Innovator Insights: BTDT’s Nikki Crumpton

Innovator Insights: BTDT’s Nikki Crumpton

Nikki Crumpton could be like all the others in the marketing community lambasting Bud Light over its recent controversy involving a transgender influencer. But she’s not doing that. She’s suggesting brands use moments like these as an opportunity to think about their approach to cultural relevance instead.

As chief strategy officer for London-based Been There Done That (BTDT), Crumpton works with brands to unlock insights from its network of experts to better define and solve some of their biggest problems. Of course, cultural relevance may not seem like a problem to many CMOs – until you’re making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

“Culture is the water in which we all swim,” Crumpton told Brand Innovators in a recent interview. “There has been an increasing focus on diversity and inclusion, which is a great thing. But if you want to be part of a community and a culture that is more defined, you can’t just assume that the way that you’ve worked up until now is also going to work with these different groups of people.”

BTDT approaches this by offering clients what Crumpton described as a “cultural compass,” a framework that incorporates research practices from anthropology and ethnography. The cultural compass is aimed at helping marketers to identify their North star that will guide their journey into disparate cultures and communities, ultimately ensuring they show up in an authentic way.

“You have to really walk around in somebody else’s shoes to be able to get their perspective on the world from inside out,” she said. “If you just want to jump on a bandwagon, that’s fine, but you’re not really going to make much headway that way.”

Not only do brands risk their marketing efforts falling flat, but Crumpton suggested there could be dire consequences to the bottom line. The boycotts called against Bud Light might seem like an extreme example, but Crumpton cited research conducted by Twitter (now X), which found a brand’s cultural involvement makes up 25% of a consumer’s decision to make a purchase from it.

“The death of a brand used to happen at the 40 year-mark. Now it’s now 10 years, or even five years,” she said. “You can be at the top of the S&P 500 and then you’re not. That is because people don’t manage their relevance and they don’t see that as a driver of value and they just stick to what they think they are.”

Learning from the best-known brands

Fortunately, marketers may not need to look very far for examples of brands who demonstrate excellence in staying culturally relevant. Crumpton pointed to Nike, which has encountered its own controversies for taking overtly political positions but has weathered them successfully.

“Sports informs the way we talk about competition, the way we talk about prowess, the way we talk about expertise. It’s everywhere,” she said. “Nike has done a brilliant job of understanding how important sport is to culture, and then how they can embed themselves in that framework and elevate to the point where they can identify the issues they want to champion.”

McDonalds is another example of a brand that actively pays attention to communities and makes changes to its menus in order to stay relevant, Crumpton said. It’s worth pointing out that these are brands with a long and sometimes checkered history, but which work to make up for any missteps, she added.

The questions brands should be asking first

 A topic starts trending on social media. It gets talked about on the nightly news. Then, within a broad room or on a video call, the CMO insists that their brand has to become part of the conversation. Crumpton advises otherwise.

“If you want to be part of a cultural moment or a new cultural area, first you’ve got to ask yourself, ‘What right do I even have to play here?’” she said. “So much of this is about listening. Marketing has, by its very nature, been very broadcast-oriented. It’s been, ‘I’ve got something to tell you. I’ve got something that I want you to do.

“What’s really interesting is understanding what people need you to do, rather than what you want them to do. And that’s a very different relationship you’ll have with a group of people.”

The fear of being canceled or alienating consumers could make brands tempted to rely more on their ad agencies to provide the right intelligence to guide their efforts. Crumpton warned against that kind of dependency. While third parties can play a role in executing a strategy, this is where CMOs and their teams need to be hands-on.

“You cannot outsource responsibility for your brand to somebody else,” she said. “Brands also don’t have a right to own culture. They can be part of it, they can accelerate it and they can play within it in different ways. But you’re never going to own a cultural moment. Culture belongs to everybody.”