Navigating Cultural Moments

A cultural moment can be defined as the tip of the iceberg of deeper underlying movements within our society.  How society, individuals, companies and brands react to these moments is becoming increasingly important. 
focused on brands and how their cultural, social and political participation (or lack of participation) can influence consumer perceptions and the benefits of being on the right side of the cultural conversations. 

It is becoming more and more apparent that the key behind consumer decisions to purchase fall within individual ideologies and beliefs which is now being termed as Buyology.  As consumers, we tend to look at brands and humanize them (just like many of us do with our pets).  We want brands to share our beliefs. Our support of brands communicates to others about who we are, what we value and what we believe. More than 50 per cent of buyers are belief-driven purchasers, and that percentage continues to increase in younger generations; upwards of 60 per cent of Millennials (born 1981 – 1994) are belief-driven buyers, and the Generation Z (born 1995 – 2014) percentage is even higher.

As buyer behaviour continues to shift, so does opinions regarding brands. These staggering statistics indicate that businesses need to be aware of their brand’s perception in the market. Social listening is important also to understand how brands are discussed. Especially with the uptake of social media, businesses no longer control the message that is communicated about their brands. The value of brand equity is now, more than ever, controlled by consumers. As consumers continue to view brands as having human attributes, judgements are passed about the brand’s organization, and ultimately the market can change a brand in mere moments. As we have seen in the case of the recent Facebook scandal regarding user privacy, once the word was out about Facebook allowing the sharing of user information, many people deleted or suspended their accounts. As a result, the typically media shy Facebook founder, Mark Zuckenberg, is now making media appearances to discuss the companies response to increased privacy on the social networking site in an attempt to save the brand and the company. However, the Facebook brand has taken a blow that will be difficult to recover from. The constructed message about the Facebook brand is no longer controlled only by the company, but by its users; this is a public type of branding.

Another illustration of how the value of brands are controlled by the public’s perception is the most recent headlines featuring Tim Hortons. Tim Hortons is the perfect example of a brand with a human attribute – it is a Canadian, and until most recently, was ranked #4 in Canada regarding brand reputation. However in the most recent 2018 Corporate Reputation Study of Canada’s most admired companies, Tim Hortons fell to number 50. This massive drop is being attributed to how the franchise responded to the minimum wage reduction in Ontario. In January, franchise owners in Cobourg and Kingston, Ont., disclosed they were eliminating paid breaks and some benefits in response to the province’s minimum wage increase. It was only a few franchise owners but their actions sullied the reputation of the brand across Canada. As a ‘Canadian’, Tim Hortons is held to a higher expectation by the public and the cuts to workers’ benefits was viewed as very ‘un-Canadian’. Consumers demanded justice for employees by protests outside of Tim Horton’s and with major backlash across social media via an online movement called “No Timmys Tuesday”. This iconic Canadian brand has its work cut out for itself to rebuild trust and prove transparency in order to repair the damage done. 

One thing is clear, in this socially connected world, our cultural conversations are increasing and consumers are paying attention.  Between those buyers who will boycott a brand based on its position of a cultural moment (57 per cent) and the buyers who will boycott brands if they stay silent (60 per cent), companies also need to pay attention. With such an astute audience, it is no longer enough to simply rely on a corporate social responsibility plan (CSR). Consumers have cynical views about CSRs; seeing them as a means for companies to make themselves look good by spending money on a cause. CSRs may not be viewed as essential to who the brand is or what it does. Companies are held accountable by everything they do now.  There are no shadows.  Therefore stepping up to the mic in some capacity is vital for a brand to succeed.  We as consumers will engage and promote a brand we believe in and we may even pay a premium, defend, and advocate for brands we can relate to.  Brands with a voice will generate loyal, belief-driven buyers.

So how can companies join the cultural conversations to engage with these belief-driven buyers? And how do they do it in a meaningful way? Reaching out to experts in social impact, like us at Awesome Sauce is on sure way to get started!

Realizing it is no longer enough for a company to simply say it stands behind a cause or to “throw money” at it (CSR), it is essential to integrate purpose throughout the entire company, from the leader to the day-to-day operations. Instilling the values and the beliefs into the essence of the company. Leaders and those that are the face of a company must truly stand behind the cause to lead by example.  These belief driven buyers see right through the corporate “greenwashing” and are looking for brands that truly, to the core, stand behind what they say. Take a valuable lesson from Facebook, do everything you can to stay on the right side of the cultural moment, then contact us for support!

~ Briana