Times they are a changing: Cultural relevancy and its implications for brand strategy
“Am I relevant?” Brands have been asking themselves that question for decades and answering “yes” with varying degrees of success and honesty for just as long. In this paper, we will examine the nature of cultural relevancy and whether a brand can legitimately lay claim to a relevant trend, and outline some of the strategies brands can employ in order to do so. But first, a quick stat: in the interim since Charles Dow calculated his first average of industrial stocks on May 26, 1896, only one of the 12 principal organizations remains intact—General Electric. Beware, the road to brand immortality is paved with those who failed to recognize coming cultural change or adapt in time to meet it. By being perceptive and nimble, brands stand the best chance of getting in ahead of the cultural curve. Remember, change is certain, but progress is not.
Let’s begin by defining cultural relevance and discussing a few examples of the trends that are shaping it. Cultural relevancy is observed through gradual changes that affect mainstream interests and consumer preferences, and ultimately instigate paradigm shifts in behavior. The trends that drive significant change become ubiquitous, influencing how a company and its products and services are viewed. Some of the main drivers impacting this perception today include health, sustainability and technology. Keep in mind, a trend should not be confused with a fad and is distinct foremost in its staying power; the former filters its way into the mainstream and establishes a degree of permanence (thus becoming “the new normal”), while the latter dissipates as consumer interest wanes.
One great visualization tool you can use to observe this ebb and flow is Google Trends. Enter a term into the search bar at google.com/trends, and the system automatically charts its popularity over time by the frequency of Google searches received. Simple, if unscientific, Google Trends is a great starting point for tracking shifts in consumer interest and shaping the way you should be positioning yourself in the marketplace.
This brings us to perhaps the most important question brands need to be asking themselves: when do I act on a trend, and what factors do I need to consider in order to make the most informed decision possible? For brands with long, storied histories and established brand values, following a trend indiscriminately can come off as inauthentic. Brands both big and small need to determine whether they can authentically adapt to embrace a current trend, or whether it makes more sense to begin anew.
Brand values are fundamental to who you are as an organization and are intrinsically tied to the product or service you provide.
That is a strategic decision that should be made based on your core brand values. Brand values are fundamental to who you are as an organization and are intrinsically tied to the product or service you provide. They are inseparable from your identity in the hearts and minds of consumers. Whether or not it is appropriate for your business to react to a given trend is contingent on this key distinction: are you telling an authentic story based on an enterprise-wide idea or are you reacting to an opportunity you’d like to capitalize on? To begin to answer that question, let’s examine a few recent trends.