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Cultural Intelligence: How Brands Can Increase Intuition and Engage Consumers in New Relevant Ways


Many consumers don’t make decisions based on quality or price anymore. They connect based on shared experiences, passions and values.

We hosted a webinar conversation with a panel of branding experts from ViacomCBS, Weber Shandwick, and Preacher to discuss how brands are using technology and data to understand and connect with consumers in more authentic and meaningful ways.

Below are highlights from the conversation. The takeaway: Brands have moved beyond using just demographics to understand subcultures and the trends they drive, and they are moving beyond simply listening across social channels. In order to engage in relevant ways, brand strategists and marketers must see consumers through the lens of their shared passions, and look for signals for when those passions may turn into important cultural moments.

What is cultural intelligence?

Lydia Daly, SVP of Creative Strategy & Cultural Intelligence at ViacomCBS, said that, for brand marketers, it’s the study of everything happening in culture and subcultures, and how that overlaps with what matters to their brand.

What new value does cultural intelligence provide brand builders?

“Differentiation is more and more critical as brands try to reach new markets and stay relevant within existing groups of consumers,” noted Seth Gaffney, Co-Founder & Chief Strategy Officer at Preacher. Cultural intelligence fuels that differentiation by helping brands develop messaging and creative for campaigns that feel like they were crafted for the individual, with deep context of what they care about.

How does the evolution of online social media culture make this challenging? What are opportunities?

Gaffney noted that there are so many communities, subcultures, and streams of content brands should be listening too. You have to make better choices and be more decisive about what you are going to tune into, and why.

The opportunity, said Daly, is in your ability to understand what consumers really want from your brand — being able to decode their emotions and then speak their language becomes a major competitive advantage in the effort to connect authentically.

“It’s OK to take risks. You may have to alienate people to win over the customer you really want. Cancel Culture doesn’t mean that you are cancelled forever. Risks are high but you can come back,” said Daly.

How do we understand subcultures? What new data do we need?

“We use social listening to report on what’s happening on the ground with subcultures — but that information is not something you can be proactive with,” said Chris Perry, Chief Innovation Officer at Weber Shandwick. Intelligence about subcultures that is actionable at the strategic level is much more nuanced and it’s about staying ahead of the curve.

With social listening, we used to establish a hypothesis, set up keywords to monitor, and measure volume and sentiment to get a story. But it’s more complicated now, stated Daly. To know what’s trending and what’s emerging that might not be a conversation — yet — you have to cross-pollinate, combine data points and identify patterns across social platforms.

“Someone’s DVD collection provides more insight into who they are than demographics ever could — Don’t underestimate what you can gather from the little areas of people’s lives,” said Gaffney, adding “don’t just look for paint points, either… but look to understand “passion points” for your consumers.”

Both Perry and Daly also noted that it’s important to be able to discern a “signal” from a “trend”. Models have to evolve to embrace how much Cultural Intelligence signals can lead to business intelligence that will make or break a business

What are examples of activities or campaigns informed by cultural intelligence?

Preacher collaborated with Gen-Z agency, Irregular Labs, around the IT’S A THING campaign developed for Fanta. Jessica Kalish, senior manager, integrated marketing communications at Fanta said in an AdAge article that the campaign was born out of the realization that “conversations about Fanta on social media was not coming from the Fanta brand. People were interacting with and talking about Fanta in modern, culturally relevant ways tied to their core interests.”


Weber Shandwick developed Media Genius as an open source platform that helps communicators advance their understanding of how intelligent technology is transforming media across the globe, how consumers are communicating through expressions and the ways in which they are connecting.

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