‘Brand Culture’ – Your Magic Potion For Marketplace Success
“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it” Simon Sinek
We live in a real-time world where news/events and happenings from across the world are serving for us in our delectable smart devices. We are now connected in ways our grandparents or even our parents could never ever imagine. In such a fast-moving world filled with many fleeting and few lasting moments, the biggest question for every brand is: How do we leave a mark?
The answer to that question is closely related to the culture of the brand and, to some extent, the geography.
Just as with human societies, brands too have cultures. In fact, anthropological terms like values and culture are increasingly associated with brands and they influence the consumers like never before. The English Anthropologist Edward B. Tylor in his book, Primitive Culture (1871) said that culture is “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” It is a set of learned behaviors used to adapt to the environment. Brand culture is similar to this as it is the core values a brand stands for and which is never compromised but adapted to an ever-changing world.
In the world of brands, culture can be seen at two levels –
- How the brand establishes ‘the connect’ with the geography it is operating in.
- For example, the menu offered by Pizza Hut in Singapore is different from the one they offer in India, which again is different from what they offer in the US.
- Nike has launched the “Pro Hijab” for Muslim athletes, a move which resonates with the community across the globe.
- The values your brand stands for. And this has become increasingly important among consumers, especially the Millennial. In a recent research undertaken by idstats on Millennials’ revealed that Millennials are more likely to buy products endorsed by celebrities who exemplify specific ideologies or purpose. For instance, Beyoncé was a clear favourite in Brazil – she stands for women empowerment and against racial discrimination. In India, Ranveer Singh’s story of rags to riches resonated with the Millennials.
To further elucidate let’s take the example of the ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s. The company was committed to using fair trade ingredients as early as 2010. By early 2015, all their sugar, cocoa, vanilla, coffee and banana were certified by Fairtrade International. This meant higher prices for their ice cream but that didn’t affect sales since people are ready to pay for their products. It implied that the primary producer is not denied their due and it makes people feel like they are doing the right thing. They also took a stand on gay marriages and renamed their Chubby Hubby flavour to Hubby Hubby flavour and the consumers lapped it up. A good report on why fair trade makes sense and how it impacts the bottom line can be found here. Today ethically sourced ingredients, ethical products and community/primary producer benefits are more influential than before. Discerning consumers want to see your brand/product’s Ethiscore before they decide to purchase something. Ethiscore has been developed by a non-profit organization based in Manchester called Ethical Consumer. They have a comprehensive but simple tool for an ethical rating of brands/products/services. If you like to know more about Ethiscore, click here.
On the other hand, the recent case of Uber showcases how a toxic culture can lead to negative consequences. Early this year a former engineer Susan J Fowler, blogged about sexual harassment and discrimination that she faced while she was working at Uber. Earlier this month, a video showing a heated argument between Uber CEO and an Uber driver over falling fares went viral. Uber also got bad press for trying to cash-in on the scandalous immigration ban in the US. The CEO was involved in the advisory council of President Donald Trump. All this has negatively affected the brand. They lost more than 200,000 customers. Clearly Uber has presented an example of a culture, which undermines women employees, their capabilities and sensibilities, frequent incidents of sexual harassment, aligning with racist moves and cashing in on disasters. This has cost the brand Uber its most valuable asset-consumer loyalty.
The culture of the brand also translates to the numbers in your bottom line. In a recent fashion show by Victoria’s Secret in Paris aimed at wooing Chinese Millenials (article published by Forbes and can be found here). Instead of resonating with the intended consumers, it received a big backlash (don’t mess with the dragon ;)). Victoria’s Secret showed the world their ignorance of Chinese culture where dragons are revered and using dragon motifs was considered disrespectful. People, especially the Millenials, seek meaning or purpose in all that they do and if your brand is aligned to give them that purpose, it is a win-win situation for all.
(AP Photo/Francois Mori)
Brand culture is critical irrespective of the brand architecture the company has. Brand architecture is broadly a navigation tool meant for the customers to minimize confusion and aid in their choice. It lays down clearly the product and service structure that the brand offers. It could be a Branded House (Parent brand is associated with each and every product it sells- for example Virgin (Virgin Air, Virgin Mobile etc), House of Brands (parent brand is silent and each product is a brand in itself – such as P&G) or a Hybrid brand (combines both previous two types and requires more management and inputs – such as Microsoft).
2012 Olympics marked a departure for P&G where it came out of its cloak of invisibility and promoted the Thank you Mom campaign. 34 P&G brands ran this campaign and it resonated with moms and families far and wide. It showcased what the brand stood for and gave meaning to each of its product/brand. The brand architecture no longer mattered as it gave a platform to its brand culture for the world to see and connect with.
Any company can scale up or become better than their competition through better technology and research, but to win in the marketplace the brand there needs your organization’s internal culture of equality and fairness as well as your understanding of the changing consumer mindset makes the ultimate difference as a brand. If the connection between the culture exemplified by a brand and the culture of the geography and the target group is high, “bingo!”, you have a winner.