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Contributing to culture’s not a nice-to-have

by Mike Doman

Rubber Ducks
It’s always astounded me what’s possible with a blank page. That we, as a species, can put a selection of 26 symbols in an order to make words, then words into sentences, and sentences into points.

Because points, when placed in the right context and with the right imagery, can change people’s perspectives or their behaviours. Change a bunch of people’s behaviours or get a few people discussing a point and you’ve affected the world, at least in some small way.

That – even after a decade of writing things down professionally – still gives me a thrill. That we, as marketers, can genuinely impact the culture our customers define themselves by, whatever that is.

We lose that point in marketing sometimes, though. We focus on the commercial before the context. The tricks before the truth. The research before the relevance.

It’s what makes shitty campaigns.

In a world where everyone’s saying lots of something, it’s a business imperative to think before you speak. Because modern marketing only has two currencies of note: trust and attention.

Trust makes sure people act on what you say. Attention means they’re listening to it over all the other things they could be doing. All of the millions of things.

If you can get enough of both – something that’s a lot easier written than done – you get relevance. Relevance gives you the cachet to influence the world around you.

That’s powerful.

Some brands do it well. Nike has genuinely shifted the conversation around personal improvement from the elite to the everyday. The Find Your Greatness campaign, if you haven’t seen it already, shows that cultural contribution is possible. It reframes the concept of greatness, shifting perception from greatness as an inherent quality to an expression of everyone’s potential. It sticks with you. It’s relevant.

A vast majority of brands feel like it’s too hard. That this kind of activity is reserved only to brand behemoths. That dismisses the role of every subculture we interact with daily: small business culture, heavy metal culture, pop culture, the culture of a retirement village.

Surrendering to a construct of limitations – dismissing our own ability to make something of substance – is what makes 99.999 per cent of marketing white noise in a sea of static.

In the pursuit of delivering to a brief, we forget that there are people at the other end of our communications. People that matter more than the messaging hierarchy. Because if you can create a dialogue with a person, you’re going to get there. If you can genuinely contribute to their lives in some way, they’ll listen to what you have to say.

So, before you ask yourself what you’re going to do for your next campaign, ask what your audience cares about.

Start with culture.

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