What do your brand, plant-based foods, Barbie dolls, and bottled water have in common? The truth is, quite a lot.

There's a lot of debate right now about whether bottled water is really a better choice than soda. Or whether a plant-based diet is actually healthier than consuming meat. And Some people are up in arms about the wage gap between male and female professionals. Still others are evaluating whether there are enough variations of the Barbie doll.

So... what does any of that have to do with marketing your brand?

Cultural trends like those—and so many more—may come and go, but their impact remains significant. For a brand to remain relevant in this day and age, it must align with the dominant cultural trends of its target audience.

That means you as a marketer must make it a priority to not only understand the issues that matter to your consumers but also consistently integrate their feelings and opinions into your brand's messaging in new and creative ways.

Keeping Pace With Culture

Successful marketing does more than convey a message to an audience. It inspires, influences, and, ultimately, propels a brand forward.

For any marketing campaign to be successful, marketers must find innovative ways to interweave the brand's core values with the cultural context of the intended audience—its ideologies, tensions, values, and so on.

Most consumers, whether consciously or not, look for brands that align with their view of the world. So a marketing campaign that not only acknowledges the cultural trends of its target audience but also aligns with or adds to that message will be rewarded with relevance, acceptance, and loyalty.

On the other hand, when marketers ignore cultural context, or skirt around cultural trends, or don't take the time to understand the issues, they risk landing their brand in hot water. For example:

If you're not comfortable having your brand take a bold stance on a cultural issue, that's OK. But researching the trends that matter to your audience can still elevate your marketing.

For example, if you discover that the growing popularity of the plant-based food movement stems from consumers' desire for "cleaner" sources of protein, you could easily change your labeling to highlight the amount or origin of the protein in your product.

Even subtle nods toward a pervasive cultural trend can give your brand a leg up on the competition. But whatever you do... it has to be authentic.

How to Stay Trend-Relevant

It's clear that to avoid wasting time, money, and resources—and potentially angering or alienating consumers—your marketing team must study, understand, and accommodate cultural trends.

Begin that process with the following four steps.

1. Get to know your audience

Knowing all you can know about your audience should always be a marketing priority. It's the only way to precisely target the right consumers, perfect your brand's message, motivate action, and keep your customers satisfied.

Although reliable data should be the foundation of your marketing campaign, don't rely just on numbers and figures. And move beyond demographics by also investigating the cultural trends that matter to your audience members: What are they interested in? What are they passionate about? How do they spend their time? What are their expectations for the companies they do business with and the products they use?

Fleshing out your audience's cultural attitudes allows you to be more strategic in marketing your brand.

2. Do your cultural research

Explore the cultural trends influencing your audience and businesses now and for the foreseeable future. The Culture Vulture 2017 Trends Report is a great place to start.

Notable examples include the prevalence of corporate icons and how startups are remaining competitive; the emergence of products, services, and events catered to Baby Boomers; and the way the mindfulness trend has inspired businesses to include offerings that promote serenity and balance. Also important is Millennials' impact on society—from their redefinition of the American dream to their informal attitudes toward attire, traditions, gender norms, and more.

Don't forget to also look for niche hot topics that directly affect your consumers or brand. For example, if you market for a food or beverage product, understanding the nuances of the soda vs. bottled water battle (consumers seeking lower- or no-sugar options, cost, environmental impact of packaging, etc.) might come in handy.

Research both large- and small-scale cultural trends when strategizing for your brand.

3. Craft a message that stands for something

Once you know your audience members and the cultural trends influencing them, it's time to develop a message that aligns with (or better yet, resolves) a larger cultural narrative. Choose words that pack a punch. Make your message simple yet powerful. And be sure your brand's message is creative, clear, and consistent.

For inspiration, you can look at brands that redefined gender-role norms with their own simple, powerful messages. Sport England's This Girl Can campaign, Under Armour's I Will What I Want campaign, and P&G's #LikeAGirl campaign have all been praised for promoting female empowerment, diversity, and opportunity.

4. Strengthen your message with visuals

In marketing messaging, visuals are often just as important to the campaign as the written or spoken word. From videos to photographs to well-placed labels, the right visuals can create an emotional connection with consumers, inspire them to take action, and convince them of your cultural relevancy.

Thoroughly investigate the ways you could deliver visuals to your audience, paying special attention to newer, nontraditional avenues that currently boast some of the highest user engagement stats.

Finally, explore making your visuals powerful enough to carry your message of cultural relevance on their own. Take CoverGirl, for instance. When the company hired its first male ambassador, it didn't couple the announcement with an explanation of its motives. CoverGirl trusted the new ads properly conveyed its stance on diversity and inclusion. Explore how your brand's visuals could address cultural trends without having to explicitly change your brand's message.

* * *

In a quickly changing world, understanding cultural trends is vital to keeping your brand relevant and your audience interested. Only then can you create marketing campaigns that are truly moving, motivating, and successful.

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Four Ways to Keep Your Brand and Marketing Relevant Amid Fluctuating Cultural Trends

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image of Sarah Clark

Sarah Clark is the president of Mitchell Communications Group, an award-winning PR firm that creates real conversations among people, businesses, and brands.

LinkedIn: Sarah Clark