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Cultural Branding: The Foundation of an On-brand

Cultural branding has become vital in unlocking new opportunities, building meaningful connections, and expanding a brand's potential. Find out how.

Written by RamotionSep 5, 202311 min read

Last updated: Feb 12, 2024

How does the iconic tech brand Apple sell laptops for $2,000 each while other brands struggle to do so even with much lower price tags? While product design or build can earn customers, the brand experience and customer experience set it apart in the market.

With its disruptive slogan—Think Different—Apple has successfully transformed its brand from another tech company to a powerful symbol of innovation. And this personal connection encourages your brand audience to buy their product.

This connection is called cultural branding.

Apple is one of the most successful brands with a tight-knit culture. Image via Unsplash

With cultural branding at play, iconic brands can hone a sense of belongingness—something everyone needs in a world of turmoil divided by political, religious, and social opinions.

Read on as we deep dive into the foundations of cultural branding in companies, how it influences today's innovation, and new ideas, benefits, and strategies you can implement to differentiate your brand from the competition.

The Basics: What Goes Into Cultural Branding?

Cultural branding is not a new ideology. It is a marketing strategy and the secret weapon of successful brands, enabling companies to establish meaningful personal connections with their customers by embodying similar values and ideologies.

It is a bottom-up approach where the brand is shaped according to the cultural context of its target audience.

In doing so, the target audience feels understood and has a sense of shared purpose with the companies, resulting in more sales, better engagement, increased loyalty, and brand equity.

But it takes more than fluffy brand mission and values to get there. You'll need extensive market research and a thorough understanding of the target culture to ensure relevance, brand positioning, and authenticity, especially if you're a new brand.

Cultural branding helps companies achieve a higher level of brand loyalty. Illustration via Freepik

Your first step is creating the cultural foundation of your brand strategy, which includes your brand values and beliefs, brand storytelling, symbols and images, and language.

  1. Brand Values and Beliefs. The set of beliefs and values of the target audiences shape the cultural branding of companies. They serve as a brand's Northern Star, ensuring that every cultural strategy aligns with the brand mission as you navigate the complex and ever-evolving market.
  2. Brand Story. What better way to connect with your target market than by sharing compelling stories that resonate with their cultural identity? Take every opportunity to weave narratives that reflect their experiences, background, and aspirations in your campaign. Give a glimpse of how your brand came to be or your brand story and develop a higher level of brand familiarity in your target market.

An example would be Procter & Gamble's Widen the Screen campaign, where they used their platform to represent the creatives from the black community and how vibrant and life-affirming their real stories are—a stark contrast to what's portrayed by mainstream media.

The brand goes back to its commitment to diversity and inclusion.

  1. Symbols and Images. Beyond adding visual aesthetics to your brand, your chosen symbols and images can instantly spark emotions and ideas related to your brand without even having to spell out your name. Some classic examples include successful companies like Nike's Swoosh, NBC's rainbow peacock icon, and Ferrari's upright horse logo.
  2. Brand Language. Cultural branding encompasses the language and communication styles specific to a particular culture or target audience. Words are powerful, and your choice of brand language determines the effectiveness of your brand message.

How Culture Influences Branding and Innovation at a Glimpse

Culture brings brand recognition to the next level, where the target audience becomes loyal and, some say, even fanatic to these companies. The symbiotic relationship between many brands and cultures has resulted in cultural innovation.

Cultural innovation is when companies adapt their services and products to changing cultural norms. It requires staying on top of the latest cultural discourse, social issues, political topics, and new technologies that interest your target market.

For instance, Apple is known for rolling out mobile phones and computers that have disrupted the tech world and redefined technological advancements and convenience at every turn of an era.

In 2018, co-founder Tim Cook shared this:

Tim CookTim CookApple

For us, technology is a background thing…We do the hardware and the software, and some of the key services as well, to provide a whole system. We do that in such a way that we infuse humanity into them. We take our values very seriously and want to ensure all our products reflect those values.

Indeed, corporate brands succeed when they become more humanized and highly relatable, allowing them to build deeper connections and a tight-knit community of like-minded people.

