Cultural Intelligence for Marketers

Guest Dr. Anastasia Kārkliņa Gabriel is the author of “Cultural Intelligence for Marketers.” Anastasia shares her insights on building inclusive marketing strategies through the four Cs of cultural intelligence: culture, communication, critical consciousness, and community. We discuss moving from performative to genuine inclusivity, examining DTC brand Billie and Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaigns. Save 25% on Anastasia’s book at by entering code BIGEYE25 at checkout.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS: 

Dr. Anastasia Kārkliņa Gabriel: Brands produce mass media, much like entertainment and popular culture. For that reason, brands are cultural agents that are both influenced by culture and also shape culture at the same time.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS: fresh perspectives on marketing and advertising produced weekly by Bigeye, a strategy-led full-service creative agency growing brands for clients globally. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us today. Bigeye recently surveyed over 1,400 US consumers aged 18 to 76 to quantify their current shopping behaviors and opinions about brands for a report to be published later this month. Titled Retail Revolution, it’s the second retail study we’ve run. The first was Retail Disrupted in 2021. Focusing on direct-to-consumer brands, compared to that first study, this year, we’re seeing an increase in alignment with consumers’ personal values and beliefs as one of the main reasons for buying DTC. Among Gen Z, one-third of shoppers give this reason, compared with 19% three years ago. E-commerce giant Amazon, which captures around 40% of US online retail sales, has also been tracking consumer values. Reports published by its Ads division have consistently found that consumers, especially younger generations, want to support brands whose values align with their own. What this means is that marketers have to consider the roles that diversity, equity, inclusion and sustainability play in establishing brand trust and influencing consumer preferences. So, how do brands and their agencies align marketing strategies with social consciousness? Today’s episode focuses on a new book that provides a practical guide to this topic. “Cultural Intelligence for Marketers: Building an Inclusive Marketing Strategy” is this month’s selection for the Bigeye Book Club, in partnership with the publisher Kogan Page. To discuss the book, we’re joined by the author, Dr. Anastasia Kārkliņa Gabriel. Anastasia is a cultural theorist, writer, social critic, and strategist specializing in inclusivity within marketing, media, and tech. Currently the Global Insights Senior Lead at Reddit, she earned her doctorate in cultural studies from Duke University and has consulted for the world’s top brands, including Nike, Samsung, Disney, Ulta Beauty, and Amex – working with global agencies like Wieden + Kennedy, Dentsu Creative, and McCann New York. Anastasia’s work has been featured in publications such as Advertising Week, Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Teen Vogue. I’m delighted that Anastasia is joining us today from Alabama. Anastasia, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS! 

Dr. Anastasia Kārkliņa Gabriel: Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure. 

Adrian Tennant: Well, it’s great to have you here. Anastasia, how do you define cultural intelligence?

Dr. Anastasia Kārkliņa Gabriel: Such a great question to ask. I’m all about definition, and in the book, I take great care at providing what I think cultural intelligence is, which I define as the practice of analyzing and tracking cultural trends, movements and shifts in consumer culture. and using that knowledge to both drive commercial advantage and use the power of media for good. And the reason I specifically think about cultural intelligence in that way is because brands have such a powerful place in culture. And one of the ways that brand-driven businesses can harness that power is by understanding cultural evolution and where culture is moving. and then showing up in culture at the most opportune time.

Adrian Tennant: Your new book, “Cultural Intelligence for Marketers,” was published just a few weeks ago. What prompted you to write it?

Dr. Anastasia Kārkliņa Gabriel: The conversations that we are all immersed in as marketers and the challenges of the present moment, which are big brand skepticism, consumer expectations, and the kind of distrust that exists between consumers and brand-driven businesses. And as I myself have been immersed in these conversations for the last few years, thinking through, “How can brands move away from performative inclusivity in marketing? How can brands really become more accurate, more authentic, more precise in how marketers communicate with their audiences?” What I found was that a lot of these answers could be gleaned from some of the concepts that I was exposed to during my training in cultural studies. And it felt that a lot of the knowledge that is usually less legible in business circles could actually be quite helpful to marketers navigating these issues that, frankly, an average marketer was not trained to handle. And so that is how the book was born, out of desire to make some of the concepts that I think are really useful, make them more accessible to business audiences.

