Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Photo by tsmall
In a world where natural disasters are the norm, I’ve become intrigued by of the idea of pop-up structures. Pop-up retail, pop-up museums, pop-up soup kitchens. Somehow, temporary has a new appeal. It offers intensity—a willingness to exchange ideas more honestly because you’re not afraid to sh_t where you eat.

Inspired, we’ve begun experimenting with Pop-up Think Tanks. Asked to help a client forecast adoption rates for a social innovation 18 months prior to launch, we mingled thought leaders, consumer influencers and channel partners. We set a rigorous half-day agenda. Everyone had to present something. It was like an add-water-and stir micro-TED.

Our biggest worry was whether or not the group’s chemistry would click. So we provided an emotionally intelligent “ringer.” You know, that person who likes people and can get conversation out of a stone.

Voila! It worked. Yes, yes we’d change a dozen things. But for now we are popping up our laptops to track the ripple effect as the group stays connected.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Indie Consumers Dodge Cultural Cliches

Indie brand backlash is upon us, but indie consumers prove creatively loyal. A new study shows that taste-maker consumers who strongly identify with indie products find creative ways to stay loyal to their brands even when those brands go mainstream and are trivialized as “hip.” The study was published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

The authors further assert that mythic brands — Harley-Davidson bikes or Chanel, for instance — can reach a cultural tipping point where a marketplace myth degenerates into a cultural cliché. While earlier research has suggested that some consumers will abandon brands once they are no longer associated with positive meanings by tastemakers, the authors found that many consumers are able to “demythologize” their consumption practices. They proactively distance themselves from “hipster” labels and keep on buying what they like.

The authors interviewed individuals who participated in the indie marketplace as consumers or tastemakers (such as DJs and music critics). The researchers did not mention hipsters in the interview. "Interestingly all participants but one wanted to talk about how they were mistaken for, or accused of being a hipster just because they were consuming indie products," the authors write.

Friday, August 27, 2010

What is it About 20-Somethings?

If you haven’t yet read the article “What is it About 20-Somethings?” that appeared in the New York Times, do. I tweeted it last week and got emails, txts and direct tweets back thanking me. As 20-somethings pack up for college, the piece offers a great discussion starter.

“Thx 4 this. Discussing it now,” texted my friend, who’s riding shot-gun in a minivan from Chicago to drop off her daughter at an east-coast college.

But more than just a good conversation starter among the generations, the article holds a precious insight for marketers. Namely, that between 15 and 23 adolescents show an increase in sensation seeking, greater susceptibility to media influences and overreliance on peer relationships. No surprise there. But it’s the age grouping that matters.

We’ve all been in those strategy meetings where people play fast and loose with age groupings. “Our target audience is 18-35 year olds.” Well, if you want your brand to make an impact, isn’t it best to reach the audience most open to your message? The article is a great read that helps sharpen our focus.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

We've Moved (Our Blog)

We’re excited to be relaunching our blog in its new location on our site. Since 2004, the Culture Scout blog has shared research, commentary, survey results, and been a source for serious play about marketing. But it was time to move it off the home page and give it a little more elbow room to take on fresh, more daring content.

The url for the Culture Scout blog will remain the same, blog.patricia-martin.com. Those of you coming to patricia-martin.com will find some new navigation options to explore the site and can find a link to the blog in the right column (if you don't see the new homepage, try clearing your cache and clicking the link again). RSS and e-mail feed subscribers to the Culture Scout blog should not be affected by the changes. Not a subscriber? Add us to your feed reader now!

Got a minute? We’d love to hear your thoughts on the new homepage. Post your comments!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The 21st Century Business Culture Needs a New Work Ethic

Making the intangible tangible is like pulling off a magic trick. People working on an innovative concept often struggle to explain the benefits of their idea in concrete terms. More vexing is hiring and training someone to work in a highly innovative way when they have come from a more structured work culture. Chances are, they’ll either rise to the occasion, or continue to ask questions that’ll eat up valuable time and will swiftly burn through the goodwill of co-workers. This is poison for highly creative and collaborative working environments.

So, how do we set the bar for the innovative work ethic?  By sitting down and articulating the values (intangible) and concomitant actions (tangible) that we expect to see, that’s how. Netflix does an amazing job of articulating their values and making them concrete and actionable. In a hurry, zoom to slide 10...

