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Marco de Kretser
Culture Building Around Your Brand
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Let Them Into Your World So They Can Build You a Better One.

In November 2023, a video went viral of a woman recording her car that had been destroyed in a wildfire. Everything inside was ashes, bar her Stanley Cup (the reusable water bottle, not the NHL tournament). As she leans in to grab the bottle, she shakes it to find there’s still ice in it. As the video circulated the internet, Stanley caught wind, offering to replace her car and stock her up with more of their products. It spread the video even further, sparking more people to purchase Stanley products.

One of the greatest ways that the digital realm has changed how brands connect with the world is through ‘user-generated content’. Brands have transitioned from being the sole voice, dictating the narrative about their products and services, to a landscape where you and millions of others can — and will — actively contribute to and shape the discourse surrounding a brand. Anyone can spread messages about a brand around the world in minutes, whether positive or negative.

It’s the challenge of brands today to cultivate these voices into a community that supports the brand rather than hinders it.

Short-term Trend Surfing vs Long-term Strategy

Marketers are becoming increasingly savvy with tools that unravel online customer data in unprecedented detail. Pair that with social media trends that promise virality, and you’ve got a seemingly infallible recipe for online success — but what are you really building here? At what point do you lose yourself?

In the face of all this data, having a clear definition of your brand is critical. Your purpose, mission and vision; your tone of voice; your key messages; your values; your story — they are the reason you exist in this world, beyond profit margins. They are your overarching strategy for how you interact with the world, physical or digital. They are your guidelines so that when you do something with your customer data, it’s not just attuned to your audience, but it’s attuned to your brand too.

By creating and communicating through a constant, recognisable personality, your audience can better understand what to expect from you. They can trust you. They can relate to your stories and connect on a deeper emotional level to your brand. They can rally around you. They can defend you.

Brands today are no longer simply product or service providers. People are consciously engaging with brands based on their values and identities.

Your brand must become something your audience can get behind and believe in; an experience that brings them closer to the person they wish to be.

The Power of People-to-People Communication

In the case of Stanley, the reason they exist is to “fuel life’s adventures”. For over a century, the brand has marketed itself to the traditional adventurer: hunters, fishermen, boaties etc, using feature-led messaging:

Stanley Super Vac

A Stanley Super Vac advertisement from 1926.

More recently, however, they recognised that their product could connect to a much wider audience as long as they built the appropriate culture around it. They needed a way to create new stories to help redefine what an adventure with a Stanley Cup is.

The brand sparked these stories through collaborations with influencers and celebrities online. Through limited edition releases, they brought the Stanley Cup to these new, dedicated audiences, who then used the product to signify their place within that community. This exposure to different contexts — different ‘life adventures’ — produced further personal stories that captured people’s hearts and minds, inviting them to come and join the culture.

What the Stanley Cup case study exemplifies is the power of people-to-people communication online. Audiences are becoming fatigued by item-led ads from faceless brands. Marketing a reusable bottle based on its features has been done for the last 100 years. Audiences now want stories from people and communities they can see, trust and relate to, about brands that share their values and purpose. For Stanley, these stories took their revenue from $74 million in 2019 to $750 million in 2023. What could it do for your brand?

How are you sharing your reason for being — beyond profit margins — so that your audience knows what they’re supporting?

How are you creating identifiable symbols, rituals and experiences that invite people in to join your culture?

How are your digital channels enabling your audience to share their own stories about what your brand means to them?

Let them into your world, and they’ll take you on new adventures.

By Marco de Kretser

15th April 2024

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