Adrian Tennant: Your book very helpfully presents a framework based on what you call the Four Cs of Cultural Intelligence: Culture, Communication, Critical Consciousness, and Community. Anastasia, could you briefly explain each of these pillars?

Dr. Anastasia Kārkliņa Gabriel: Absolutely. The pillars broadly follow the various processes of marketing, from research to strategy, messaging, and creative execution. And it is meant as a framework to assist marketers, market researchers, creatives at various stages of that journey. So Culture really asks us, “How can marketers better understand where culture is moving? What is happening in culture and how cultural expectations and social norms are evolving?” whether in regards to the brand or to the category more broadly, and then using that knowledge to carve out an area of opportunity for a brand to play. Now that we have a better sense of cultural landscape and where brand might have that role to play, we can move on to Communication, which really dives into how messaging that brands come up with gets sent to the audiences at scale into the marketplace and communications is really as a pillar meant to help marketers predict certain interpretations of their messages and prepare for potential reactions as a way to avoid making mistakes, which is what a lot of leaders reasonably fear right now, doing the wrong thing, sending the wrong message out, being called out. So communications really asking us to think, “How do messages travel and how they might be interpreted?” And Critical Consciousness as a pillar focuses on questions of equity, inclusivity, and social impact to ask, “Well, when brand comes up with inclusive marketing strategy and goes to market, how are these principles of equity and inclusion being implemented?” And this is precisely in order to avoid the kind of performativity of doing something for the sake of it. “How is brand really making a difference, whether in the kind of stories that it tells, the kind of representation that it puts out there?” and so on. And Community, lastly, really speaks to the rising need for co-creation with our audiences. People are no longer satisfied with being spoken at. They want to be heard and listened to. And community that deals with co-creation really asks, “How can brands bring audiences into the process of co-creation?”

Adrian Tennant: I’d like to dive a little deeper into each of those pillars. Starting in the culture chapter, you guide readers through building a foundation for an inclusive marketing strategy. What concepts from cultural studies do you think are most useful for marketers?

Dr. Anastasia Kārkliņa Gabriel: My gospel is really that brands produce mass media, much like entertainment and popular culture. And for that reason, brands are cultural agents that are both influenced by culture and also shape culture at the same time. That is where I start in my work and what I am hoping to evangelize in the marketing and business circles to start thinking about brands through that particular lens. And why is that important? Currently, we are in a kind of debate in our industry on the future of purpose, on the future of social responsibility, and whether that is something that is even viable or commercially advantageous, as we’ve seen a lot of examples where purpose-driven marketing backfires or isn’t as effective and maybe isn’t as aligned with brand positioning. Well, the pillar of culture and the kind of concepts that I introduced around the role of brands, the role of representation in advertising really shows us that any brand is influencing culture simply by virtue of going to market and telling stories about how people live, what they look like, who they love, who is desirable, and who is portrayed as beautiful, and so on. Implicitly, brands do that. simply by producing marketing that draws inspiration from social life around us. And so the premise of my work in the book is to say that inclusive marketing really matters for any brand-driven business, whether that brand is purpose-driven or not.

Adrian Tennant: The communication chapter explores how to move from performative marketing to inclusive representation. Anastasia, what principles do you recommend for creating truly inclusive marketing strategies?

