How TMA Puts Our Mantra of Cultural Resonance Into Practice for Brands

November 8, 2022

By Blair Zimelis and Stephen Parker-Eaton

[Header image credit: Canva]

We all know that our industry has a problem – consumer attention is scarce. They’re paying less attention to our messages. The greater the attention, the more impactful the outcome. When coupled with a short-term view of desirable outcomes, marketers must be thoughtful about how we garner that attention, and how we form connections for long-term brand building to create memory structures.

At TMA, we believe cultural resonance is what gets people to pay attention and builds memory structures for brands so they stay top of mind. Cultural resonance is creating a cultural wave rather than riding one that already exists. (That’s cultural relevance). It’s when a brand stands for something people consider meaningful in a way that aligns with the brand’s essence and contributes to the audience’s culture. It’s a timeless connection that communicates “we get you” to consumers, resulting in heightened attention and emotional linkage to the brand. Consumers may even associate a culturally resonant brand with their identity, driving long lasting affinity as a “brand for me.”

Changes in consumer attention have marketers falling into traps. We’re prioritizing short-term sales lifts from few in-market shoppers, and relying on digital platforms that measure surface-level interactions without factoring in actual human attention. We are also being pushed to develop creative work that leans into functional benefits, which struggles to get attention and create these memory structures.

Long-term brand building through cultural resonance is so important as we look at consumer attention, as well as category shopping profiles. The average person is exposed to 6,000-10,000 commercial messages every day. We can’t and don’t take those in – we use our brain’s ability to filter what is necessary, important, and beneficial to us. We are also dealing with set-and-forget categories. Many products are shopped annually at best, so we need to make sure that our brands stay top of mind through memory structures for whenever a shopping trigger might occur. TMA is always finding ways to drive cultural resonance for our clients through cultural opportunities.

We’re achieving cultural resonance in our creative work in several different ways that enhance the emotional connection and memory structures with consumers:

We identify fame branding moments for brands at major cultural events like the Super Bowl, where consumer attention is focused on our messages and where we can authentically elevate their experience.

We look for cultural sparks to inspire creative work that goes beyond traditional advertising arenas into innovative and modern channels, to expand the connection and impact of our message.

We build cultural truths into every piece of creative that we produce, even the ones that communicate a functional message. These require us to go beyond emotion for its own sake and anchor our work in genuine cultural tensions.

Lastly, we push the role and impact that distinct assets, namely spokespeople, can have in culture, from appearing in communications and social media to in-person connections through our audiences’ cultural passions.

As we find new ways to achieve cultural resonance for brands, the question then becomes – how do we measure it? This is tough to do in an industry that asks for and measures the functional messages. We are creating testing and benchmarks across different tools which we are linking to in-market performance to improve the emotional connection of our work. There is no silver bullet, but by looking at and understanding pre- and post-launch behavior through several sources, we can more effectively focus our work to grab attention and create memory structures.

We use a representative consumer panel to test creative work as we’re developing it before it runs in market. We do this to make sure it’s culturally resonating and connecting with our audience in the way we intended, and that it delivers our key message.

We also do behavioral testing to see what consumers pay attention to, and emotionally engage with, in our creative before it runs in market.

We use traditional panels to measure message impact, brand attribution and consideration so we can link our pre-testing expectations to in-market performance.

We leverage in-market creative performance data to broadly analyze the role of distinct assets in creative campaigns to determine patterns in driving cultural resonance.

These different methodologies paint a fuller picture of what captures attention, creates memory structures, and drives cultural resonance for effective brand building. In fact, many pre-testing results have proven to be strong predictors of the consumer response and cultural resonance that happens when creative launches in market.

As we continue to develop creative solutions that drive cultural resonance for brands, we’ll keep learning and understanding how to measure its impact in ways that keep brands top of mind for business growth.

Blair Zimelis and Stephen Parker-Eaton, both based in Chicago, are director and SVP of strategy, respectively.