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  • Writer's pictureWhitney Dunlap-Fowler

Infusing Cultural Insights In Your Market Research Projects.

Updated: Jan 2

Cultural insights has become an umbrella term that houses a wide variety of market research solutions. We define approaches under this phrase as methodologies that factor in the changing pace of culture and track progressions over time in order to guide current and/or future brand strategy and go-to-market solutions. These methodologies may include semiotics, cultural context analysis or cultural trends work.

When done correctly, incorporating cultural insights into your research methods can effectively enhance your outputs, ensuring that the end results consider of the evolving nature of culture so that you and your strategy teams can build fortified solutions that last beyond today. However, it can be tricky to fully grasp their usefulness or to understand when and how to use Cultural Insights methods in research approaches. However, there is a trick to get it right.

Start at the end.

By identifying your desired outcome first, and asking the right questions, insights professionals can more confidently determine when and how to use the right cultural insights methodologies.

Let’s explore four different end-goal scenarios that cultural insights can help provide solutions for.

We want to be more informed on a topic so that we can ask better, smarter, more targeted questions to consumers. (Download)

We need a comprehensive understanding of our category or business topic to identify the best opportunities to consider. (Download)

We need a thoughtful way to ensure creatively expansive consumer responses. (Download)

We need a better way to keep up with the changing trends and emergent themes occurring in the marketplace. (Download)


End Goal #1: We want to be more informed on a topic so that we can ask better, smarter, more targeted questions to consumers

Solution: Cultural Insights as an initial point of entry before consumer inputs

For brands, remaining relevant and top of mind requires a consumer-centric approach. But it can be easy to forget that average consumers have a limited capacity for addressing topics outside of their daily experiences. When seeking solutions to market research topics that feel wide, obtuse or academically rooted, placing cultural research in the primary stages can help to create a framework or foundation to work within.

When We Need It

  • When topics are deep, rich and complicated and require a substantial amount of understanding and investigation before it can be address with consumers.

  • When the time (or budget) to connect with consumers is limited or strained.

Why it’s Useful

  • Puts the onus on experts & research specialists, not consumers, to answer key fundamental questions.

  • Guarantees all questions will be adequately addressed no matter how complicated or time consuming.

Questions It Can Solve

  • How has this topic or our category changed overtime and why? What might this mean for the future of this topic that is key to our business goals?

Methodologies To Answer The Questions

  • Expert Interviews

  • A Semiotic Landscape Analysis

  • Cultural Context Analysis

  • Category Landscape Analysis


  • Serves as an internal, educational, interim deliverable and generate buy-in for the work to be done.

  • Strengthens and enhances in-going hypotheses before the work begins.

  • Provides depth and nuance to topics that may feel well-known internally but haven’t been fully explored in a while.


  • The output of this work is informational, not actionable.

  • Organizations used to actioning on deliverables may find it difficult to know what to do with the information without the right guided steps.

Pro tip: Serving the outputs of this phase as an information teaser is key; pairing it with a hypothesis generation workshop can engender interest and intrigue.


End Goal #2: We need a comprehensive understanding of our category or business topic to identify the best opportunities to consider.

Solution: Cultural Insights during or after a research project to map the landscape.

Being too narrowly focused on your brand or specific competitors can interfere with the ability to see the bigger picture. This can sometimes make marketers feel like things have shifted overnight leaving them unaware of how to move forward. When there is a need to see beyond limited perspectives, consider incorporating cultural insights methods during or towards the end of a research project.

When We Need It

  • When there is a need to see the full landscape your brand is competing in.

  • When there is a need to identify new white space opportunities for growth.

Why it’s Useful

  • Spotlights competing expressions, ideas or themes so there are clearer guidelines on what to avoid, lean into or consider.

  • Highlights how a topic/category is evolving and what needs to be done to catch up or remain the leader in that space.

  • Expands perspectives by highlighting how a category or integral business topic is showing up in culture or to consumers.

Questions It Can Solve

  • How are consumers seeing messaging on our topic/category currently? What are the oversaturation points around how the topic/ category is being presented to consumers? What are the white space opportunities for our brand to consider that will help us stand out in the marketplace??

Methodologies To Answer The Questions

  • Semiotic Decoder

  • Category Landscape Analysis

  • Adjacent Category Analysis

  • Competitive Intelligence


  • Facilitates stakeholder clarity regarding which marketing or insights directions to prioritize and consider.