Dr. Anastasia Kārkliņa Gabriel: I focused a lot on evolving our understanding of representation. Oftentimes, when you think about marketing communications, we often think about representation as who is represented in the communications that we put out there. which is certainly very important, and I want to be clear that I’m not in the least discounting the role of diversity in representation, showing people who embody different lived experiences. However, from my point of view, performativity in marketing really arises from when we stop there and we don’t really go beyond who we put in a marketing campaign, who we cast for a particular ad. And when we are just focused on signaling diversity through casting, that is when we fall short from being generally more inclusive through creative storytelling, through the kind of stories that we tell as marketers. And what seems very important is to take that next step and ask ourselves, In addition to who we are representing, how we are telling those stories, are we drawing on practices, rituals, lived experiences that are really countering some of the stereotypes that have existed in advertising for so long? Are these stories that we’re putting out there really working to create more authentic, more expansive, more inclusive representation of human experience? And so when we shift from who is represented to how they’re presented and how we’re telling those stories. I think that’s when we start to move away from performative superficial representation to representation that is more rich and also more creative.

Adrian Tennant: Involving the audience in the creation of advertising …?

Dr. Anastasia Kārkliņa Gabriel: Yes, so much of what I do has to do with really thinking how do we ensure that not only dominant perspectives are driving the process and a lot of times, unfortunately, when the result is marketing that is not fully representative or fully responsible or fully inclusive and representative of people who we’re aiming to portray, it is because those people were either not in the room, they were not behind the camera, although they were in front of the camera, or they were not involved in a kind of consultative practice. And that is what I feel most passionate about is thinking about the composition of our teams. What does it mean to truly have diversity of experiences represented on the teams that are producing storytelling about diverse audiences? And so that is certainly a very critical factor.

Adrian Tennant: You also note in the book that we’re moving away from a white-dominant demography. That’s going to change things quite a bit.

Dr. Anastasia Kārkliņa Gabriel: Absolutely. And I find that so frequently in the broader marketing discourse, it’s positioned as, you know, some kind of infringement of activists, part of the business space, but specifically recently with polarization and all the heightened tensions around diversity, equity, inclusion and issues of identity. And it’s often framed as a kind of adjacent cause to the role of business and our role as marketers within that business. And that really frustrates me because when we look at the data and when we look at the audiences that are going to dominate the marketplace in the near future and in the long-term future, It is hard to argue that preparing to serve these audiences in an adequate way is not part of our professional responsibility as marketers, advertisers, researchers, and so on.

Adrian Tennant: In the chapter about critical consciousness, you discuss the pitfalls of relying on buzzwords in inclusive marketing. Anastasia, why are marketers so drawn to using buzzwords, and how can they be harmful to fostering genuine inclusivity?

Dr. Anastasia Kārkliņa Gabriel: Funnily enough, I think it’s related to what I just mentioned is that we are so future-oriented, and we, as a profession, like what’s sparkling and what is trendy and what feels new and fresh and so on. And that is fantastic. That is so necessary in an industry that is powered by creativity and out-of-the-box thinking, or at least that’s something that all of us aspire to, to produce marketing that really sticks, that really makes a mark. And I think in that process of looking for the new and shiny to make sense of the current predicaments and challenges, especially in the last few years since inclusivity, diversity, and equity became so central in the world of business and the mainstream more broadly, I think we’ve been inclined to grasp these concepts coming from academia and activist circles to make sense of this current reality and to try to do better. However, the enthusiasm is very welcome and should be encouraged. But I think the other side of that coin is that we tend to not just as marketers, but as a business world more broadly, to take these concepts and sometimes distill them and simplify them to the point of where they don’t actually honor the essence of their function, what they’re meant to do or the traditions that they emerged from.

Adrian Tennant: Which are the most prevalent buzzwords that you come across in your work?

Dr. Anastasia Kārkliņa Gabriel: Well, I spent a whole chapter writing about the term “intersectionality,” specifically after 2020, when inclusivity became such an imperative for brands to connect with audiences, to understand their audiences. I would be in a lot of marketing spaces, and here people talk about being an “intersectional marketer,” quote-unquote, or, you know, “adopting an intersectional approach” in their work or talking about, quote-unquote, “intersectional audiences.” And as I heard it more and more being trained in Black Feminist Studies for my doctorate, which is where the term emerges, it became clear that the term started to mean overlapping identities, anything that signals diversity by virtue of including people who hold multiple marginalized identities, which is certainly part of the definition. And in the book, I go a little bit more in-depth into the origins of the term and the initial imperative of the term, as it was coined by Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw, to really put the spotlight on structures of oppression, and discrimination that are actually the outcome of these overlapping marginalized identities. And so I find that that second part is often missing. We talk about overlapping identities, but then we don’t necessarily devote as much time to discussing or paying attention to how these overlapping identities result in certain experiences and how, as marketers, we can speak to those experiences actively or center them in the work that we do or even consider how our own ignorance or lack of awareness of these experiences contributes to bias in our work.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message.

