Brand as Culture Machine

In today’s ever evolving connected world, we have seen the available influence of consumers grow from very little, to the point where they have the ability to shape entire brands through expanding mediums. Brands are hitting breaking points everyday on things that they’re doing. Companies have realized they have to do much more than sell their product in a linear consumer-brand manner in order to be successful. The strength and prominence of social medias and the internet have lead to this shift. So the question for brands moves away from “how do we sell our product”, and more towards “in this participatory world, how do we create a culture where our product thrives?”

Chipotle’s signature burrito. Hungry?

This is a slow but meaningful process. Chipotle Mexican grill is an American chain who has broken into the market and then created their culture successfully undoubtedly towards global expansion. CMO Mark Crumpacker cited their emphasis on keeping a big picture perspective in order to not get caught up in the rat race of short-term profit gains. Creating their brand’s culture is a long-term project that ends up being more important than those small gains quarterly. Chipotle believes in this so much, that they don’t even share their quarterly profits with their creative shops. (AdWeek)

Chipotle has learned (and taught) a valuable lesson within branding. Through all the smoke and mirrors of brilliant advertisements, viral campaigns and motivational spots the consumer has seen through. Brands have turned towards embracing the digital shift and opened the line of communication between them and the consumer. They’ve realized that selling their product means there should also be an environment created where that products could be successful. Take Chipotle for instance, their culture has moved fast food away from negative connotation when referring to their brand. The fresh ingredients sourced locally when practical, has customers coming back for more. Fast merely refers to the speed of service, and no longer the quality. Chipotle successfully let consumers know they don’t have to settle for less by coining their food “Gourmet Fast Food.” All of a sudden they have led their consumer to be in a culture where fresh ingredients is a part of their experience.

Once these cultures are created the thing that draws consumers in now more than ever is authenticity. In a brand landscape of immense variety, being open and true to the consumer is key to success in making sure a brand’s culture is poignant. This transparency is important to the consumer in understanding what each brand cares about. If a brand doesn’t target the appropriate ends to means that concerns its consumer, then they have a problem. It’s been stated before that creating these bold connections between consumer and brand come from storytelling, but the purpose of that story in its core has to be authentic and transparent. Being empathetic and striking an emotional chord with consumers has been put to a test in which it comes out victorious. Brands that are not true to their original story will certainly have a higher chance of failure. When Richard Branson launched Virgin Vodka, the brand lost alignment with the original purpose that Branson had when he opened his first record store. There was no connection between Virgin Vodka and the brand’s culture they worked so hard to create.

Seen this before?

Beyond connecting with people’s emotions, we can see that brands have a tougher task today. Authentic cultures are leading to stricter brand images and more specific brand cultures. Just like how Chipotle managed to create a culture where the quality of their food is as important to their company as it is to their consumer. These types of interactions are no longer linear, the open line of communication has allowed for the power to shift from company to consumer. In other words, the power is in the people’s hands and brands have the ability to make the consumer’s world one of their unique brand influence. Brands should care about the same things that their consumers do, and if they can get Willie Nelson to help with that, they should definitely do that.

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