Is your brand culturally relevant?

Carly Adams, Senior Strategist, Khoros Strategic Services

In case you needed a recap of 2020: we saw the start of a global pandemic, a racial justice movement, and a historic election. All monumental events that impacted our lives in ways we never imagined. We lived in isolation while trying to make sense of the world around us. For many, the only way to connect was through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok...the list goes on. People came together, shared, and coped. Through all the fogginess and turmoil, one thing became abundantly clear: 2020 was the year that brought back the original purpose of social media — to connect and build community.

We saw this come to life through cultural trends like the Fleetwood Mac x Ocean Spray TikTok, the How It Started/How It’s Going meme, the How the Email Found Me trend, the 2020 Challenge, and the What is Cake trend. These real-time trends and cultural moments provided a way for the world, while living in isolation, to find connection and community with like-minded people over similar passions, interests and humor. Connection and community came to life in many ways. For some, it meant purely entertainment - levity, laughter and to find relief. For others, it meant finding like-minded individuals so they could feel understood and heard.

So now, as the world slowly starts to emerge after the pandemic, what role do brands play in continuing to build community and create connections through culturally relevant moments and trends?

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What does 'Cultural Relevance' even mean?

Being culturally relevant means connecting with your audience by thoughtfully participating in the conversations they’re having and the communities they’re building, especially around cultural moments. When this happens, it signals that you, as a brand, understand and care about your audience. Not as customers, but as people. Being culturally relevant is about building trust and creating long-lasting relationships with your audience — and the way to do that is to engage in conversations that your community cares about.

These lasting relationships will help you create customers for life.

This shift (or refocus, rather) towards connection and community building around cultural moments has forced brands to reassess how they engage with their audiences on social media. Brands, now more than ever, need to be aware not just of what’s going on in culture but also how audiences are responding to it. And, where it’s appropriate, they need to participate in the important conversations that audiences care about. It’s not enough anymore to simply stay silent; it’s crucial to be an active participant when important topics come along.

Brands need to be culturally relevant. How do they do that?

At Khoros, we’ve led several of our customers across varied industries through the process of creating a cultural relevance program that’s woven into everything they do — especially how and where they show up on social media. This process helps make sure they’re always showing up and participating with their audiences in an authentic manner that’s relevant to them.

1. Know your audience

We all know defining your target audience is the crucial first step for building out any marketing campaign. But when you want to engage in culturally-relevant conversations, you need to go deeper than the surface-level understanding of who you’re talking with. You need to understand what your audience cares about. What they’re most passionate about. What conversations do they engage in, and what conversations do they avoid. It’s table stakes for brands to have an intimate understanding of their audience to know when, where, and how to engage. This can only occur when you know your audience well.

2. Be intentional

Once you’ve clearly defined your audience, you can then be intentional about engaging in the right conversations at the right time. Root your strategy in your existing marketing objectives and understand that not every cultural moment is right for every brand. For example, Amazon Pay received backlash when they posted a Bernie Sanders mittens meme on Twitter promoting signing up for Amazon Pay. The backlash was so immediate that Amazon Pay deleted the tweet by the end of the day. This slip-up could have been avoided if the company had been more intentional about how the tweet would be perceived and responded to by a public audience.

Being intentional often means thinking from the perspective of your audience and what the perceived intent behind your brand’s actions are. Mixing Bernie Sanders (who’s often critical of Amazon’s policies) and signing up for Amazon Pay isn’t showing an intentional act, which is why it was later deleted.

3. Engage like a local

Embed yourself in culture and walk the walk. We’ve learned the most effective way to build brand equity and humanize a brand’s voice is to talk like a local. In other words, speak your audience’s language. Whether you’re engaging with music fans or participating in Super Bowl conversations, your team’s knowledge and style should reflect the topic. These team members can create copy that references niche fan knowledge and speak the language of the locals. It’s this authenticity that helps your brand create real connections with your audiences.

How to get started

Even with this framework, we know that inserting your brand into conversations around cultural moments can feel intimidating and risky. And it’s true: while many fans will embrace you in conversations, some will point out your missteps. And that’s okay. It’s okay to feel that way. Being culturally relevant is about taking thoughtful risks, testing and learning, reiterating your strategy based on the results, and above all, being authentic. Users want a brand they can trust, and when you build that trust with consumers, they'll reward you by being loyal to your brand.

With a solid cultural relevance program in place to lay the foundation, brands have the opportunity to show up, connect, and engage in a way that’s authentic to your audience.

Still not sure how to develop a content strategy for social media that fits your brand and your audience? The experts at Khoros Strategic Services can help.

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