Dr. Anastasia Kārkliņa Gabriel: Hello, I am Dr. Anastasia Kārkliņa Gabriel, the author of “Cultural Intelligence for Marketers: Building an Inclusive Marketing Strategy.” 

My book provides a practical, four-step approach to enhancing cultural fluency, maximizing social impact, and embedding critical thinking in your marketing process. 

I break down key concepts, explain how to use advanced cultural insights in marketing and advertising, and feature case studies from brands, including Microsoft and REI. 

As an IN CLEAR FOCUS listener, you can save 25 percent on “Cultural Intelligence for Marketers” when you order directly from the publisher at Enter the exclusive promo code BIGEYE25 at checkout. 

Shipping is complimentary for customers in the US and the UK. I hope my book helps you build inclusive, culturally intelligent marketing strategies. Thank you!

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Dr. Anastasia Kārkliņa Gabriel, the author of this month’s featured Bigeye Book Club selection, “Cultural Intelligence for Marketers: Building an Inclusive Marketing Strategy.” Anastasia, could you share one or two examples of brands whose marketing demonstrates strong cultural fluency?

Dr. Anastasia Kārkliņa Gabriel: Billie is the example that is one of my favorites and probably the one that I talk about the most. And for those unfamiliar, Billie is a direct-to-consumer brand that provides and offers shaving products, and they have been doing so since about 2018 or so. And this is a brand that I think is an excellent example of a business that really followed the four C’s of cultural intelligence and understood its role in culture and how what was happening in culture intersected with the category, which is, in their case, that Billie really understood the female consumer and what women and non-binary audiences expected from brands at a time when they started the business, and how audiences who for many years have not seen realistic representation of women’s body hair or the ritual of shaving were really desiring more authenticity. And so they started by putting real authentic stories and visuals of women and other people marginalized by gender shaving their bodies just like they look like, you know, when I’m in the bathroom versus in an ad where we saw for so long women shaving already shaven legs, so to say. And so they really jumped on that cultural opportunity and became a leader in that space. And we have seen them really become an example of what it means for brands to transcend advertising and drive the cultural conversation so much so that now other shaving brands are emulating what they’ve done. And what I really love about that example is that now, once a few years have passed and the brand has established that trust with their audience, they have moved to expand their activities from just marketing that engages the ritual of shaving to other women’s issues. So last year they came out with this kind of tongue-in-cheek game that was a commentary itself about women’s experiences with overthinking or apologizing, and they kind of put it out there to signal to their audiences they understand their experiences on a broader scale. It’s just a fantastic example of how to understand culture, understand how it intersects with your category and your product, build trust over time, and then expand into adjacent cultural conversations that matter to the audience.

Adrian Tennant: Anastasia, what are your thoughts about Dove’s latest campaign centered around AI?

Dr. Anastasia Kārkliņa Gabriel: I love that question because I just commented on it for a recent piece in Campaign that celebrated 20 years of Dove’s real beauty. I think it’s such a great example of a brand that continuously innovates, and continuously evolves its understanding of the cultural landscape and the changing definitions of beauty for various groups. but also the evolution of the cultural dialogue. I’m not sure that Dove would have the same hold on our imagination as consumers and had grasped such a primary spot in the arena of brands that really lead culture and really make a mark on culture if the brand just stayed with the same messaging that they did, I don’t know, in 2011. In their latest campaign, we see them take on AI, which is such a prescient topic that everybody is talking about across all industries. And it is really touching our lives in the way that, you know, the tools that we use. And so they really understand the role that a brand has in producing mass media. And I find that their commitment to refusing to use artificial intelligence to generate mass media that they produce was not only an admirable, from my perspective, stance on its own, but a testament to how the brand is always keeping its finger on the pulse of culture and really paying attention to what’s happening in our lives and what is the topic of the day that is really shaping our lives.

