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IN PERSPECTIVE: How brands should pivot to remain culturally relevant

Helen Barclay
08 December 2020

A recent study by Twitter found a whopping 25% of consumers would make a purchase decision based on how culturally relevant a brand is, but what does this mean in cold hard revenue, and what impact is this shift in spending having on the world’s biggest brands?

We took a look at the 2020 brand index to understand how the ability to pivot and connect with customers in a supremely difficult climate, affected the bottom line. We found the results only further compounded what we already knew – pivot or get left behind.

As you can see, Nike reigns supreme, holding steady at no 1. From “This Girl Can” to “You Can’t Stop Us”, Nike’s ability to build an inclusive community in any storm never ceases to amaze. As the pandemic hit, they put their own agenda aside and used their voice responsibly urging its audience to “Play inside, play for the world”.

… but look a little further, and you’ll see that Zara has plummeted 4 spots, whilst Gucci jumps 3.

If we asked you to recall a Zara campaign from the last 12 months, could you do it? Marketeers have long marvelled at how they maintain such impressive sales with little to no advertising, but perhaps their silence is finally catching up with them. Consumers (especially in the 18-35 bracket) now expect brands to stand for something, it allows them to connect on a deeper level and move from purchasers to brand advocates.

Now let’s take a look at Gucci. From this year’s beautiful Ellie Goldstein campaign, to Guccifest last month, they make strides to be at the forefront of their audience’s hearts and minds whatever the weather.

With all this in mind, we have identified some important steps to take in to consideration when shaping your social strategy for 2021 to ensure your brand is remaining culturally relevant.

Understand you customer

If you’re creating your content with your product rather than your customer In mind, you can expect it to flop. A deep dive into your audience is one of the most valuable exercises you can undertake. Who are they? What do they talk about? Which other brands do they follow? Who are their favourite influencers? If you can align yourself with your customers to become part of their everyday consumption of content, you are no longer just “getting in the way of a sale” but you’re front of mind at the start of the purchase cycle.

Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything

Performative activism is OUT. Not that it was ever “in”, but if you don’t have something deep routed and meaningful to contribute then marketing your front of house efforts for recognition will do more harm than good. Back in May, a popular fast fashion brand sparked backlash after using an illustration of a jet black hand along-side a post that was seemingly in reference to the murder or George Floyd. Their followers urged them to remove the post, citing it a tone deaf misrepresentation. Instead, do the work within your organisation and share the changes you are making top down to make a difference. According to Twitter, top ways for a brand to be culturally relevant includes giving back to the community, being inclusive, and supporting social issues. It’s no surprise that we’ve seen the B Corp movement explode in the past year. We predict this will be the biggest trend of 2021 for ways in which brands hold themselves accountable.

Go Micro

We are seeing more and more clients come to Sweetshop seeking new ways to reach audiences. In the past few years Macro influencers have exploded, but with that has come a lot of dodgy content. There’s nothing worse than a misplaced and insincere influencer endorsement, it’s bad for the brand and it’s bad for the talent. The holy grail is to find talent that is already a customer, who’s audience is likely to be interested in the brand, with a high engagement rate… so, this brings us on to micro. We are successfully building micro networks that combined can target the large audiences of your favourite Macros, but the numbers allow us to look at their following at a more granular level and deliver tailored messaging. Not only this, but they tend to have better engagement rates and so garner better results.

Re-evaluate what “luxury” means in a post COVID world

According to global management consultancy Bain, global luxury sales suffered a YOY loss of 25%-30%. This pandemic united communities across the globe, and consumers became more aware than ever of the disparity between socio-economic groups. With this, we have seen a rise in post-aspirational mindset, where Ethics will become as important as aesthetics as consumers pivot towards brands with purpose. When you tie this with a shift in the way in which consumers shop (moving towards online), the brands who can successfully launch inclusive online advertising and create digital experiences to match, will successfully redefine the “luxury” shopping experience.



Helen Barclay is the Marketing Director at SWEETSHOP, the 360 agency that helps brands tell their stories.

SWEETSHOP work with brands including Ellesse, Nokia, Sony Music and Sam Branson. To view more, visit SWEETSHOPMEDIA.COM

About SWEETSHOP: More than ever for brands operating in the fashion space, it is important to identify one's own culture and place within it, then most importantly, ensure you are true to it.

Chasing trends or misappropriation of “culture” demonstrates a lack of authenticity and can only be a mask for a brand and the wrong one at that. Customers will see past it and longevity will not be a product of the input, particularly if communication and execution are delivered without real integrity.  

At SWEETSHOP we think purpose first. Why are we creating? Why are we developing? A concept, a product, an outcome? Always identify purpose first and this will answer some questions to the Culture you are striving to deliver and partake in. 

If lockdown has slowed the pace of business, this is the time to utilize as a moment of reflection both front and back house to ensure your business is delivering on the mission outcome it intended. Is it delivering the right message, not only to its customers but also its staff?  

A brand is not just a composite of what's on rails or delivered in boxes, but is a reflection of the team and value that drives its creation and purpose, a reflection of their own culture. Brands that live and breathe the values they offer the customer are the ones who will settle and find their place within culture, and a continued existence in our time. 


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