Cultural Leadership: How to Command Attention on a Global Scale

In our latest G+ hangout, Leveraging Cultural Conversations to Build Your Brand, Community, and Impact, we spoke with Aaron Sherinian, VP of Communication and PR for the UN Foundation (and one of our fantastic speakers at our upcoming Brand Leadership Summit) about how organizations can become leaders in cultural conversations and build movements.

While it’s very easy to get lost in the executional strategies of social technology tools, marketers are now being challenged at a higher level: to engage consumers and citizens in ways so they feel that your brand is meaningful and relevant to their lives. To achieve this, you must go beyond marketing and play an authentic role in those cultural conversations that are on the forefront of the public’s consciousness.

Global communities are redefining culture:

As technology breaks down physical barriers, everyday citizens can now play roles of both local and global activists. We can truly see how interconnected we are, in real time, which helps people understand issues in the context of a bigger picture.

For example, it used to be difficult to speak on the issue of climate change, as it was a broad stroke, somewhat amorphous topic for many. As well, it was difficult to tap into an audience beyond the small groups already in the know. But now, through the power of social storytelling and digital community architecture, climate change has become a cultural topic that is deeply personal and shareable. People are now able to articulate why and how climate change affects their lives, moving beyond the initial conversation of weather to bigger philosophical questions such as, in which sort of companies will we invest, what kind of food are we going to eat, and what sort of places and environments do we want to be available in our world in the future.

Now, not only is it easy for brands to get involved in issues like climate change, poverty, and health, but it’s actually deleterious for a brand to not have a strong point of view on our society’s most pressing problems.

Global communities mean global crowdsourcing and partnerships:

Something that the UN Foundation knows through its many experiences is that no one sector can tackle global problems by itself. Last year, the UN used digital media and mobile technology to engage with hundreds of thousands of people around the world in shaping the next generation of anti-poverty goals, building on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which have helped to reduce by half the proportion of people living in extreme poverty in the course of the past decade.

Today, we can’t afford not to lock arms with each other and with organizations that are value-aligned. If you’re a company, you should be partnering with a nonprofit today as it keeps you authentically in the know. As well, nonprofits must partner with brands that have the ability to leverage large resources and constituencies in order to affect change on a greater scale. If you are not partnering with a brand or vice versa, you will probably do some good work alone, but you won’t be maximizing results. By talking about your cause courageously in the public square, it allows people to poke at the efficiency and efficacy of your plan, which will only improve your strategy and bring other like-minded parties to the table.

3 tenets for commanding attention on a global scale:

Leaders, non-profits, and brands that go beyond creating awareness and step up to offer solutions, now have the opportunity to transcend their categories and industries and position themselves as cultural leaders. Here’s how:

  1. Ask questions: For instance, the UNF constantly asks, how do you give back? If you are not asking what matters to people, you will never truly understand the issue or how to affect change.
  1. Celebrate and share: Too often, organizations and brands try to own the change, wanting all the credit for a movement. Instead, celebrate your community, celebrate your core values, and share the responsibility to bring change to life. By building bridges and uniting others, your brand will not only demonstrate authentic commitment, but your impact will be that much bigger.
  1. Tools, not rules: The key to the power of #GivingTuesday was the decision to provide the community with the tools, resources, and assets they need to personalize the campaign and make it their own. Inspire the creativity in your community members, and they will come up with incredibly unique ways to share your campaign, far beyond what one marketing or PR team could have come up with on their own.

Today, each of us has a role to play in the future of our world, whether you’re a solopreneur working from your kitchen table, or a social enterprise in a high growth company, or a major corporation with long standing practices in marketing, or an NGO or nonprofit. We need a holistic solution pointed in a new direction and just as our problems are complex and interwoven, our solutions need to be inclusive and interwoven, leveraging the talent and resources of many smart people around the world.