Commentary

Transcend Your Product To Become A True Cultural Touchstone

A mere 20 years ago, brands were simply merchants selling stuff, and a sufficient marketing strategy consisted of quality ads. But as the cost of attention has skyrocketed, traditional ads have become much less effective. 

Today, CEOs need to understand the true value their companies bring to communities — and how to leverage that value to grab people’s attention.

Wendy’s, for example, recently transcended product offerings by playing the Food Fight game mode of “Fortnite.” The company created a digital avatar that went on a rampage, destroying all the freezers in the game (as opposed to other players) to fight the evils of frozen beef. 

Wendy’s campaign garnered 1.5 million minutes of Twitch viewing and generated a nearly 120% increase in social mentions. The whole thing was so successful that it earned Wendy’s the Social & Influencer Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions Festival.

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Wendy’s campaign proves that connecting your brand to cultural communities can pay dividends, but there are several guidelines to keep in mind so your efforts don’t backfire.

Start with an intimate understanding of the common user. The biggest mistake brands make when trying to be “cool” is failing to understand the very people they want to connect with. This is particularly true in the experiential marketing space.

Big entertainment companies are notorious among Comic-Con attendees for slapping logos on giant booths that add zero value to the experience. The booths become ghost towns — or worse, the subject of ridicule.

Seasoned Comic-Con fans don’t hesitate to shun flashy but soulless displays.

Company leaders who seek to deeply understand Comic-Con’s vast audience   do best because they find a way to integrate their brand into the community in a way that sparks genuine interest and adds real value. The same applies to any other community, whether it’s sneakerheads or online video lovers.

Don’t bribe leaders; be a patron of creators. So many influencer marketing campaigns fail because the brand essentially pays the leader of a lifestyle community — the influencer — to hold a branded product and share the picture with followers. While successful Instagram influencer posts usually earn a few likes, they’re too forgettable to generate lasting results. The influencer and experiential campaigns that really stick allow influencers to lead in their own ways.

If you find a cause, mean it. Cause marketing is extremely popular right now. In fact, 86% of consumers expect companies to support important causes, according to Blackbaud. However, we’re starting to see backlash when brands showcase symbolic support without visible follow-through, as this Voxpost notes.

It’s important to make sure there’s some connection between your brand and the cause. Simply selling rainbow cups at Bed Bath & Beyond won’t project an image of compassion for the LGBTQ community, for example.

The best approach? Find a cause you care about that matches your brand’s central value proposition. Use your position as the leader of a company to achieve meaningful impact through profitable work.

You can’t fake your way to becoming a cultural touchstone. But once you put in the work to understand what a community likes and cares about, its members will feel good giving your company their hard-earned money.

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