Marketing Leaders Summit: Culture Intelligence and the Future of Brand Innovation

In brand strategy and consumer marketing, Culture Intelligence has proven to be an indispensable tool for leveraging data to provide companies, organisations, and leaders clarity. Insight, observations, real-time data on customers, campaigns, competitors, and cultural events – real issues and stories that harness the voice of the customer and the community — have become essential in identifying unique growth opportunities. Culture Intelligence helps decision-makers understand cultural shifts better, interpret consumer stories, capture events, anecdotes, and habits to understand what is next in trends, communication, and competitive environments.

With a focus on spotlighting innovative ideas in the marketing and communication industry, Culture Intelligence from RED, Africa’s leading think tank on media, marketing, and the culture, organized the Marketing Leaders Summit — a quarterly gathering of leading personalities in the brand and marketing communication industry to have conversations on issues at the intersection of media, marketing, and brand communication. The summit offers engaging sessions centred on key themes to understand market trends, product design and innovation, strategies, projections and consumer insights — all inspired by Culture Intelligence from RED.

The  inaugural edition, which was chaired by RED | For Africa CEO, Adebola Williams, held on Saturday, 22 May 2021 bringing together seasoned experts in brand and marketing communications including  Ngozi Nkwoji, Marketing Manager, Communications and Sponsorship, The Heineken Company; Bamsa Godwin, External Affairs and Sustainable Business Manager, Unilever; Funmi Abiola, Marketing Manager, CFAO, and Bada Akintunde-Johnson, Country Manager, ViacomCBS Networks Africa.

At the conversation themed, Culture Intelligence and the Future of Brand Innovation – the experts affirmed the importance of culture identification for consumers and the brand itself, which helps to achieve successful marketing campaigns. This was  explained by Funmi Abiola who gave a real-life scenario on the need for culture identification and adaptation in target markets: “The major key is finding the balance between the brand’s culture and the market where we find ourselves. So, when you talk about culture intelligence, I would also like to talk about marketing intelligence because culture is one part of it. 

“Understanding the market is the main thing because you need to understand the market you are in. When I joined the Mitsubishi brand in Nigeria, the tagline was ‘Drive at Earth’. We could not do much with that because it did not fit our target market. When Mitsubishi turned 100 years old, it finally changed the tagline to ‘Drive Your Ambition’ which resonates more with our audience.

“The campaign goal was to inspire young Nigerians to become the best at whatever they do and also to understand that every successful person you see has a story. This campaign was much more successful because it resonated better. So, the need for understanding the culture of your target market cannot be over-emphasized. It is one of the Ts to cross if you want to achieve success,” she concluded.

Such an explanation reinforces the need to understand the culture in specified target markets. Understanding it prompts brand innovation and creates products and services that the audience needs and also informs the marketing messages that speak specifically to them. This was supported by Ngozi Nkwoji, who shared a similar challenge that became a success when she worked on the widely successful Heineken campaign in 2014 with international act, Jidenna. According to her, the goal was to communicate the message that Nigerians could relate to while also maintaining the global appeal for the brand. 

According to Nkwoji, her team was only able to achieve this through rigorous sessions of data collation and interpretation. “When I hear people talk about marketing, they only talk about the sexy part of it,” she said. You need to spend time with research and data to better understand the mind of the consumer. You need to listen attentively to what they said about the last ad, comparing it to what they said about the one before that, and deciding whether it is worth spending money knowing that the result of the awareness you will get may come in two years. You must be obsessed with the consumer; you must understand the culture and adapt communication, nuances, fashion, lingua, amongst others to suit them”.

Speaking on the diversity of the Nigerian audience as it relates to interests and how media agencies can navigate these complexities, Country Manager, ViacomCBS, Bada Akintunde-Johnson shared in-depth insight on the need for continuous research focused on where the consumers are and where they are headed. He explained how ViacomCBS invested in amplifying the positives in African entertainment by supporting and showcasing African talents on a global platform. He stressed that this decision was based on a culture intelligence research that showed an increased appetite for African art. For him, it underscored the need for brands to invest in research not just for what motivates audiences now, but also what will motivate them in future so that organisations can invest in cultivating that and having a significant share of that future.

This strategic foresight also highlights the innovations we find in Nigerian music marketing. With a greater appreciation for African music and arts, the floodgates are open for more audacious and applaudable moves in the industry. For example, fans of Mr. Eazi can buy shares of his music and get returns on their investments, which shows the infinite power of culture and how access to useful data can shape narratives and economic development of industries and sectors.  

Bamsa Godwin, External Affairs and Sustainable Business Manager, Unilever, emphasized the need for brand managers to understand core brand values at the global level and adapt this understanding to suit their local market. He said these complexities are simplified using data and insights. According to him, this helps navigate levels and offers a better understanding of the consumer to truly achieve the kind of marketing that delivers the P&L results.

The panelists spoke further on the need to understand Culture Intelligence and its power to influence corporate culture, long-term brand strategy, and the impact of the pandemic on consumer behaviour and trends. It was an informative and educative session for all participants. However, the key takeaway is the emphasis by the experts that marketing without tracking is “simply playing around”, and data-backed insight is crucial for evidence-based decision-making.

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