Why manufacturers truly profit from staying true to their cultural roots

I moved to the EU from the US six years ago to break away from American culture and try something new. But in that short time, I’ve seen Amsterdam, my adopted home, transform into a place that at times culturally feels more like San Francisco than a major European capital.

My anecdotal experience is the result of major trade exchanges between Europe and the United States reaching new heights. A variety of retail investment apps inspired by Robinhood in the US are getting Europeans, who historically tended to save, to invest their money for the first time. Mobility startups looking to replicate Uber’s success are thriving in Europe with imitators like Bolt and Gett. And Europe’s food tech ecosystem experienced explosive growth from the pandemic as Europeans experienced the new convenience of having their groceries and groceries delivered on-demand.

Working in both markets on a daily basis at SYLVAIN, we view this blending of cultures as a state of “Europicana” – a sense of equality in consumer culture and brand offerings in both markets.

One could argue that this, or any cultural blending, creates greater commercial potential for brands to expand across borders by appealing to like-minded consumers. And there is no doubt that companies can benefit from global consistency. Any business building guide will advocate for it because it’s cost effective, creates equity, and encourages scalability. Technology companies in particular are following this guidance. With the pressure to scale quickly and get a foothold in one market, it’s also easiest to develop a unified global strategy.

But what is lost when brands expand without a grasp of cultural awareness and nuance? While business models spread well, this is not always the case for brands whose lifeblood has always been culture. In fact, consumers increasingly resist homogeneity and long for a return to communities, spaces, and subcultures that reflect their uniqueness. This is backed up: a 2022 survey found that 68% of consumers have more positive attitudes towards brands that demonstrate cultural knowledge, while another 2023 report showed that companies that used cultural data in their marketing strategy saw a 19% increase in engagement. And in the US, 38% of Americans shop locally because they want to feel a sense of connection with their community.

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Others renounce allegiance to mass cultures that have lost the nuances that made them special. Sneakerheads hate the gentrification of sneaker culture, and even the UFC, once a fringe sport, now has mainstream audiences, with many claiming “casual fans” ruin the viewing experience.

So how can brands avoid these pitfalls to preserve culture, and what role can tech brands play in the emerging anti-homogeneity movement?

1. Anchor yourself with an authentic sense of place or space

Culture emerges around a shared physical (or proverbial) place, be it a city, a cuisine, a language or a myth. And brands with ambitions to go big don’t have to water them down to appeal to mass audiences.

How can tech brands travel the world while remaining “rooted” in a way? Perhaps the best examples to learn from are FMCG brands that have proven this. Muji exudes the simplicity and functionality of the Japanese lifestyle in all of its 700 stores. Havaianas transports consumers to the laid-back beaches of Brazil. Desigual celebrates the vibrant, creative energy of its native Barcelona.

While most tech companies are inherently placeless, they can still represent an idea, story, or set of values ​​through products, services, or brand experiences. For example, Apple popularized “Designed in California” as a tribute not only to its headquarters but also to its design ethos, proving that tech brands can also be anchored in a sense of place.

2. Tap into the subcultures that transcend physical boundaries

If the biggest brands of the 20th century exported the mass culture of a place, 21st century brands might be more rooted in niche subcultures that can emerge anytime, anywhere, much like tech companies.

How can tech brands, which often first become popular by tapping into niche audiences, keep their relevance in subcultures? Tech brands like Nike showcase the breadth of New York’s dance subculture by merging interviews and moves from real New York dancers in Own The Floor. With its e-bike business, Van Moof brings a Dutch perspective on the role of cycling in smart cities. And our recent collaboration with Disney embodies the full complexity of the Black experience in its digital platform Andscape.

3. Bring the voice of the consumer back into focus

Ultimately, cultures require that people create, nurture and protect them. Instead of trying to own, convey and express the culture itself, brands can put egos aside and re-focus and elevate the voices of the people who are at the heart of the cultures themselves – their own consumers.

How can tech brands, which often rely on personalization as a solution, really lead the way for consumers? Patagonia follows the call of environmentalists and treats them as stakeholders in the overall business. And Airbnb’s “experience offering” turns hosts into cultural experts, lending a down-to-earth, human voice to the brand experience, to name a few.

Given the ubiquitous presence of tech brands in our everyday lives, they can play an outsized role in the anti-homogeneity movement. And consumers will reward them for it. Ultimately, it’s up to the digital-native technology brands to usher in a new era of branding that celebrates and promotes culture, rather than losing it.

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