When building strong brands, companies generally look both inward (at vision, people, heritage) and outward (to customers, competitors, industry). However, many times they don’t look far enough out. When companies fail to look beyond customer feedback, competitive realities or industry trends, they miss a broader perspective. A broader sense of brand relevance that can ignite new ways of activating their business. To look further out, start by considering these questions: How is the world at large changing? What dynamics are inspiring that change? How might that affect your business?
The reality is, there’s a difference between riding a current and navigating one. By the time companies realize they’re not doing enough to keep up with the way competitors are adapting or to give consumers what they’re asking for, they’re playing catch-up. But when companies look to culture for inspiration (to enhance the traditional brand inputs), they’re able to navigate proactively, and there’s the potential for three things to happen:
- They can drive relevance for customers in unexpected yet authentic ways.
- They can uncover and define new paradigms for their business.
- They can build better, more intuitive experiences.
In this post, we take a glimpse at the first of these.
Driving brand relevance
Tapping into what your customers are saying about your brand and asking for is critical. But when you also look to culture, you’re able to go further and deliver unexpected value. Rise to their expectations, and customers may be satisfied. Possibly even loyal. But surprise them (and the world) with a product or service beyond imagination — one with a point of view that resonates with people but also feels like something your company believes in — and customers become vocal advocates. This is because you’re delivering something they’re yearning for, whether they realize it or not.
TOMS is a great example of a brand that looked to culture to connect with their customers. Their “one for one” philosophy brings together seemingly disparate consumer desires — style and humanitarianism — in a way that is as surprising as it is seamless. It’s not just iconic brands that can do this. TOMS started out very small and has been doing it all along.
In another example, real estate developer AvalonBay recently introduced AVA, a first-of-its-kind apartment rental brand that targets a millennial audience. They decided to push beyond traditional research to look at what their audience connects with and values about the world around them. They looked at the neighborhoods millennials live in, the artists and bands they follow, the brands and experiences they take up and wear (Ace Hotel, Puma, Coachella).
What AVA ultimately curated was inspired by the larger cultural trends of connectivity, authenticity and self-expression. And everything they did led to a living space that fit with their audience’s lives in ways they craved but didn’t know until they found it in AVA. It influenced who they hired to manage their communities. It influenced the unique experiences those managers created by working with local artists and businesses. And it’s why they converse with and inspire their audience instead of selling to them.