Brand Religion? Try Culture First

According to anthropologists (like C. Geertz in his seminal work The Interpretation of Cultures), religion is the most important product of culture. It is a comprehensive worldview that purports to give its devotees access to “the real reality” and help them transcend; it also norms behavior and puts forward a clear roadmap for decision-making. In practice, it needs a complex framework of symbols and rituals that mediate access to the inaccessible.

It would therefore appear that the number one prerequisite for attaining brand religion is the ability to build a compelling brand culture first.

But what does culture need?

Here’s an attempt to answer that question in 5 simple steps:

1. A culture needs a past

Each culture needs a narrative. Which means it needs to have its own creation myths. A great story of beginnings, especially one that is intriguing, inspiring or entertaining is a great thing. Talk about where you are coming from and how you got here, mention past accomplishments and crisis mastery.

2. A culture needs a future

This is where your vision and your sense of purpose come into play. Where is your brand or your project headed? What do you want to achieve and how do you make the world a better place?

3. A culture needs a present

One that follows from the past and makes the future possible. What exactly does this present consist of? One indispensable element is a community of people (employees, customers, investors and stakeholders) that are empowered and involved. People who care. There is no culture without community. It begins to fray the moment there is no more engagement, no reciprocity, no sense of “we’re all in this together.” Rely on your customers and make sure they can rely on you. Create a sense of belonging.

Another indispensable element of culture is its ethos: a shared mission, shared values, a shared ethical system. This needs to go beyond theory. A good brand culture also requires a practical way of doing things that reflects those values.

4. A culture needs leadership structures

You cannot have an authoritative voice in the marketplace without investing with authority those people who can truly represent your brand values without ambivalence. Who has the authority in your culture? Are you being led by the very best? Is their reputation unblemished? Are they credible? In philosophy, there is a thing called “imaginative resistance”. It is basically the opposite of “suspending disbelief”. Remember, you never have complete control over the narrative. Ask yourself how the public perceives it. Run a claim check. Try to be aware of potential flaws in your perceived narrative (whether conceptual or moral in nature) that will cause you to lose credibility with your audience.

5. A culture needs a way to manifest itself in the physical world

My educated guess is that once the Covid-19 pandemic will have been defeated, the tangible, physical element of your brand culture will become crucial once more. What this means is that you will need to come up with events to engage and build that sense of community that is so essential to your brand culture. Your community will need traditions, rites and rituals to bring them together. These could be anniversaries, regular or special events, happenings etc. that can create a feeling of collective effervescence (see Durkheim). Coming together simultaneously in the same space helps unify the group, to align the thinking of its members, to harmonize their attitudes and to create excitement. You will therefore need actions larger groups of people can simultaneously participate in. You can create collective consciousness through education or social programs, art, sports events etc.

A culture also needs a physical environment to exist in. It is very hard to maintain a strong sense of shared cultural and social norms in an entirely virtual environment. This physical world could be your store, your headquarters, their design and atmosphere, your carefully picked event venues, your guided routes, or even how you have implemented social distancing. It can include elements of hygiene, comfort, visual and haptic elements etc.

What good brands also desperately need are sensory experiences. Think about your products, their packaging, commercials and ads, visual organization, chromatic choices, the sound of your audio materials, multimodal communication, how the product feels to the touch, what is the UX on the service you are offering, accessibility, how user-friendly is your app and many more.

And don’t forget: What you are building when you’re creating a brand culture is interpersonal relationships. For these to thrive, you need mutual understanding, mutual validation and genuine caring. Otherwise, people will see right through you sooner or later, and dissatisfied customers nowadays tend to unload their frustration online, to an audience of hundreds, thousands or even more. A major shitstorm is always only a few clicks away. Can you really afford that? You need to be a lot more sensitive and responsive than in the old days.

I hope this helps. Stay safe and market wisely! 😉

Your Transcreator.

#marcom #marketingcommunications #branding #culture #interculturalcommunication #language #linguistics


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