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Cultural marketing can update your content strategy

What is cultural marketing? And how can you adopt this big brand strategy without a big brand budget?

Cultural marketing and cultural analysis strategy

So many companies dismiss cultural marketing without giving it a chance.

“It’s too expensive. We need a bigger team. It’s too risky.”

We’re here to show you that you don’t need a huge budget and a massive team to use this strategy. Cultural marketing is a powerful way to connect with your customers and to attract a new audience.

Let’s give it a go.

What is cultural marketing?

Cultural marketing strategy magnified

When people think about cultural marketing they think about how to promote their product to people from different cultures or demographics. Whilst this is part of cultural marketing, it’s too simplistic a definition.

Instead, we define cultural marketing as a brand’s response and contribution to culture.

When we combine our demographic knowledge of our customers with cultural insight we build a truly meaningful marketing strategy.

It’s time to think like anthropologists.

Some marketing agencies have dedicated cultural analysts in their strategy teams. Not many businesses have the luxury of a marketing strategy team, let alone an in-house cultural analyst.

But that doesn’t mean this approach is closed off to you. Not at all.

We’re going to walk you through some great examples of cultural marketing done right. And one done very wrong. Hopefully, you’ll leave inspired to add cultural marketing to your strategic toolkit.

Cultural marketing provides “a better understanding of how the marketplace for products and services is shifting, when consumer context and assumptions change, and where their opportunities for growth are.” (Forbes)

Why is cultural marketing important?

cultural marketing strategy around the world

People are influenced by where they come from

We are products of our experiences. The decisions we make are rooted in the cultural context of our own lives. Many of these experiences are shared with others in our demographic. We can call these cultural commonalities.

Knowing where someone comes from and what’s important to them is crucial in the process of learning how to talk to them. At the end of the day that’s what good marketing is: the start of a conversation.

In this post about getting the right kind of web traffic we spoke a lot about customer profiles and demographics. Building your customer profiles is a great place to start if you aren’t sure who your customers are.

People have different journeys

cultural marketing journey

Your product might be a good fit for multiple demographics. But the reasons they want it are likely very different. Take a ‘dumb phone’ for example. A 35-year-old tech professional might be driven to purchase because they are testing out a digital detox and looking for ways to be less distracted. A grandmother might have different ‘why’s’: she doesn’t want or need all the functions of a smartphone, she won’t use them.

Despite wanting the same product, these two people have little else in common. The ways we would approach them are entirely different Different language. Different imagery. Different messaging. Different distribution.

Same result. Different journey.

Knowing these nuances is important in how you message your product to different people. In this scenario, our grandmother isn’t going to be lured in by digital detox and fewer distractions. These aren’t pain points that resonate with her at all.

Your brand can be left behind

cultural marketing importance

Research from Accenture found that 53% of us prefer to buy from a company that reflects their own personal values and beliefs. This is higher amongst the younger population suggesting that this is only going to become more important.

Brand purpose is just one example of how companies can be left behind. Staying aware of cultural shifts and changing trends is key to staying relevant. Right now, if you’re a plastic manufacturer who has paid no attention to the growing movement towards plastic-free products – you’re missing something.

Paying attention to shifting cultures enables you to make better decisions and better serve your customers.

How can we build culture into our marketing strategy?

cultural marketing ripple effect

Stay on top of cultural shifts

DHH and Jason Fried of Basecamp released the book It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work which not only articulated their personal and company values, but linked them to a cultural movement away from ‘the entrepreneurial struggle’. The trend towards wellness, work-life balance, and personal freedom was a great fit for Basecamp’s own culture.

Basecamp's It Doesn't Have to be Crazy at Work

Be aware that your company culture and how you choose to share that is part of your cultural marketing. Keep an eye out for similarities between your own company culture and the wider landscape to uncover similar opportunities.

Contribute an expert voice

There’s often the opportunity to weigh in on a topical discussion where your company has experience with the topic.

For example, we have previously contributed data to publications such as Wired and NBC on adoption of new iOS software across the world. This was a great fit for us. The topic was relevant amongst our audience and we have the data to back up our opinions.

Examples like this show that it doesn’t have to be a huge societal shift that you are tapping into. It can be small, cultural moments that keep your brand in the minds of an audience who share common ground with your company.

For example, we recently wrote about privacy and web analytics after noticing the growing concern over online tracking.

Believe in something

Patagonia have been championing environmental responsibility for years. Their Black Friday boycotts have been effective past the chance to display their brand values.

Patagonia cultural marketing campaign

In 2016 Patagonia’s 100% for the planet campaign saw the company reach $10million of sales – all to be donated to grassroots environmental organisations. This far exceeded the company’s expected $2 million in sales, and raised the company’s profile.

Your cause might be controversial, or it might be very well accepted in your industry. What we know is that customer’s want to know that the brands they buy from share their values.

You don’t need a multi-million dollar marketing budget to talk about what your company values. The important part is that your company has a clear purpose.

This could be publishing a pledge to hire 50% women on your engineering team. It could be a blog post about how your company supports further learning, or employees taking time off, healthy eating and lifestyles, or environmental conservation.

Other notable examples:


Nike's cultural marketing campaign

Nike’s 30-year anniversary campaign highlighted NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick who famously took a knee during the national anthem to protest racism, social inequality, and police brutality.

It’s not that there was no backlash for this. Some people shared videos on social media of them burning Nike products or cutting out the logo. Still, the campaign resonated with Nike’s customer base and the company and paid off to the order of $6bn.

This example is a good lesson in understanding your audience. Perhaps only a giant like Nike had the power to pull something like this off. But, it showed that the risk (and reality) of putting off a few customers by making a stand can be worth it.

The North Face

The North Face cultural marketing campaign

North Face’s brilliant Walls are Meant for Climbing campaign. By alluding to Trump’s border wall the campaign hit a cultural touch point. North Face backed up this campaign with a sizeable donation to put on free climbing events, and make the sport more accessible.

Pepsi’s cultural marketing fail

Pepsi bad cultural marketing

Notable, and not in a good way, cultural marketing campaigns can have a negative impact on your brand when not thought through. This example from Pepsi received a lot of backlash for trivialising the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality.

Think it through.

think through your cultural strategy

Good cultural analysis and a diverse team are the best ways to avoid making a Pepsi-style marketing blunder.

Don’t align your company with a cause you aren’t committed to

Take some time to think about the culture that your company and product sits within. Go back to your customer profiles and make sure you’re signed up to industry and cultural newsletters to keep a finger on the pulse.

If you’re struggling to think of where to start take a step back and get really clear on your company values. It’s important that any purpose you align with is true to your values. This is not something to take on with purely profit-led intentions.

If you enjoyed this you might also enjoy our posts on getting the right kind of web traffic, using audience segmenation to boost your marketing strategy, or learning 3 unique methods to generate blog traffic.

Written by
Beth is our Head of Growth. She likes to write about customer behaviour, creative strategy, and, well, growth.

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