The Cardi B Effect: Unlocking Your Brand's Inspirational Personality

Tap into motivations and transform your marketing

"People relate to people, and if your brand feels like people, they'll relate to you, too." —Laura Busche, author

When Cardi B clutched her Grammy for Best Rap Album of 2018, it crowned what The New York Times called "one of the most powerful debuts of the millennium." Her subsequent success isn't just a "Cinderella story" of a stripper turned social media personality and reality TV star turned rapper. Cardi B rose to stardom on a wave of authenticity. From the bombastic boasts on "Bodak Yellow" to the rich bouquet of bodega flavor on "I Like It," the girl artist from the Bronx has a relentlessly real brand.

Where in the past we had the carefully crafted Britney Spears and Mandy Moore bubblegum pop personas for girls to aspire to, Cardi B spawned a legion of rappers who tell personal stories from unique points of view that inspire and awaken the minds of an activist generation. Today, more American youth want to be YouTubers than astronauts. It's a mass rejection of the boomer idea of a career path to instead embrace a more authentic lifestyle where the creator dictates the terms.

We are in the midst of a cultural renaissance driven by acceleration of our digital world bleeding into our physical world, pronounced desire and influence of individually curated content—resulting in a multitude of fragmented narratives and perspectives.

Hyper-personal and culturally relevant brands resonate with niche audiences in powerful ways, creating cultish followings sustained by always-on content channels. People are forming tribes at a greater velocity than ever, and the desire to emotionally connect with like-minded people is driving a cultural shift.  

From desire to inspire

iPhone ownership is a great example of this. Dr Sundeep Teki, a neuroscientist at the University of Oxford, recently conducted neuroimaging of brain activity when subjects viewed Apple products. He observed that people displayed brain activity patterns like those observed when they saw religious imagery that matched their faith. For some people, at least, purchasing an iPhone meets a very deep desire for something bigger than themselves. Indeed, Apple owners can be said to share certain values. They are a global community.

It's by using emotional intelligence to tap into this sense of community and shared culture that brands can transform their marketing. Consumer sentiment and the associated behavior control the marketing value exchange.

These new consumer behaviors span all areas of life, from how we work to how we shop to how we entertain ourselves. These rapid shifts have important implications for retailers and consumer packaged goods companies. But many of the longer-term changes in consumer behavior are still being formed, giving brands an opportunity to align values with these varied groups through the people and things that inspire them.

Cardi B excelled at humanizing her stardom by embracing her individuality and never hiding the less-marketable aspects of her life. Her unusual rise to fame became her dominant narrative, which she could then harvest and feed back into her music and appeal directly to those who have but few options to work morally questionable jobs for a living.

Understanding the science behind inspiration

Dr. Todd Thrash of the psychological sciences department at William & Mary University is a preeminent authority on inspiration. He defines it as "a cognitive-motivational episode in which an individual discovers a new source of intrinsic value and is compelled to express, embody, or otherwise act on this new appreciation."

These ideas were first explored in 1952 by German-American psychologist Kurt Lewin when he explained that values guide behavior by introducing goals and giving people something to reach for. Applying these theories to a broad set of general data can build a trend map of what inspires people. 

When you apply cognition to specific brand and customer interaction data sets, the interconnected cultural patterns begin to emerge within those trends. You begin to understand that customers crave a deeper connection to products. You can create marketing strategies that appeal to their shared values and that prompt them to engage in behavior that helps them achieve their goals.    

What we cannot ignore is that we are largely more anxiety ridden in a post-Covid world and looking for inspiration in new places. This implies that we are predisposed to actively seek out new opportunities. The rise in interest in online education and rabid consumption of documentaries, for instance, indicate that people around the globe are upskilling in any way that they can to face the unknown future challenges of a rapidly changing world.

There is a great opportunity to gain deep insights into inspiration on a global scale—not just to answer the questions related to what inspires people, but rather how it motivates decision-making. There is a canyon to explore between the source of inspiration and the action.

From inspiration to action

"Inspiration propels a person from apathy to possibility." —Scott Barry Kaufman, Harvard Business Review

Understanding inspiration and its impact on decision-making is a clear way to add a more human element to marketing. Here are three strategies for harnessing the inspiration and emotional intelligence:

  • Appeal to micro-cultures that shape individual experiences. People source their inspiration from things that align with their personal values and worldview. Influencer culture is evolving, and purchasing decisions are becoming more grounded in the personal experience of friends and family.
  • Offer a multidimensional experience. Being outdoors and time spent with friends and family rank highest as sources of inspiration. There is a general craving for stimulation and fulfillment that can be achieved through shared experiences that have a lasting positive impact.
  • Curate experiences that engage the senses in a way that digital can't. Despite an increase in digital interaction, there is a powerful desire to engage with the world in real life. The olfactory and tactile world can inspire new thoughts. 

As Cardi B personifies, authentic, personal and culturally relevant connects and inspires people far and wide in powerful ways. This "Cardi B effect" is driving a culture shift, one where brands can tap into motivations and transform their marketing. 

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Jennifer Perry
Jennifer Perry is global cognitive intelligence practice lead at Wunderman Thompson.

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