3 Ways to Adopt the New “Always On” Approach to Cultural Marketing

By Rana Reeves, Founder, RanaVerse

It’s Black History Month and the traditional time for brands to roll out their marketing efforts and key into the demographic around this space. But these days the usual efforts to “dip-in” to these special months, weeks or days on the so-called ‘cultural calendar’ are not enough for brands to truly engage these markets. And younger consumers are driving a transformative shift in how marketers approach this change.

It used to be that a brand could get by with a  special campaign for recurring cultural calendar events like Latin X Heritage Month ( Sept/Oct), Women’s History Month (March), or Indigenous People’s Day (October). Many of these calendar markers were created decades ago and, while these dates do continue to serve a purpose in honoring history and achievements, they should not be taken in isolation. It’s also important to note these dates should not be seen as sanitized “cultural moments,” but rather as meaningful commemorations/articulations of real struggle in the fight for human rights and equity. A fight that is still very much relevant and current today.

But agencies and marketers cling to them, resulting in a lazy marketing response that tends to lack substance and can be very performative. Whilst Pride ( June)  is still a major moment of celebration for the LGBTQ+ community, the only way companies can really be an ally is to show up throughout the entire year. True allyship is always on–24/7, 356 days a year – across the board of human rights.

So how can brands today show up in a substantive way to advocate for meaningful change? They can begin by looking at ways of creating larger, systemic change and supporting diverse communities all the time. They need to examine the intersection of ideas as well and see how they all interact. They can’t look at the idea of real change in say the LGBTQ+ community without looking at economic issues, sustainability, gender equity and racial justice.

Brands need to look at these intersections as a real way forward and they need to become adept at understanding this idea of intersections. It’s not enough to just dip into a community in a celebratory way for a few days or weeks out of the year, especially when dealing with issues as serious as human rights. So brands can’t continue in the old-fashioned linear way. For example, when looking at ways of celebrating Black History Month there’s no reason a brand can’t celebrate queerness during Black History Month or, on the inverse, Black-ness during Pride month.

But to really make a statement, brands need to find a way to always be on. And younger consumers are driving this change. Due to the rise of social media and non-linear content consumption, they’ve become the demographic that is always on. Gen Z’ers, for example, don’t understand the concept of sitting down to watch a TV show at 9 p.m. because they are not thinking linear—they’re on-demand and always on, meaning they’re not thinking about LGBTQ+ issues only during Pride Month or Blackness in Black History Month.

So how do you create a meaningful campaign in 2021? I have these three tips for success:

Do rather than the say. What companies say in campaigns used to be the driver for the message on what to do. But it has to be the opposite–make your campaigns say based on the do.

Stop siloing. Don’t separate – activate. Make Black justice a part of Pride. Or Indigenous rights part of World Hunger Day. Or connecting sustainability with racial justice. Siloing often leads to just the majority narrative getting told.

Consider stories that don’t get told. What stories desperately need to be shared but don’t get told?  Sometimes they may be considered too “political.” But these stories are often the key to connecting with a certain group. Also, explore Geographic privilege and move away from the coasts.

Marketing can’t just exist in these silos anymore, and companies shouldn’t be scared to talk about other areas. If they continue siloing, their talk about action will feel superficial and performative. Ultimately, it’s not about “buy this product;” it’s about how this brand remains culturally relevant. And that can be fun, lighthearted, and celebratory, or it can be deep, meaningful, and insightful. It can ebb and flow between all of these.

So if a brand wants to build a relationship with the queer community, don’t do it during Pride Month–focus on the entire year. And, like Gen Z, think of ways you can be always on and advocate for true intersectional change. Ultimately, brands need to get off the fence and get engaged directly with these groups, understanding intersectionality and showing up for it. You can’t celebrate trans women and not acknowledge trans murders. It looks bad for brands to ignore these realities. And you can’t be a valid brand if you’re just box-checking. You have to get under the skin of the target market you’re dealing with and know their real concerns for change.

Bottom line: you have to stand for something. If you’re going to be a big brand, this is the way you need to behave in 2021 and beyond.

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