Adrian Tennant: And am I right in thinking that Dove was among the first brands to eschew any kind of Photoshop work post-production?

Dr. Anastasia Kārkliņa Gabriel: That is right. And actually, now that you’ve mentioned it, I find it so interesting to think about that connection, right, between their current commitment to opt-out from the use of AI and then their early work that really highlighted how unrealistic portrayals of beauty and the impact that had on women’s and girls’ self-esteem. So it’s an interesting parallel actually that I didn’t even think about until you mentioned it between their early work and engagement of technology that is used to produce mass media and its evolution to its form now as artificial intelligence technology. So yeah, thank you for the connection. I didn’t really think about it before.

Adrian Tennant: Anastasia, you’re currently the Global Insights Senior Lead at Reddit. Could you explain your position and the role that cultural intelligence plays at Reddit?

Dr. Anastasia Kārkliņa Gabriel: Yeah, I sit on our insights team, and so a lot of the work that I do is very much at the intersection of research and strategy, and it speaks to this importance of the first C: Culture. Taking the time to understand trends, understand how culture is born, how it evolves, the kind of conversations that are driving the attention of certain audiences, and that’s precisely what I do day-to-day in my full-time role, and it is parsed through tons of data, really dive deep into the conversations that our communities driven by unique passions and interests are having, and then gleaning from that cultural knowledge that can help brands both articulate what is happening in their category and how they should be showing up in terms of their strategy on a bigger scale of planning ahead and also understanding the nuances of audiences. What are they resonating with? What’s really driving the conversations and how brand clients can use that knowledge to sharpen their campaigns, to sharpen their creative messaging, to really put out the kind of creative that is going to hit the mark. And that’s particularly interesting to execute on Reddit, where our communities have such a unique culture. in terms of their interests, but also in terms of the long-form discussions on the platform. And so I sit on the research side of understanding these audiences and helping brands show up in ways that are resonant and representative of what they care about the most.


Adrian Tennant: I’m sure that’s fascinating. Well, in Chapter 7 of “Cultural Intelligence for Marketers,” you discuss how to develop cultural intelligence capabilities within organizations. What are some of the most common knowledge gaps you see in marketing teams when it comes to executing a culturally fluent, inclusive strategy?

Dr. Anastasia Kārkliņa Gabriel: Understandably, a lot of us are pressured by tight deadlines, restrictions on budgets, etc. And so what I think we’ve been seeing in the industry more broadly is the kind of, you know, attention and dependency on things like trend reports, for example, right, or ways to track and unearth trends that sometimes have to skip that rigorous research element of it. And so I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how can we more accurately and precisely understand what constitutes cultural trends, for instance. And a lot of times what I find is that as an industry, you know, speaking again about the shiny and the trendy, we are often sort of distracted, I would even say, by some of the trends that might be going viral or getting a lot of clicks and views on a particular platform or the other. Those kinds of trends are really useful for certain brands to show up in the moment when it makes sense for the category for their product. But I find that that sort of understanding of trends is a really big gap in the industry that doesn’t account for how culture really moves. And culture has a fast pace in regards to these kind of spikes in trending content, but culture also has this slower, deeper, more obscure undercurrent that is shaping consumer behavior and expectations in more profound and more powerful ways than a single 72-hour trend ever could. And so perhaps I’m thinking less so about gaps in our knowledge and more so about expanding how we see culture, how we understand what constitutes a trend. And really, I find it’s so imperative for marketing teams to develop those methodologies, which is what I’m actually currently doing now in my position is asking, “How do we create more rigorous methodologies for capturing what’s actually moving culture forward and what’s shaping consumer behaviors in profound ways? How do we pay attention to that? How do we track that? How do we measure that?” And most importantly, “How do we act on that?”

