This afternoon I had an interesting debate with several colleagues about the roles and differences of brand and culture.
Can a product or service create a culture of customers?
While creating its own culture is the holy grail of a brand manager, it is rarely if ever achieved. A well executed brand will have consumers associating positive qualities about the product or service. The brand will elicit emotional reactions and creat a self-branded consumer image through these positive traits.
For example the Mercedes brand denotes luxury, class, status, sophistication and wealth. Mercedes has invested heavily to create their brand. Their customers feed off this image. If you own a Mercedes you are …..fill in the blank. This is, however, an example of good branding, not a culture.
By the way, what I associate most about Mercedes is a significantly different Brand image.
Culture is anthropological. It is a collection of societal norms, behaviors, customs, beliefs and values. Culture requires human contact, communication and structure.
Cultures exist at many different levels. Nations, religions, regions, teams, and companies all have cultures. Any collection of humans that interact on a regular basis will develop a culture. Successful companies understand the importance of corporate culture and attempt to manage the culture to support their product/service creation and delivery process. Conservative companies such as utilities or financial institutions will have a conservative culture to match their conservative brand. Standard offices, boring office art, formal business attire, strict hierarchy and low risk taking would be a typical culture for these brands.
Emerging data service companies in Silicon Alley will likely be more progressive. Open office plans in a remodeled loft building, funky furniture, relaxed (but always stylish) office wear, and more ad-hoc communications would be the culture to support a more avant-garde Web product. Culture supports brand. Brand does not create external culture.
Companies that produce products have cultures, what they produce has a brand.
There is a hybrid concept put forth by marketing consultants called “Brand Culture”. My view is that this is pandering to brand managers who want their brand to become a culture. It also pads the wallets of those pandering consultants. Good market branding on their part!
Brands can however tap into cultural trends and capitalize and what exists in different cultural groups. Brands can even strengthen and reinforce cultural values.
Sometimes this connection between a brand and it cultural constituents is planned and intentional and sometimes it just happens. Axe body products have created products that tap into the young teen boys culture. This is a culture desperately wanting acceptance from the recently discovered females. capitalizes on their culture, their values, their fears and desires and created a brand image that with one quick spritz of their product, woman would fall at their feet. This sounds almost too ridiculous to be taken seriously. Yet, from personal experience with a relative recently in that demographic, I can definitely say that the brand tapped into this culture as they doused themselves in Axe on a daily basis. Of course after several years of using the product and not having it deliver on its brand promise, the fantasy and the use vanishes.
Brands do not create culture. Brands can capitalize on existing cultural trends and can even enhance pre-existing cultures.
An unintentional example of a brand tapping into a culture is Subaru. In the 1990’s Subaru realized that their cars were very popular with Lesbians. Their brand had tapped into a culture without a targeted plan to do so. To Subaru’s credit they realized their strength in this segment and have attempted to enhance their brand as being gay-friendly. Subaru was a major corporate sponsor for the Showtime series, “The L word”.
This discussion leads to the title of this blog and one of this afternoon’s debate points. Is Facebook a culture? Do people who use Facebook form a culture?
My answer is no. Facebook is a reflection of the There are many diverse cultures that exist in our world. If you use Facebook try this exercise. List all of the cultures that you belong to outside of Facebook. My list would include: My immediate family, my extended family, my local friends, my life long friends, business associates, my religion, high school friends, college friends, etc. Each of these groups has a somewhat unique culture that is further encompassed by a New York Culture and an American culture. We live in many different cultural environments with some dominating others depending on any particular situation.
Do you have your list?
Log into Facebook and compare your Facebook network to your existing cultural groups. How many total strangers have you really met on Facebook that are outside of your pre-existing cultural groups? Do you associate Facebook membership at the same level as your religion? Your nationality? Your family?
Facebook is a service that is branded with qualities of worldwide reach, connections, communications, simplicity, etc. It may serve to connect existing cultures, strengthen and extend others, but a culture onto itself? Nope.
If you can think of a product or service that has manufactured and maintained an external culture that would stand shoulder to shoulder with any anthological culture, please post them in the comments of this blog.