We can see this in how brands today use social media platforms to start authentic conversations among their market, going beyond the traditional transactional relationships with their consumers. It has given rise to reactive brand activism, where brands take a stand on political and social issues.

Take a look at the ice cream brand Ben & Jerry's. In light of the latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it wanted to stop its product sales in the Israeli market.

The brand shared in a Twitter post:

Benefits of Cultural Branding

Once you successfully establish your cultural branding, you can unlock a world of opportunities for your business. Below are some key benefits that you would want to take advantage of.

Unique and Strong Brand Identity

To create a truly unique and strong brand, you need to go beyond the surface and delve into the core of your business. This means understanding the essence of your company, the values it holds dear, and how it aligns with the beliefs and aspirations of your customer base.

Akin to crafting a masterpiece, each brush stroke represents a branding element carefully curated to evoke emotions and capture attention.

Loyal Following of Customers

Brand loyalty is more challenging for Gen Zers who are constantly searching for the next best brand. Illustration via Vecteezy

Loyalty is hard to achieve, especially among the younger generations. A report from McKinsey & Company states that while Gen Zers have favorite go-to brands, they are still keen on exploring other options in the market.

They constantly search for brands that mirror the community they want to be a part of, evolving beliefs and cultural values.

Hence, cultural branding can be your ticket to having loyal customers. By understanding the unique cultural nuances that resonate with Gen Zers, brands can create a sense of belonging and identity.

Reliable and On-brand Team

Infusing your brand culture into your company's everyday work environment not only creates a positive and highly aligned work environment. But it also attracts talent that resonates with your brand.

Consequently, doing so boosts morale and enthusiasm, encouraging them to become loyal brand advocates. Plus, you can increase your company's retention rate, too! That's a win-win.

4 Cultural Branding Strategies You Can Implement

Your approach to building an on-brand tribe varies depending on your goals and other variables. Whether you're a new brand or an existing business, here are a couple of fundamental cultural marketing strategies you can apply to get started.

1. Create a Community-Centric Brand Identity

How much you know about your audience can make or break your cultural marketing strategy. By this, we mean understanding your customers' core values so you can identify how your brand can best serve their needs.

You can achieve this by engaging with your customers in person or on digital platforms, immersing in their culture and lifestyle, and periodically running market research on the latest market trends and behaviors.

These will help you curate visual elements that authentically reflect your brand—logo, colors, typography, etc. — and attract customers from your target culture.

2. Define the Emotional Attachment You Want to Achieve

Nurturing a vibrant brand culture involves connecting it with emotions that hold significance for your community. By weaving in a specific emotional connection in your cultural marketing, you can enhance the overall customer experience of your audience with both tangible and intangible elements. You can also establish a cultural branding model to exert an internal influence. Like change, forging an emotional connection with your customers comes from within. This framework encompasses various aspects that shape your marketing team and other departments on a deeper level, including cultural strategy, management style, and shared values. Once achieved, your brand attracts customers that resonate with your brand.

3. Be More Inclusive

Cultural branding works because it makes your audience feel seen. Finally, they can find brands representing their beliefs, identities, and ideals by a business!

Promoting diversity and inclusivity in marketing materials and brand storytelling can help businesses connect with many customers. This involves representing various cultures, ethnicities, and backgrounds in advertisements, campaigns, and brand imagery.

4. Adapt, Adapt, and Adapt!

You may need to adapt your marketing strategies to suit the cultural context of your target area. For instance, brands with global presence tweak their languaging and imageries for better communication and to ensure brand success.

It involves keeping abreast of changing preferences, values, and communication styles. It also requires flexibility in adjusting messaging and promotional tactics to align with local cultural nuances.

A Look at Cultural Branding Case Studies to Inspire You

So, how do the strategies above play in the real world? Find out what made major brands Harley-Davidson and Vans crowd favorites in their industries.

1. Harley-Davidson

What comes to mind when you come across Harley-Davidson? Loud, bulky, and heavy-looking motorcycles? Leather vests with a widespread eagle—the logo's brand—emblazoned at the back? Or perhaps, mohawks and cowboy hats.

However, there's so much more to Harley-Davidson than its rugged American appeal. More than a century later, Harley-Davidson remains quintessential to the American culture, representing a community filled with people who welcome confidence, boldness, and diverse ideas.

