In the era of Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat, marketers are constantly on their toes reacting to the ever changing digital landscape. A recent analysis conducted by social content analytics firm Shareablee, finds that of 65 billion actions prompted by posts made by US brands across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram; only 7% involved sharing the brand’s content. Building a memorable brand using digital tools is a daunting challenge. Companies have invested their hopes and dollars into social media with the belief that digital branding will allow them to successfully form relationships with consumers. The problem is that few brands have been successful. The question is ‘what went wrong?’

Let’s take a step back and understand the impact social media has had on consumers. Like-minded consumers, that were once geographically isolated, are now brought together by social media platforms allowing them to network easily with each other. These communities, also called crowdcultures, network at a rapid pace and are highly collaborative. As a result, their cultural influence has become substantial in the digital world. In today’s world, you will find a flourishing crowdculture around almost any topic: the love of coffee, single motherhood, 3-D printing, DIY home décor, Japanese anime. Back in the day, these subculturalists could network only if they met physically and had very limited ways to communicate collectively.

The rise of crowdculture has disrupted conventional branding models. However, it has created an alternative and even more powerful model for cultural branding. The beauty of this model is that it shifts the focus away from the platform or trends, but instead towards the real epicenter of digital power – crowdcultures that are powered by consumers themselves. The cultural branding model can be adopted by marketers by using the 4 step framework detailed below.

Deep-dive into the Culture

Once a brand identifies a crowdculture as a potential target, marketers should deep-dive into that culture. It is imperative to understand the strength and the depth of crowdcultures to harness it to build the brand. Just like communities and nations, crowdcultures have their own language, norms and subtle nuances. To truly connect with consumers, marketers should not only understand the culture but also respect it.

Locate the Cultural Opportunity

Over time, disruptions in society trigger consumers to start searching for alternatives, which opens up a cultural opportunity for innovative brands to push forward a new ideology. An interesting case study is the success of the internet media company BuzzFeed.

BuzzFeed identified its crowdculture as young people who engage deeply on social media with ideas they are passionate about. Valued at $1.3 billion, the company tapped into many cultural trends and connected with users on a deep level. It located a cultural opportunity in an over-crowded disengaged online publishing world. It broke through the clutter by identifying that great content is not about content, it is about the emotion it can evoke from its audiences. The lesson to be learnt from BuzzFeed’s success is to engrain yourself so deeply in your target subculture so as to identify cultural opportunities to innovate.

Target and Customize

After embracing a massive cultural movement, brands have the task to target sub-crowdcultures and customize their cultural expression. For example, Red Bull embraced the cultural values of limits and strengths that manifests itself in the form of obscure extreme sports. However, Red Bull customizes its messaging and tone for various sub-crowdculture enthusiasts such as Biking, Motor Sports, Skating, Water Sports and Winter Sports. Through efficient targeting and customizing, Red Bull leverages crowdcultures to communicate its brand identity of ‘Red Bull Gives You Wings’.

Diffuse the New Ideology

Distribution of the new cultural ideology becomes vital for the brand’s success. Crowdculture has turbocharged interactions between like-minded consumers both in speed and in quality. Passionate consumers come online to exchange ideas, create content, and compete for social success. This impacts the way brands diffuse their new ideology. Brands have to embrace co-creation with their consumer in this cultural branding framework. This will allow them to get real-time feedback on their ideas and rapidly rework them to have the maximum impact. Being nimble and intelligent is key.

In conclusion, to effectively harness the power of social media, brand should target crowdcultures. Sadly, many brands chase trends on social media not realizing that hundreds of companies are doing the exact same thing with the same generic trends. To be heard above the noise, brands should aim to target novel ideologies that arise from crowdcultures and assert a point of view that stands out in the saturated media environment.

For example, Under Armour embraced Cultural Branding by using female celebrity Gisele Bündchen to provocatively push against gender norms. It immediately stirred up the crowdculture: Sports fans were cynical, Gisele fans were curious, fashionistas were puzzled, and feminists simply loved it.


  1. Harvard Business Review – Branding in the Age of Social Media
  2. How BuzzFeed Discovered the Secret of Success on Social Media,

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