Modern marketing efforts are mostly based on the analysis of consumer psychology and behavior. This kind of analysis has proven very effective in reaching consumers with messages about products, services and brands. However, this kind of marketing, taken by itself, can offer an incomplete picture of consumer behavior. It leaves out the cultural factors that influence and often change consumer behaviors. By paying attention to these cultural insights, marketers can get ahead of the curve and offer messages that anticipate changing consumer attitudes rather than simply responding the present needs and wants of consumers. The ability to anticipate future consumer behavior can give marketers a serious competitive advantage in today’s marketplace.
Typically, marketers rely on research about the target market for their products and brand to craft advertising campaigns for current products and develop new products. Market research helps the marketer understand the psychology, motivations, needs and behaviors of consumers. This information is typically based a scientific quantitative analysis of the market. It can be gathered from publicly available data sources. Companies can also invest in their own market research by conducting mail or phone surveys, focus groups and in-depth interviews to accumulate data on their target market.
This kind of research helps marketers get a handle on the basic needs that drive individual consumers. They can predict the response to actions of the company and develop a marketing strategy to reach the people in their target market. However, this kind of research misses a significant aspect of consumer behavior. It cannot account for the cultural trends that change consumer needs and behavior over time.
The problem with relying solely on consumer insights for marketing is that marketing messages never reach individual consumers without the intervening medium of culture. Every society has a way of life: a complex matrix of manners, styles of dress, norms for social behavior, rituals, religions, values and language. This matrix influences how messages are received by individuals in a way that is hard to quantify and fit into a strategic marketing plan.
Cultural insights demonstrate where consumer behavior may be changing. These insights point the way toward massive shifts in values, attitudes and behaviors that are perking just underneath the surface of our day-to-day lives. These trends do not show up in quantitative market research because individuals may not be conscious of these social and cultural tensions.
How Cultural Marketing Works
Cultural marketers seek to get behind movements and deep trends in the prevailing culture. For example, take Dove’s Real Beauty campaign. By engaging in a conversation about feminine beauty, Dove not only revived its brand but participated in a cultural movement. Quantitative consumer insights might suggest that women have insecurities about their bodies and that these insecurities should be played up in marketing messages. Dove’s insight into broader cultural trends led them to abandon this approach and to take the lead in cultural change. Their ads celebrate different kinds of feminine beauty and have brought this conversation to the front and center of our culture. The campaign is not without its critics, but there is no doubt that Dove has shed light on the issue of beauty in a way that had not been done before.
Cultural marketing pays attention to what is going on in the culture. Marketers need to be careful observers of the culture around them so that they can anticipate what issues will be important in the future. They need to identify movements that their brand can speak to. Listening to conversations in the media and on the Internet helps marketers raise awareness of the values that are motivating cultural change. Focusing on cultural movements allows marketers to forecast ways in which the markets they serve are changing. For example, if marketers do not pay attention to the growing use of mobile devices and how these are creating changes in consumer behavior, they could be left high and dry when this movement grows and changes the marketplace.
Benefits of Integrating Cultural Insights into Marketing Strategy
This is not to say that consumer insights do not result in a competitive advantage. However, a marketing strategy that does not pay attention to cultural shifts will be incomplete and susceptible to large cultural changes in consumer behavior. Cultural marketing allows companies to get ahead of the curve. They can anticipate and participate in cultural changes that will shape the future of our society. By riding these movements, they can gain a serious competitive advantage and position their products and brand for future success.
The future of marketing must include a strong emphasis on cultural change. Marketers will need to help their companies be shapers and creators of culture rather than just responding to present consumer needs and behavior.