more than just another brand selling goods or services. It gives consumers a reason to believe in the brand.
3. Take a stand on issues that are important to your audience.In many cases, CEOs are seen as people who rule from on high. They dictate and give commands with a sense of detachment (at least, as far as perceptions go). This aloofness or remoteness does nothing for a brand. You should be engaged. Use the media channels, adopt the language, and follow the influencers that reflect your brand.
Tim Cook, at the age of 58, is totally active on social media. If an incident happens in the world, he’s immediately out there speaking as the CEO of Apple. Consider when news hit about the use — or, really, misuse — of customer data. The company responded by enforcing new privacy policies.
The CEO role is a hard one to pin down. Some engage deeply in the day-to-day, while others delegate to the rest of the leadership team. Whatever role you take, just make sure to keep people top of mind. Your brand’s relationship with consumers will be better for it.
In order to stay relevant and competitive, it’s no longer enough to worry about the bottom line. It’s about your brand’s role in the world. If your brand is aligned culturally to its audience, it’s already putting people before profits. This forges deeper connections with customers that result in increased loyalty and more engagement over a lifetime.
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