Adrian Tennant: In the final chapter of your book, you look ahead at the future of marketing. You believe that intentionality and conviction will be key for brands. And Astasia, can you explain why you believe that will be the case?

Dr. Anastasia Kārkliņa Gabriel: Largely that, in my estimation, has to do with the current moment that we’re in. It would be a mistake for us to assume that marketing is not impacted by the broader social-cultural conditions that we’re witnessing with an attack on diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education, in politics, in civic society more broadly. And we are also seeing that in the discourse of marketing in our profession more broadly where we are now seeing a certain level of antagonism towards purpose and what I would diagnose as a kind of conflation of anything that has to do with inclusion or diversity under this one label of brand social purpose that some marketing leaders would argue we need to leave behind and focus on more commercially advantageous, in their view, aspects of marketing – which is the capacity to be entertaining, the ability to be funny, and capture audience attention in that way. And so the reason why I talk about conviction is precisely because I think four years removed from 2020 it will take leaders who see the social importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in marketing, and also the commercial imperative for these principles in inclusive marketing, looking far ahead, to really put their foot down and say that we can’t walk backwards. We can’t abandon all the progress that we have made as an industry. And it would actually, to my point earlier, be professionally irresponsible for us to look away from issues of inclusivity in marketing, considering that audiences increasingly, and data supports this, look for inclusivity in marketing and also feel a greater sense of belonging when they feel themselves represented in the marketing that they consume.

Adrian Tennant: What are some of the practical steps marketers can take to become more culturally fluent?

Dr. Anastasia Kārkliņa Gabriel: I like to talk about the importance of what I call the expansion of our point of reference. And so that means, as a marketer, realizing that most people don’t think like marketers, most ordinary people don’t think like folks in business. And so, as marketers, it is so imperative for us to listen to various pockets of cultural society to expose ourselves to views of activists, to views of those who are pushing back and perhaps pushing different kinds of agendas and really be immersed in culture, politics, social issues more broadly in order to execute much better work that is aware of all the possible interpretations that a marketing message could receive.

Adrian Tennant: Anastasia, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about you or your book, what’s the best way to do so?

Dr. Anastasia Kārkliņa Gabriel: The best way to reach me is on my LinkedIn profile where I post quite a bit about issues of inclusivity and activism and curate a kind of community where I am trying to expose the business community to the discourse and the conversations that, as marketing professionals, we are not often privy to. So that’s where I can be found. And as I always say, DMs are welcome. So I would love to hear from your listeners if they have any thoughts, feedback, or provocations to share.


Adrian Tennant: Well, I’m sure they’ll take you up on that. 

Dr. Anastasia Kārkliņa Gabriel: I’d love that. 

Adrian Tennant: Anastasia, thank you very much for being our guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Dr. Anastasia Kārkliņa Gabriel: Thank you so much for having me. I had a blast, and so appreciate your time and attention.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks again to my guest, Dr. Anastasia Kārkliņa Gabriel, the author of “Cultural Intelligence for Marketers.” As always, you’ll find a full transcript of our conversation and links to the resources we discussed on the Bigeye website at, just select ‘Insights’ from the menu. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.


00:00 – Introduction to the episode
01:49 – Introduction to the book, “Cultural Intelligence For Marketers
05:28 – The Four Cs of Cultural Intelligence
08:08 – Building an Inclusive Marketing Strategy through Cultural Foundation
10:13 – Moving from Performative Marketing to Inclusive Representation
12:01 – Involving the Audience in the Creation of Advertising
13:03 – Shifting Demographics and Marketing Strategies
14:16 – Pitfalls of Using Buzzwords in Inclusive Marketing
18:43 – Examples of Brands Demonstrating Cultural Fluency
21:15 – Dove’s Latest Campaign Centered Around AI
24:00 – Role of Cultural Intelligence at Reddit
26:10 – Common Knowledge Gaps in Marketing Teams
28:43 – The Future of Marketing: Intentionality and Conviction
30:52 – Practical Steps to Become More Culturally Fluent
31:50 – How to Learn More About the Author and Book

And More