  • Motivates & inspires stakeholders who may be stuck in redundant patterns or unsure of how to move forward.

  • Helps to inform and shape business strategies beyond the current moment.


  • The outputs of this approach may require more time to digest and prioritize.

  • Even when prioritized, there may be a need to reassure that the opportunities selected can effectively work for the organization.

Pro tip: It may be necessary to 1) workshop which opportunities should be prioritized and considered for the business 2) commission a brand activation/ go-to-market playbook or 3) test prioritized selections with consumers.


End Goal #3: We need a thoughtful way to ensure creatively expansive consumer responses.

Solution: Cultural Insights as a tool for responsive consumer engagement.

At the start of a research project, it is possible to engage consumers prematurely which can lead to feedback that is too robust, unfocused or misses the point completely. An intentional approach built with the right guidelines and guardrails can potentially benefit from research in the beginning stages to produce culturally enhanced territories, themes and/or frameworks to explore.

When We Need It

  • When seeking to validate or prioritize potential brand messaging, innovation or positioning solutions.

  • When pursuing a project that requires a framework as a key output or input to explore the topic at hand.

  • When desiring inspiration for innovation or design ideation; when pursing iterative consumer approaches.

Why It’s Useful

  • Helps respondents navigate aspects of the topic being explored that they may have not considered.

  • Pushes respondents to consider emergent expressions of a category or topic that may not be apart of consumers’ everyday experiences.

Questions It Can Solve

  • What are the main themes that are known about our category/ business topic today? What are the lesser-known themes? What are the key aspects that might be missing/ that we are less aware of?

Methodologies To Answer The Questions

  • A Semiotic Landscape Analysis

  • Cultural Context Analysis

  • Category Landscape Analysis


  • Creative thinking exercises and culturally mindful outputs enables stakeholders to more confidently fine tune internal innovation or positioning territories.

  • Identifies where brands have permission to stretch their messaging, positioning or innovation strategies.

  • Highlights consumer knowledge gaps: areas that may feel familiar and well known internally, but are less familiar and lesser known externally.


  • Presenting futurized or emergent themes to consumers can be tricky. Consumers may not be able to factually articulate how a new concept or idea would be used or incorporated into their day to day.

Pro tip: Use leading edge consumers to test emergent ideas or futurized themes. Ensure there is a well documented, measured need for solutions identified from emergent theme explorations.


End Goal #4: We need a better way to keep up with the changing trends and emergent themes occurring in the marketplace.

Solution: Cultural Insights at the beginning or end of the project.

Discovering new trends in the marketplace makes it easy feel as though you’re being left behind. Downloading or digesting all current and future trends in a given space can leave marketers feeling overwhelmed and unsure of what to do next. In market research, where you put trend phases of work matters. In this case, it can be used to inform your research approach at the beginning or fortify your outputs towards the end.

When We Need It

  • When there is a need to be in the know of the latest trends happening in a given category or business topic.

  • When needing to identify or focus on the most emergent iterations of an idea or concept.

Why it’s Useful

  • Keeps companies aware of how the marketplace is shifting while serving as a useful tool to use for future go to market strategies.

  • It can be used to inspire a pipeline of innovation initiatives for both the short and long term.

Questions It Can Solve

  • What are the newest trends and emergent shifts that we need to be aware of to make sure our business is iterating in a way that keeps up with the changing pace of culture? What are some of the newer innovations we should be aware of and consider bringing into our business via acquisition, merger or partnership?

Methodologies To Answer The Questions

  • Trend Scoping

  • Emergent Opportunity Analysis

  • Semiotic Decoder

  • Cultural Shifts Analysis


  • Serves as a preparation tool for what’s to come enabling stakeholders with the ability to anticipate change and confidently plan for the future.

  • Can help to shift internal thinking around a topic or category to inspire new strategies moving forward.


  • There isn’t always an organic or useful way to connect trends work with consumer phases.

  • Not only is there a need to prioritize which trends to consider, but there is a need to also match those trends to the strategic needs of the business.

Pro tip: If pairing with consumer work, To ensure effectiveness, match trends to unmet needs. Consider a creative ideation session to determine likelihood of adaptability internally and to map timing scenarios for implementation.


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