Culture is the stuff of life, not a demographic or an audience. It's a reflection of reality, connecting communities. It's what we listen to, what we care about, what we believe in. It's complex and nuanced. There is a difference between culture and The Culture, too, but that's for another day.
Today's realities include the blurring of work, life and play in a post-pandemic world, social justice issues, a huge shift in working culture, the climate emergency, the rising cost of living and new technologies. All are driving huge behavioural changes – brands and companies are under pressure to be more than the products they are trying to sell.
In recent years, in our industry, the words "communities" and "diversity" – and usually connected only with POC – have been mistakenly associated with the word "culture".
It can also be an employee community, parents' community, LGBTQIA+ culture, sneaker culture, disabled sports communities – the list is endless. Working with the right cultural voices from within these communities is the foundation of Platform13 – they may not have a big or even any social following (shocking, isn't it?).
Importantly, people are always diverse and intersectional – you can be inspired by, part of and affected by a multitude of factors that define who you are and how you see the world. This was a key takeout from our global research to understand how Dr Martens could make an impact on underrepresentation in the music industry for its community.
A recurring theme throughout our work is identifying existing consumers and communities that the organisation does not engage with because it's not part of their business or "cultural" strategy. And these are not necessarily "niche" communities either.
For example, in our work for Guinness, creating a long-term strategy and celebrating the brand's deep links with Caribbean culture or uncovering and telling the stories of the impact of Pinterest in self-discovery especially for the trans community.
This means not only that these communities are engaged with meaningfully and equitably, but it's also an opportunity for business growth – win-win, if done right.
In these times of constant uncertainty, it's no longer enough simply to be relevant. An organisation must be culturally relevant or risk fading into the background.
A key question to ask is: how can the brand or its products and services help its consumers and relevant communities navigate their and the worlds "realities"?
This does not have to be done in a dry and boring way. For example, our recently created, 10-part digital literacy series for YouTube aimed at 13- to 15-year-olds, "YouTube Reframe" focused on topics such as conspiracy theories, mis- and disinformation, online abuse and more. It was hosted by Amelia Dimoldenberg and Munya Chawawa and featured audience appropriate talent from music, sport, gaming and more.
From 2022 we need to move beyond the output. The input has always been more important. Having worked in marketing and communications for more than 25 years, from starting up my own practices to senior in-house roles with global heavyweights, there is a clear need to decolonise the advertising, marketing and comms industries by evolving systemic processes to move things forward.
For brands and companies to be culturally relevant they need to be set up internally to succeed. And this is where the work needs to happen urgently.
By making "cultural relevancy" a new and additional business growth driver, working additively to traditional drivers (not instead of), organisations can ensure they and their communities win.
It will require a fundamental shift in how brands, companies and the industry works – making an impact on mindsets, behaviours and operations internally – the only option when it comes to modern marketing.
Plugging in traditional brand management to "culture" roles is no longer enough. Internal transformations must include updated incentives and bonuses, cultural training, an holistic, non-siloed approach to marketing, new types of objectives and measures of success and, importantly, the ability to identify and quickly flex brand plans in line with ever-changing shifts in culture.
Moving some traditional advertising from a media-first approach to a culture-first approach will also enable credible actions and storytelling that connect companies and brands to their communities meaningfully.
This means that communities are more likely to engage organically, and traditional media can be used to fuel awareness instead of buying views, a smart way to do business in a world heading towards recession.
Cultural marketing needs to be driven internally by cultural leaders, hand in hand with new world agencies and partners, with diverse teams to build legacy projects ensuring true resonance with their communities, and ultimately, sustainable business growth.
Leila Fataar is founder of Platform 13