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FMCG Insights Series

Want to find the next big thing? Understand culture.

Human needs remain constant. But our values and the way we meet our needs change.

Understanding how culture is changing helps us predict the way our needs might be satisfied in the future.  

In this video, TRA's Head of Strategy, Carl Sarney, and Jonny Almario, Cultural Insights Consultant, introduce you to cultural analysis, and how it can help you identify the next big thing for your brand. 

For FMCG marketers, understanding culture can help predict the future. If you understand the future cultural landscape, then you can start to predict what might drive future behaviour. It gives you the confidence to anticipate, navigate and shape trends across products and messages.

At TRA we study Cultural Currents - the forces that influence society. We track twelve Meta Currents and the Macro and Micro Currents flow from and feed into them.

The cultural currents

  1. Meta Currents:  Long lasting, global phenomena that influence all areas of daily life, across politics, culture and the economy. ​
  2. Macro Currents: Specific major patterns or trend developments born of and contributing to a meta-current.
  3. Micro Currents: Niche innovations and signals of potential emerging trends.

How does cultural analysis help FMCG marketers?

Firstly, it offers you context beyond your category expertise. Your product – no matter what it is – does not exist in a vacuum. Secondly, it helps you understand how the challenge you’re facing – whether it’s NPD, positioning or even a marketing campaign – fits with the wider culture. And finally, it enables you to identify opportunities to align your brand or product with the cultural currents that are influencing your customer’s preferences and desires.

What’s the advantage cultural analysis gives FMCG brands?

1. Find a unique and compelling brand positioning

Cultural analysis helps you understand what your brand represents within the fabric of culture and society, where your brand can create value. By understanding the context in which your brand fits within peoples’ lives, you can identify how best to effectively communicate with them. Which, in turn, helps you ensure culturally on-code communications and products across brand touchpoints, reflecting your audience’s values back to them.

2. Future proof your brand for long-term relevance

Survival depends on your brand’s ability to anticipate and navigate change - adaptability. Cultural analysis can help you see the forces that are currently impacting – or about to impact – your category.

For example, a rise in wellness, changing social habits, and the decline of alcohol consumption has seen new social and drink innovations emerge. Consider the explosion of seltzer in the RTD category. This cultural understanding underpins how the brand is able to stay relevant to their customers, developing products and experiences that add value to their lives and creating a meaningful place for their brand in their world.

For NPD, integrating culture as the first step in innovation pipeline to guide and evaluate innovation initiatives. Taking an outside-in approach, culture provides a fertile field to begin service and product innovation, knowing we are creating value from the start.

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What’s involved in a cultural analysis process?

First, use the Cultural Currents frameworks to identify which are likely to have the strongest influence on the customer decisions for products in your category.

Think about the target audience for your product – which cultural trends are likely to impact them?

For example, will a trend towards radical transparency affect which snacks they choose to pick up at the supermarket? For example, consider the uptick in B Corp certifications in FMCG, such as People’s Coffee or Fix & Fogg, in New Zealand.

Think about broader cultural trends – which are likely to impact the wider population in general?

Would the superinclusivity current affect how people feel about, for example, binary representations of people in traditional beer advertising? Major brands now talk to this - for example, Heineken in their “Cheers to All” TVC.

Then, look at where Cultural Currents and your product attributes intersect. Where are opportunity spaces? From here, develop stimulus to bring these to life.

Finally, it’s time to get into a room with your customers, colleagues, and agencies for co-creation or bounce and build sessions. Ultimately, you’re identifying the cultural sweet-spot for NPD and brand product development. 

From there, you’re able to take next steps – honing your brand purpose, platform and tone of voice to be culturally on code and relevant for your customer. Feed the insights into your next creative brief. And ultimately, have a robust strategy for where to play, and how to win.

Want to know more?

  • As an FMCG Insights subscriber, we're happy to send you a copy of our Cultural Currents guide - just get in touch with us with your address, and we'll send one to you.
  • You can explore more of our free culture resources in our Culture Hub
  • We run culture workshops for our clients. To learn more, email 
headshot of Carl Sarney, Head of Strategy at TRA
Carl Sarney
Head of Strategy at TRA
Carl has 20 years of insight industry experience. He is specialised in brand and comms strategy with a proven history of effective work for his clients, including several gold awards for advertising effectiveness. His research work has taken him to just about every town in New Zealand to speak with people from all walks of life. He's also conducted qualitative research in eight more countries while based in London for two years and spent seven years as an ad agency planner before joining TRA in 2018.

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