Big Ideas Brand Marketing

Skip Brand, Go Straight to Culture

Parking hanging out in a park with the city in the background

By idfive \ December 19, 2018

Too often, marketers talk about brand and culture as separate things. You hear things like, “We need to connect our brand with the audience’s culture.” And while this isn’t technically wrong, it feels a bit upside down to those who view business through an anthropological lens. To us at idfive, culture and brand go hand-in-hand.

Anthropologists define culture as, “the sum total of a group of people’s shared experiences.” And as far as we can tell, that’s exactly what a brand is, too. The perceived identity of a business is the sum total of experiences that audiences have with it. With this as the case, there’s no reason brand and culture shouldn’t start out connected.

The issue is that in the marketing world, businesses tend to gravitate too heavily towards the “brand” concept over the “culture” concept.

With a “brand first” process, the company or organization develops a brand that aligns with their products, services, and goals first, and then tries fusing it into the audience’s world. The process starts inward and works its way outward to the customers’ lived experience–often leading brands to come off as inauthentic and forced. A good example is Pepsi. The company determined that their brand was “fun and expressive,” and then forced this identity into the lives of audience’s, which at the time had been dominated by stories of social and political unrest. The result was a tone-deaf commercial that represented protest as a soda-pop fueled street fare.

On the other hand, businesses that take a “culture first” approach typically end up with a brand that resonates with people. Consider Nike’s recent “It’s only crazy until you do it” campaign. Starting with culture first, the company recognized the social and political tumult of their audience’s world, and then positioned their brand as an advocate for those brave enough to stand up to it all. They didn’t force a “fun and expressive” brand into their audience’s world, because they knew that fun and expressive doesn’t fight injustice. Bravery and perseverance does.

Over time, businesses that take a culture first approach will start to see their brand and the customer’s culture as less and less like two separate spheres, and more like a continuous flow of shared experiences. At idfive, we believe that using the culture to drive brand processes is a more meaningful starting point, and makes the overall process more efficient and effective. Our economy and society aren’t separate entities; they’re seamless.  Brand and culture work the same way. And if we want to create value for our customers, it’s more efficient to skip brand and go straight to culture.