Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Big Ideas series, a column highlighting the innovative thinking and thought leadership at IIeX events around the world. Mikayla Ford & Alexander Spalding will be speaking at IIeX North America (June 11-13 in Atlanta). If you liked this article, you’ll LOVE IIeX North America. Click here to learn more.
One of the most common strategic questions that marketers always ask and market researchers always try to solve is “how can we make our brand matter to consumers?” But what does it actually mean for a brand to “matter”?
For a brand to “matter,” it must embody and reflect the culturally relevant codes that consumers value and deem meaningful in today’s world. To get there, however, market researchers must first face the difficult challenge of identifying what those culturally relevant codes are. While conversations with individual consumers may hint at current trends, and while a dive into online and offline discourse may reveal some of these key cultural shifts, both approaches seem to fall short of capturing the entire picture.
A particularly useful technique for unlocking what consumers value find meaningful in a given category exists at the interface between cultural anthropology and behavioral science. This combined approach looks at the question of “how can we make our brand matter?” from two different but simultaneously complementary angles. When we cross-reference results from these two disciplines, we obtain a more robust understanding of what it takes to matter in today’s world.
To contextualize, let’s say that we are trying to figure out how to make a coffee brand resonate with contemporary consumers.
A behavioral science approach starts with the individual. Using a method borrowed from clinical psychology called the Attribute Elicitation Task, respondents reveal to the researcher what coffee means to them in an unaided and organic manner. This implicit interview technique can be leveraged to understand the lens that contemporary consumers are looking through when they are evaluating options or forming impressions of a brand or product in a given category. Analyzed across a larger sample, the result is insight directly from respondents into the attributes that are most defining and critical when making judgments about brands and products. When it comes to coffee, this may include highly rational factors such as the boldness, strength, and smoothness of the brew, but it may also include more emotional factors like the coffee brand’s “coolness factor”.
While a behavioral scientist may begin with the individual, an anthropologist, on the other hand, would usually begin with analyzing the cultural trends that are happening within any given society. In order to understand coffee-specific trends, an anthropologist’s analysis would involve exploring the attributes that are being used to talk about coffee through deep immersion into the online and offline worlds of coffee consumers. For example, an anthropologist might find that consumers who prefer to spend time at small, independent craft coffee roaster use terms like “social” (instead of “functional”), “cool” (instead of “uncool”), or “special” (instead of “ordinary”) in order to contrast this experience to a more mainstream coffee consumption context. These attributes are showing how a powerful cultural trend (like the rise of the craft movement in the coffee industry) is impacting consumers’ perceptions of all the different things that coffee can mean. By seeing the connections between cultural trends and the language that consumers use to speak about the products of these trends, the anthropologist complements the set of attributes that are generated from the Attribute Elicitation Task.
Although we have shown that these two disciplines are approaching the problem from two different perspectives, at the end of the day they are both articulating a set of common codes that establish an understandable language between people from all walks of life. As a result, these codes not only underpin the language and mental constructs with which we communicate our perception of specific categories and brands on a day-to-day basis (i.e. what categories and brands mean to us on a deeply personal level), but they also underpin the cultural trends that then shape the innovative whitespaces that provide value to any category. By integrating behavioral science and cultural anthropology through a code-based framework, we have the ability to validate what consumers are organically articulating at a micro-level through our engagement with collective phenomena on a more macro-level.
If you’re interested in learning more about how the codes that are generated from the intersection between cultural anthropology and behavioral science and how they can be transformed into a powerfully actionable “make-a-brand-matter” strategy, check out Alexander Spalding’s “CodeScaping 101: Combining Behavioral Science & Cultural Anthropology” talk at IIeX North America on June 11.