Be Familiar to Gain Credibility

Understanding the cultural context of your audience.

Diana Lillicrap 4.12.2016


Good marketers have to be experts in walking in others shoes. Does your brand have cultural context? Are you familiar enough with your customer to have strong credibility and insider knowledge? Let’s find out.

Understanding your audience is a key pillar of branding. To have meaningful connections with customers you need to know them and truly understand their perspective. But do you really know if your audience has a culture that’s very different from your own? What questions should you be asking? And where can you find the answers?

Be empathetic

If you haven’t done so already, spend some time mapping out the thoughts, actions, and attitudes of your target audience. Figure out their expectations around your brand and the opportunities you have to make a connection with them. Going through this process will help you uncover what you might be assuming and what perhaps you still need to learn. Here’s an empathy map tool we like to use to frame the process.

Do your homework

Next, do a little research and gather data about the trends, buying behaviors, and issues influencing your audience. For example, it might help you to know Latino-American’s expect a mobile-first strategy for all website communications; and 40% of today’s working moms are the breadwinners in the family with higher purchasing power than ever before. You can find all kinds of consumer trends and data like this through online resources like the Consumer Insights Blog, Pew Research Center, or Trend Watching. Then immerse yourself in the specific issues and topics unique to your target audience, such as health, society, family, work, education, politics, and more.

Learn the cultural norms

Different cultures have different associations and meanings for words, colors, phrases, images, gestures, stories, and many other things linked to communications. For instance, in many Asian cultures, red is a color associated with weddings, however, in South Africa it is a color of mourning. Learning cultural norms may be obvious if you are marketing to an international audience, but it’s relevant to target marketing in the U.S. as well. In fact, according to Pew Research, America is more racially and ethnically diverse than ever before, with 14% of the U.S. population foreign born, compared with just 5% in 1965. Learning about cultural norms for your audience is a must to creating appropriate communications and avoiding potential landmines or even epic mistakes.

Proceed with flexibility

Once you’ve identified the big picture issues and opportunities to make connections with your target audience, you will be able to create content and communications that are relevant and appropriate. But proceed with an open ear and a flexible step. Cultural norms are shifting every day and the best way to stay on top of them is to incorporate a means to track and respond as you go. Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. Reach out to customers and ask them what matters, what they expect, and how you can keep improving. And, most importantly, keep learning and refining as you go.

Remember, familiarity feels right

Real brand connections happen when your audience feels like you’ve taken the time to listen, learn, and respond to what they want from your brand. Authenticity can’t be faked. But the efforts you take will pay off in the long run. Becoming familiar with the complete cultural context of your target audience will make your brand more relevant, more credible, and ultimately more successful.

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