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Highlighting Cultural Authenticity in Branding: Why Representation Matters

The idea of cultural authenticity is a relatively new concept.  To better understand its true meaning requires some dissecting.  Let’s go ahead and get the English lesson out of the way.  By definition, culture is the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.  Authenticity or the quality of being authentic means, of undisputed origin; genuine.  When put together, I perceive cultural authenticity to be the most genuine representation of a group of people and all that the group embodies.  Additionally, representation is the act of speaking or acting on behalf of someone or the description or portrayal of someone or something in a particular way.  Essentially no one can represent a cultural group better than someone that is a part of it.

You may ask yourself how all of this relates to marketing and branding, but the answer is simple.  Everyone is a consumer, therefore marketing and advertising should appeal to everyone.  One goal of marketing is to meet the consumer where they are, make products appealing and accessible.  For so long, representation in marketing and advertising left a lot to be desired; I can only speak for the United States.  Most people in the media: tv, radio, and magazine covers looked one way and it gave the impression that they were the standard, one-size-fits-all.  As a result, many measured themselves based on that standard and adjusted their reality accordingly. Thankfully we continue to improve and evolve with generations.

As an Afro-Latina growing up in the 80s and 90s, representation was seemingly a thing that dreams were made of, despite having a Barbie in every skin tone.  Also, keep in mind that representation is relative depending on what you’re looking for and what you identify with.  In my opinion, media and marketing have since made great strides to improve upon ensuring more than just one culture is represented.  I think that many can safely say that nowadays it is easier to find someone who looks like, sounds like, eats like, and enjoys the same activities as them.  It seems there is a space for everyone now, though the frequency and maybe even the quality of the representation may still remain disproportionate.  Let’s continue to look at the bright side.

Why Should I Care?

Why is it important to highlight cultural authenticity in branding?  This is a question we have to ask ourselves especially when considering our target audience.  The answer is, cultural authenticity: builds trust, increases brand loyalty, and expands market reach.  Believe it or not, people crave authentic exchanges.  Who wouldn’t have respect for or be partial to a brand that recognizes and portrays their specific culture in the truest manner? As a brand, once you gain your audience’s trust you gain their loyalty.  The two just go hand in hand, so an increase in brand loyalty will follow closely.  As a natural progression, if your customer base becomes your loyal fan base, your market reach will grow and expand, which is always the goal.

Let's Make It Happen

Around here at Jali Creatives we are all about implementation.  Words are nice, but action is better, so let’s jump into ways to introduce cultural authenticity in your business.  The number one thing is to educate yourself, do some research, and find out all you can about the cultural group you are attempting to portray and or appeal to  Next, collaborate with diverse communities, and get some exposure.  That may look like attending a cultural festival with vendors from different countries.  After gathering the necessary information and immersing yourself in the culture, plan on producing inclusive marketing campaigns.

Who Fits Like A Glove?

I want to press pause there for just a moment and add that it is okay to ask for help.  It is also okay not to be the one that does the actual implementation.  The key is authenticity so be in tune enough to use the most qualified person in your circle or on your team to carry out branding efforts. Nothing is more heart-wrenching and cringy than someone representing a culture they are unfamiliar with or unsuited for.  I added that last part because sometimes a person is extremely knowledgeable and maybe even genuinely fascinated with a culture, but they don’t look the part.  In some cases, not looking the part can affect the potency or effectiveness of the message.  You may have to work backward and consider the outcomes to choose the best representative.

Back to It

Press Play.  Implement inclusive marketing; the more variety, the bigger the audience reach.  Inclusive marketing may look like a hair product commercial where each model has a different hair texture.  The message is that the product is for all hair types.  Now that you know who your audience is, hone in on product localization, and adapt your product to the culture you are targeting. For example, if your product is sports related the ideal place to sell it would be in an arena or a place that hosts sporting events.  Another way to demonstrate implementation of cultural authentication is via sponsorship of cultural events.  Seize any opportunity to participate in cultural community events.  Doing so could translate to establishing a presence in the community as well as display a commitment to diversity and inclusion.  Last but certainly not least, practice and encourage diversity and inclusion amongst your team.  Make sure your team is culturally diverse and maybe participate in activities that range from cultural sensitivity training to collectively  joining a cooking class where you are able to try cuisine from different countries.  Overall, the more effort you put into culturally diversifying your brand the more you will get in return.

No One Said It Would Be Easy

Everything has its challenges, so it may be helpful to assess potential challenges to achieving cultural authenticity before they arise.  Some common challenges are: understanding diverse perspectives, communication, cultural appropriation, and social media.  Diverse cultural perspective can be a major setback, ask me how I know. I am a Dominican American married to a Haitian, need I say more?  Just know that things can easily be misconstrued or ill understood when interacting with another from an unfamiliar culture.  While communication is one way we can overcome the first challenge, it is a challenge in itself. Difference in language and communication styles can be a hindrance.  One incorrect translation or a misinterpretation can result in crossed wires. Another challenge, which is a big deal, is cultural appropriation such as blackface.  To the best of your ability steer clear of doing or saying anything offensive when attempting to represent a culture authentically. Finally, there’s social media.  All I’m going to say is beware of the comment section.  Many have found “their voice” and are not afraid to use it.  Should anything mildly offensive or inappropriate cross their desk people are quick to troll and drag others in said comment section.  Knowing the challenges is half the battle.  Challenges can easily become areas of opportunity and even advantage, it simply depends on your approach.

May the benefit of highlighting cultural authenticity in branding be increasingly apparent.  It will take work but it is far from impossible.  With good intention, solid effort, inevitable mistakes, exposure, and a team like Jali Creatives by your side you are bound to be a pro at cultural authenticity in no time.  Let us help you with all of your diversity and inclusion needs, we know a thing or two.

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