A Brand’s Cultural Relevance Is Almost as Important as a Strong Image, Study Finds

Consumers also want them to be philanthropic

According to the study, 25% of product purchase decisions are led by cultural relevance. IPG Media Lab/ Twitter

One of the most prevalent conversations happening inside of marketing departments right now is figuring out how to align their brand with a cause or an issue. The cynic would say you can’t force a connection that doesn’t exist, so stick to what you’re good at: making and selling your product.

A perhaps more cheery perspective is that in today’s fractured environment, if you understand what your consumer believes in and relate your brand to that thing, both the customer and the company’s bottom line will benefit.

In research released this week, media agency MagnaGlobal teamed up with Twitter to find out if people think brands should be getting involved; if brands benefit by being culturally relevant; and whether that’s a good thing for a brand to be.

“Common sense tells us, yes,” said Kara Manatt, svp, intelligence solutions and strategy at Magna. “But we wanted to really quantify what it means to be a culturally relevant brand.”

And quantify, they did!

According to the report, 25% of product purchase decisions are led by cultural relevance. A brand attaching itself to culture, which the study also learned is a term as big as the side of a barn, is nearly as important as having a strong brand image.

Brands fight for mindshare and this research indicates that there is an opportunity for companies to tap into the power of culture. The survey asked 865 consumers about their opinions regarding brand involvement with culture, and perhaps not surprisingly, the survey found that the brands that are “culturally relevant are brands that align well with cultural events, promote trends that define today’s culture, and support social issues that benefit everyone.”

“Not just that consumers are OK with it, but consumers think it’s important for being involved—giving back, philanthropy,” Manatt said, pointing out that the survey found that 58% of consumers agree that brands should be philanthropic. “A lot of consumers expect it for brands to be involved. One of our recommendations, as brands plan when targeting younger people, they do need to keep culture in mind.”

But what “culture” means has shifted. The research looked at definitions of “culture” and found that 83% of consumers think of the term as something beyond the traditional notions of family, food, language, or religion. Instead, respondents also include “pop culture” (music, arts, social trends, etc) and “current affairs” (sports, current events, politics) into the culture bucket. Brands, the survey suggests, should take notice.

Culture, according to Stephanie Prager, global head of agency development at Twitter, “is broad-based, and how you identify what those cultural moments are that are relevant and resident to your brand is where we start to be able to be more targeted in how brands can actually inject and interject themselves in those moments.”

While product price represented 25% of a consumer’s purchasing decision making, the perception of a brand—the brand attributes and qualities—pushes 31% of the decision-making process, according to Manatt. And that’s where there’s opportunity for brands.

Greg Longstreet, CEO of Del Monte, explained how the packaged food company has put “sustainability” at the heart of its messaging. Its recent campaign, Growers of Good, is a “holistic approach” to working with family farmers, protecting the environment and producing nutritious foods, Longstreet said.

“It’s very much interwoven in our values and beliefs,” he said, adding the company has increased its marketing spend 25% on media to support the Growers of Good message.

The second part of the Magna study, which asked about 1,300 people about the effectiveness of ads, includes prescriptions for brands. And yes, sometimes that means more cowbell.

“One of our recommendations coming out of the research is that brands need to do their homework, right?” Manatt said. “They need to know their audience and choose something that is often a cause or a topic that’s authentic to them.”

For example, Magna and Twitter tested culture-focused ads—mainly video ads that conveyed concepts, like how a brand gives back to a community, which is hard to communicate in a short video ad.

“We recommend to brands that they need to optimize based on completion rate because you really only get the benefit [when] people really get invested in watching the full thing,” Manatt said.  

She added that optimizing based on completion rates is more important than click-through rates because the environment in which you run it will dictate how you translate that ad.

“Your mindset when you view an ad is extremely important to how effective it is, or it’s very much tied to how effective it is if you are in the right mindset when you get an ad,” Manatt said. “We recommend brands to keep that environment in mind and run that creative when culture is top of mind for people. The same ad will work harder when people expect cultural conversations.”

@joshsternberg Josh Sternberg is the former media and tech editor at Adweek.