Helping Brands Engage Culture, Where to Play, & How to Identify What Matters Most

Social media has become a cultural hotbed. Keeping that in mind, let’s dive in on how brands should be engaging in culture within the social space. First and foremost, brands should evaluate culture from a position of strength. This entails going on the offensive to locate and establish a narrative, rather than sitting back and allowing your product to define you. It’s no secret that every brand wants to have an identity. They're all looking to determine who they are and what they are, but the most important question when it comes to culture is “why they are.” Why is this brand here? Why do they exist? Why are they RELEVANT? The who and the what are universal, but defining the why is a goal that many brands struggle to achieve.

Engaging Culture

In order to set ourselves up for success, we need to identify any trends within culture that will help the brand achieve relevance amongst its audience. These can be revealed by the way an audience promotes, responds, and or creates content around the brand or its products. These trends also reflect the identity of the audience. The brand in turn, cultivates these behaviors in order to deliver powerfully to market.

Arby’s is a great example of a brand that understands why identifying and engaging with broader culture is so important. They identify with relevance. So no matter what is taking place around them, they adapt, cultivate, and activate in a way that feels organic to their audience. The anime community is one that is niche and very tight knit, but grows more and more popular by the day. Arby’s took note of this and flipped it in a way that was authentic and inclusive by creating their very own anime campaign centered around their products. They identified the trends, the audience they needed to target, and presented it in a way that remained true to who and what they are. This is why they remain relevant. It's more than just “THE MEATS”. A breakdown of their top anime posts can be found here.

LEGO is another great example of a brand that enjoys tapping into specific niche communities and cultures. Sci-fi is a popular genre amongst consumers of all ages that LEGO continues to leverage in their favor. They’re deliberate in their storytelling and innovation when targeting the Star Wars community. This Impact article showcases how LEGO created a 360-degree video experience where you are placed into a LEGO adventure in the “same time and location of Star Wars ‘The Last Jedi.’” Despite having a product that’s geared towards children, they’ve created a culturally relevant experience for fans of all ages.

Establishing an Audience

The makeup of our audience will always be important, but once again, we should be sure to understand why. We begin with who our audience is, age, gender, nationality, etc. When establishing this, brands should keep in mind that our target audience should be built around our culture but not limited by it. This means once the identity of our audience is known, we should look for ways to enter conversations both within and outside our target. It’s about growth. The purpose of finding your brand audience identity should be to shed light on how to grow and expand this group. By promoting a culture that is willing to explore a world outside their core target, you're presenting the brand as both inclusionary and culturally relevant.


User generated content can go a long way in establishing and cultivating the brand culture experience. We should be evaluating what types of content users are creating to show brand love. Whether positive or negative, this is going to reveal how our audience authentically views the brand. Memes, hashtags, and relevant events are all essential. We want to uncover where the brand resides within the lives of our consumers. Understanding how our audience feels and where they input the brand will provide the blueprint for how we’re able to reach them in the market. Lilach Bullock breaks down a few outstanding UGC programs in her Business 2 Community published article. Here’s a highlight of two of the absolute best: Louboutin asks their customers to post photos of themselves wearing Louboutin shoes with the hashtag #somethingrouge. The company then selects the best photos and reposts them on their Instagram page.

Calvin Klein asks its fans to fill in the campaign line “I_____in #MyCalvins.” After the inaugural campaign, thousands of their fans and followers took photos and posted their briefs, making the campaign go viral. In just a few months, over 500,000 photos were tagged on Instagram.

Imagine the insights each of these brands gained for simply asking their audience to showcase how their products are embedded within their everyday lives. There are endless amounts of ideas now available to both brands, their next step should be to simply activate on what’s already in front of them.

Where to Play

Having an understanding of the current social media climate is essential in identifying what cultural spaces to operate in. We can’t tell our cultural story without passing it through a lens of the current climate. We’re in a state right now in which everything needs a second set of eyes to ensure it is not perceived as insensitive. People are standing up and demanding to be heard. Brands need to understand this and adjust their messaging to adhere to the current landscape. It is not enough to just say the right thing, brands are now being forced to stand on their words and follow up with the right actions. That is the culture of today.

What Matters Most

The message going forward is clear. Those who choose to utilize cultural insights as a means of actionable data will set themselves apart from those who don’t. Strides forward are made on the strength of a brand’s cultural efforts rather than just that of their products. Become overly familiar with the primary social platforms. Every platform has its own nuances. Through platforms we’re able to discover where and how people are being the most creative. Twitter for example, is a conversation led platform that will provide the truest look into how your audience views the brand. Staying in the know of what conversations are taking place, what’s trending, and what verbage users are using to communicate, is an easy way for brands to help unlock the current culture. Relevance is the name of the game, while creativity and timing are indeed the weapons of choice. It’s going to be fun to watch out for which brands end up on top.

Michael Plant is a Chicago‑based Community Strategist at Camp + King. Previously, he spearheaded UberEats social media engagement efforts, building its global engagement strategy.

Michael Plant is a Chicago-based Community Strategist at Camp + King. Previously, he spearheaded UberEats social media engagement efforts, building its global engagement strategy.

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