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Why Consumers Are Better Than Ever at Ignoring Culturally Irrelevant Communications

Why Consumers Are Better Than Ever at Ignoring Culturally Irrelevant Communications

What does it mean for a brand to be culturally fluent? In an increasingly multicultural and interconnected world, cultural intelligence becomes a vital aspect of the internal organisation and external communication for the most competitive companies.

What may begin as a general set of internal rules to manage a multicultural team (from avoiding assumptions to considering how to share information to different members, as explained in this NBC news article), can later become the key to successfully communicating a culturally relevant message.

Culturally irrelevant marketing in times of crisis

While a global pandemic affects everyone, forgetting the importance of culturally specific communication would be a mistake. As the most vulnerable groups take the hardest hit of financial instability, consumers are taking note of marketing campaigns that only target the privileged sector of the population that is able to work from home, with images and messages that focus on this seemingly obvious lifestyle change. This type of message can be adequate for some brands, but the ones that speak to multicultural audiences in the US, for example, need to consider that the majority of Black and Hispanic workers cannot work from home.

Similarly, the way we react to a crisis is closely related to our culture. For that reason, brands need to take a closer look at how their target audience chooses to cope with a global crisis and how to communicate culturally relevant solutions.

What matters to consumers

Now more than ever, consumers have access to information that allows them to verify if a brand is being authentic with their message. So what are some of the topics that consumers care about? In this Inc article, the author explains that if a brand shows no real connection with the movement, consumers quickly associate it with an inauthentic marketing ploy. That’s why terms like “greenwashing” are increasingly popular as a way to call-out brands that launch eco-friendly marketing campaigns while their actual practices are far from ideal for the environment.

In this sense, transparency is more important than ever, particularly for Millennials and Gen Z, with social media feeds having an increasingly direct impact on corporate behaviour. As mentioned in this HBR article, a survey has shown that 76% of respondents have purchased from a company as a way to support the issues that the company supports, while 67% of them have stopped supporting the companies that do not align with their values.

How socially conscious consumers evaluate a brand’s communications

As a way to prepare brands for public scrutiny, the same Harvard Business Review article explains how the Brand Advocacy Map can work as a guide. First, the brand’s credibility and authenticity around an issue is assessed: from “willfully ignorant” to “issue fluent.” Secondly, the depth of engagement is evaluated: Is the company truly invested in the social issue in a structural way? Or is the company only scratching the surface of the problem?

Before making any public statement, brands need to go beyond just making donations and make sure that their message demonstrates their deeper understanding of the complexities and nuances of the issue. A celebrated example is Ben & Jerry’s; a brand that has spoken about racial injustice and refugee rights for decades. Here, we can see how much consumers care about evaluating external communications as well as internal operations, as Ben & Jerry’s Board shows real diversity,  whilst social activism is also a proven part of their culture.

Another example of how the public cares about brands that go beyond one-time statements is Netflix. For the last two years, a Head of Diversity and Inclusion has been in charge of launching new programs that support Black leads. Along with a substantial increase in the number of Black employees in leadership positions, Netflix’s support of Black-owned businesses has proven a lot more effective and beneficial to the community than single donations to charities. Can similar insights be possible without Black leadership in the company? Probably not, which is why today’s smart consumers notice the overall consistency of the brand’s message before showing support.

The negative examples abound, but positive examples are more helpful for brands to understand the real scope of good, culturally relevant communications. While negative reactions are short-lived and a little obvious, a positive impact is multifaceted and truly memorable.

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