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Big Orange Slide

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

Culture Shock: Part 1

July 21, 2011 by Jacoub Bondre

Illustration by Nancy Ng

This is the first in a series of articles based off the presentation “Culture Shock,” which was presented at NXNE Interactive Festival on June 16th 2011.

It is no secret to anyone that the Internet and social media have fundamentally affected how society functions, and therefore how industries must shift to meet the demands of their changing consumer landscape. Some companies have fallen, while others have excelled in this new marketing age.

Social media has ushered in seismic shifts in terms of demographics and social and cultural hierarchies. To mind mind, these shifts can be categorized thusly:

- The expansion or shattering of culture
- The decline of authority
- The leveling of the playing field

I see a unique opportunity for both consumers and brands in the convergence of these three factors. In each case, consumers to have greater and more direct influence over the brands they love, while brands have a chance to forge (or regain) a connection to their consumers, a subject I mentioned in an article I wrote a while back.

Each category requires a bit of unpacking. For the next couple weeks, I will address each of the three, and invite you to aggressively detract from or defend my reasoning. Debate is, after all, at the centre of this idea.

Let’s begin with the first one.

The Expansion and Shattering of culture

Picture yourself throwing pebbles into a pool of perfectly still water. This pool represents society, while the pebbles represent perspective or opinion.

As little as 20 years ago, the church, media (TV, Radio, Print ), government and academia were the mainstream sources of perspective. These pebbles would hit the surface of the pool and create a ripple.  These ripples would overlap and mix. Depending on your demographic, you would be exposed to varied amounts of these opinions.

With few major contributors to social dialogue, demographics were easy to read, and easy to serve. But now is a different story. A perfect storm of technology and the impact of globalization have turned everything “we” know about “you” on its head.

With millions of pebbles, demographics are becoming increasingly difficult to read.

The high school analogy

In Grant McCracken’s book “Chief Culture Officer” he talks about a study he did in high schools in North America.

According to him, there were two types of students in the 50s: “squeaky clean, or James Dean.” In the late 80s to mid-90s those categories had broadened a fair bit. In the John Hughes classic “Ferris Bueller’s Day Of,” “the sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies [and] dickheads” all “think he’s a righteous dude.” That’s a fair few for sure.

As the world gets “smaller”, or rather as communication over large distances became easier, cultures and opinions mixed, creating more and more subcultures.

Now if you go to a high school in North America you will realize you can no longer pin a student to any one group. The same kid with long hair pulling an ollie at the skate park can very likely also be the captain of the chess team. Social media has accelerated the rate in which culture and opinion is shared, and therefore accelerated how they get splintered and shattered.

At NXNE I asked the audience, by show of hands, “Who has both hip hop and bluegrass on their playlist?” This being a broad range of age groups (14-65+) and professional backgrounds (from authors to marketers), it was still surprising to see that pretty much everyone in the room raised their hand.

But how is this relevant to marketers? Well, consider that line of the brief that outlines “who we are talking to.” While the storytelling behind the target consumer is more closely defined, we are still often trapped in defining demographics in incredibly general terms – “Males, 18-24.” The trouble is, people are much more sophisticated than they used to be. Cultural and behavioural lines have blurred. It requires brands to take a much more personal approach to marketing. It takes research, time and dialogue to get at precise behaviour and motivations. Hence, the role of anthopological and sociological research has become an incredibly important tool for marketers.

What do you think? How do you define your demographics for your clients or your products?

Next week: the role of authority

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