The result? A cult-like following that has taken over across the globe. To date, the brand has 1,400 dealerships in almost a hundred countries.

Harley Owners Group (The HOG)

Harley-Davidson isn't just about their motorcycles. It is about the people who ride them. It attracts customers who are unafraid to go against the grain and defy convention. They serve as one of the pillars of Harley-Davidson's cultural branding.

Cultivating camaraderie, rebellion, and freedom, a community marketing club—Harley Owners Group or The HOG—was born in the 80s, where like-minded people can share their passion for motorcycles and zest for an untethered lifestyle.

Within HOG, members can access events like rallies that gather motorcycle enthusiasts during the riding season.

Members also have the chance to participate in charitable initiatives, contributing to causes that align with the brand's values.

Whether supporting veterans, promoting motorcycle safety, or giving back to the community, HOG members are encouraged to make a positive impact while enjoying their passion for riding.

The brand's commitment to fostering an inclusive environment ensures that riders from all walks of life can explore opportunities to bond and support each other.

The motorcycle brand runs charity events as part of their corporate social responsibility efforts via Harley-Davidson

Harley Apparel

Many would love to own a Harley, but they are costly, with a price tag between $11,500 and $45,000. So, what did the brand do? It increased accessibility to its other products.

The brand-designed apparel can be purchased for those who can't afford their motorcycle. Stickers, riding gear, racing apparel, jerseys, and pins are available at their shop. These made aspiring Harley riders feel like they were still in the community.

Key Learnings:

Like how Harley-Davidson united riders from all walks of life, cultural branding starts with having a relentless commitment to fostering an inclusive community where customers can bond and support each other.

2. Vans

What began as a mom-and-pop enterprise has ballooned into a shoe brand loved by everyone across the globe. It has become a fashion staple for those looking for comfort and style.

But what sets it apart from other shoe brands is Vans' iconic line-stripped design and material. The canvas material became an invitation for creativity, where customers could draw, pick colors, and do anything they wanted to represent themselves best.

It remains authentic to its "off the wall" branding, where diversity of ideas and self-expression is central to the brand's values. These words continue to propel Vans' purpose of celebrating youth culture, including the young at heart.

Vans welcomes diverse ideas and creativity by allowing its customers to tailor their sneakers. Image via Vans

Customers can also choose from a wide array of classic styles off the shelves that many grew to love. Suffice it to say that the tribe that Vans created successfully transcended generations and the skateboarding community.

It ranks as one of the top brand favorites of Gen Zs. It's a versatile and inclusive brand where everyone has an option—whether for you, your parents, or even your grandparents!

Vans' authentic approach to honoring its brand values is also evident within its company culture. For example, the company holds several social responsibility campaigns with abundant opportunities to volunteer and give back to the community.

The iconic brand also enriches its employees by creating a flexible work environment, hosting employee recognition awards, and celebrating holiday events, to name a few.

Vans commits to increasing Black representation in the office. Image via Vans

According to data from Statista, 82 percent of the sneakers market in the United States are aware of Vans, of which 21 percent use their shoes. Finally, Vans is a strong proponent of cultural movements like Black Lives Matter, ensuring that diversity and inclusivity in people and culture are present within the company.

Key Learnings:

Standing out from the competition requires breaking or setting the rules and cultural orthodoxy and embracing a diversity of ideas. And from there, it sparks a lasting culture that transcends generations.

It Takes a Village to Create a Culture

Culture and branding are deeply interconnected. As proven by iconic brands, businesses that understand and embrace cultural innovation can effectively align themselves with current trends, leverage social media, and establish a strong and authentic presence in the market. As a result, they can connect with their target audience, build brand loyalty, and drive business success.

To recap, here are the advantages of achieving cultural branding:

  1. Foster a unique and strong brand identity.
  2. Gain a loyal following from your target audience.
  3. Attract reliable and on-brand talent.

With a tribe willing to advocate for your brand through thick and thin, you are well on your way to establishing a lasting brand. Whether you're a new brand or an existing business looking to level up, you can increase your chances and turn your ideas and goals into reality by tapping our branding strategists!