Charlotte Willcocks : why culture is the future of strategy

Traditional strategy, as we know it, set down by ‘the founding fathers’ of advertising is no longer enough to cut through the noise for marketing brands wanting to leave a lasting impression on their consumers.

Traditional brand planning was created in a time where brands held the power to drive change and evolution. It was slow, it could take years. But now a strategy reset is happening.

Culture as we know it now – including the creator economy, fandom, internet culture – is taking over brand identity. Brand love is now driven by how they choose to exist, create, and participate in that culture and is becoming what determines their ability to future proof themselves. Brand strategists must pay attention to new, exciting ways of doing things – not just old advertising handbooks. This means a more agile approach to strategy, not a standard long-term plan that takes many months or years to implement.

Agile brands

Truly impatient (agile) brands never stand still. They know by doing that they are essentially falling behind.

They are always looking for the next audience, community or activation that will keep them ahead.

‘Consumer centric’ has become an industry buzzword, but many underestimate what that means in reality. It does not mean simply understanding what your consumers are into and brand broadcasting them into submission.

It means truly understanding the culture of your consumer groups, understanding their values and missions, what drives their curiosity and interest. This, along with working with impatient brands, led Impero to create its own real time Gen-Z research panel – The Move.

Why is culture the key?

Finding your next generation of consumers is key to online success. Times have moved on and most importantly consumers have moved on. They have become decentralised individuals that we are constantly trying to pigeonhole into large, generalised groups that really have nothing in common.

However, in reality, they’re forming their own likeminded communities based on values and missions that go way beyond ‘they all care about the planet yet still shop exclusively at Shein.’ Traditional communities were geographically bound, whereas online consumers and their communities are bound by nothing but their Wi-Fi and curiosity.

Being embedded in culture allows brands to earn their seat at the table over a long period of time. Many people cite Gucci’s culture strategy as seemingly ‘random’ or ‘scattergun’ in its approach. In fact, they made a long-term commitment to play an active role over years in their consumers’ culture. For them their culture structure IS their strategy, it’s not seen as separate. But what it does allow them to set are parameters for freedom and autonomy over their activations and ideas. Meaning they can shapeshift and speak to all their communities.

How can other brands follow suit?

1. Research little and often – wave goodbye to the 6-week-long, bi-yearly ‘consumer research’ in favour of constant temperature and attitudinal checks. Traditionally, research is something many brands would shell out thousands of pounds on every 1-3 years to get a temperature check on their audience. The fallacy is, by the time that research lands on their desks 6 weeks later it’s already out of date, their audience has moved on and the world is different. This is true now more than ever.

2. Throw away traditional segmentation – forget geographical and age segmentation – communities are now bound together by values and missions that you need to understand to know how to engage.

3. Earn your place, get off the fence and have a clear point of view. Consumers no longer respect brands who don’t show clear morals and values and are too busy trying to tell consumers what to think.

4. Co-create and participate – passive observation is not an option within culture – understand your place, play and active role, give back, give access, or create with your fandoms

5. Be in it for the long haul – culture strategy does not equal stunt. Strap in and commit as much resource and time to your cultural strategy as you would for your old school brand building strategy.

There’s no one way of doing this. Brands can either invest in this internally, or partner with an agency that can help facilitate it. What’s important is baking it into the centre of everything that you do.

Charlotte Willcocks is head of strategy at Impero.

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