• Transform magazine
  • June 26, 2019

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Content conformity shows brands are following culture, not changing it

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Photos of shoes lit by shards of light on pavement. Photos of hands holding glistening ice cream cones in sunny places. Photos of caramel-coloured whisky on moody, grainy wood tables. Remove the brand name, logo or social media handle and the whisky, ice cream or shoes could be nearly anyone’s. This conformity indicates that brands are not setting the tone for culture, but merely responding to it.

Communications consultancy DeVries Global has researched the concept of ‘brandbiguity’ in which the monotonous repetition of culture damages brands. At an event in London, it unveiled some of its key findings, alongside brand experts and influencers, who discussed cultural leadership and overcoming this ambiguity.

“Brands used to define cultural conversations,” said Loretta Markevicz, head of creative intelligence at DeVries Global. Now, she adds, everything “starts to look the same.” DeVries says this is a result of brands chasing culture, thereby producing an echo chamber of content that all starts to mimic itself. Not only is that, well, boring, but it leads to brand ambiguity. People don’t know what brands stand for; what their point of differentiation is, anymore.

DeVries says the solution lies in values-based communications in which brands can have a point of view and offer a reason to belong for their audiences. The most important aspects of a brand’s content being relevant to a consumer is ‘reflects my values and ethics,’ according to the research.

But how brands communicate their values, individualise content and craft unique positions from which to share content varies. For some, it’s working with influencers. Hannah Wembley-Smith, the marketing director for Coty Luxury, discussed the impact Gucci’s brand revolution has had on culture. Its approach has been to use influencers in unique ways and to tailor content toward a young audience, eschewing some of the traditional rules of luxury in the process. The result is a new tribe of people committed to the Gucci brand, without wavering.

However, the influencer approach can have its pitfalls. Bella Younger, the voice behind the influencer persona Deliciously Stella, says brands often spam influencers with the same brief. “It’s not about creativity, it’s definitely just about reach,” for these brands, she says. Best practice, for Younger, is a brand that works with an influencer to understand their unique selling point as a personality, and their audience’s needs, and then works with that. Brands that afford influencers the creativity to use branded content or material in their own way may be taking a bigger risk, but stand to reap a bigger reward. DeVries writes, “Consumers see straight through brand-influencer relationships that don’t possess a credible link to tether to values.”

Pushing things one step further, Stephen Mai, chief content officer at Boiler Room, says brands need to not only build awareness, they need to take action as a way of proving to their audiences that they have a point of view worth buying into. He cites Axe/Lynx, which has recently tackled issues related to men’s mental health issues, bullying and self-confidence and body positivity through its brand messaging, but also through tangible calls to action. Mai says brands need to “have a powerful message and make real-real-world change to drive narrative and influence others.”

And it has a real impact on the bottom line too. DeVries found that 82.7% of Gen Z respondents said they would choose to spend money with, buy or remain loyal to a brand that connects with them on a cultural level. For brands that set the tone for cultural conversation, prove their points of view and take action, the proof may be in the pudding.