I continue to hear from clients that they are shunting people off of projects who can’t dive in and produce. The 21st century needs a new work ethic. One that’s committed to highly creative, collaborative cultures that accomplish, "amazing amounts of work despite ambiguity.” (Slide 11, I think.)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

"Superclogger": Where Free Theater Meets Culture Commentary

Speaking as a recently licensed driver (since March) and a brand-new car owner (as of three weeks ago), I can whole-heartedly vouch for the fact that it doesn't take long to get sick of driving. Sure, I love my car--and all the freedom and independence it symbolizes. But after rush hour, city-parking, and hoping the Google directions are accurate, most days, I'd rather bike. And traffic! One awful day this summer, I spent two hours sitting on 1-94--all to travel about ten miles. Believe me, I tried to stay cool. I took some deep breaths, listened to quiet music--all to no avail. The longer I sat there, the edgier I got. That's the worst thing about traffic. There's no way to tell when things will get moving again. There's no way to get ahead or around it. There's nothing to do but wait.

Now, I've never been to Los Angeles, but I've heard they have some of the worst traffic in the country. Forget rush hour--L.A.'s freeways are perpetually clogged. This makes them the perfect setting for "Superclogger", artist Joel Kyack's mobile puppet show which is inspired by--you guessed it--being stuck in traffic.

It all starts with a white Mazda which Kyack and his fellow-puppeteer Michael Hayden have rigged with an FM radio hookup. They get in the car, listen to traffic reports, and wait for the word that one of L.A.'s major highways is especially jammed. Once they're good and stuck, they open the back of the truck and drop a sign that says "Please tune to 89.5FM"--the station that broadcasts the soundtrack to their show.

The show is sponsored by LAXART, a non-profit focused on promoting and responding to contemporary art in the Los Angeles area. "Superclogger" has also made good use of promotion by way of social media--they're using Twitter to announce when and where they'll be on the road. They have dates scheduled through September, so if you live in L.A., catch 'em while you can.

So why are they doing this? Sure, they want to make people laugh. But Kyack says what he really wants is to make drivers think--particularly ones who regularly feel as frustrated as I did that afternoon. "It's how you navigate, how you make the world that you want around you, and how you compromise with what the world's giving you," he explains. "And I think that formally, the traffic jam is sort of the perfect metaphor to explore that."

For dates and more info, see the show's website.

--Mo Hickey

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Myths Marketers Can't Shake

Myths exist for a reason. They're communally shared interpretations of the human experience. So what if they are misguided? People cleave to them. In times of gale-force social change, myths are like comfort food.

People in business have their own set of myths. Some of them are gender based:

1. Men rule business. Most B2B marketing is very masculine as a result. This, despite the fact that in California alone 44% of all businesses are owned or co-owned by women. Just because the facts contradict the myth doesn't mean marketing tactics will change anytime soon.

2. Moms rule retail. Hartman Group has a new white paper on how the grocery aisle's demographic is being diversified with a variety of alternative players. Are we missing an opportunity to sell more meaningfully? Or will we cling to the Mom-shopper myth like apple pie? Check it out for yourself.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Levi Strauss and Goodwill Tag Team to Save the Planet

There’s nothing like cleaning out closets to put a person in touch with overconsumption. I felt relief when I dropped off a giant load of stuff at Goodwill recently. My belongings were headed for a second life--not a landfill.

Levi Strauss & Co. is tuning into the anxiety it causes its customers to discard sturdy, but no-longer useful jeans. By incorporating Goodwill’s new “Care Tag for Our Planet” symbol into its product labeling, the blue jean icon creates an innovative take on product care labeling. Part of taking care of the jeans, the tag instructs, is recycling them responsibly.

"The Care Tag for Our Planet partnership started an important dialogue about donating jeans to protect the environment and support local communities," said Michael Kobori, Levi's vice president for social and environmental sustainability, reports The Cause Marketing Forum. "We're thrilled that Goodwill is now expanding the "Donate Movement" nationally so even more companies and consumers join the conversation about reuse through donation."

By the way, I did not hand over my Levis. Other jeans, yes. My love affair with 501's continues to the last patch.

Thanks to David Hessekiel of CM Forum for sharing the story.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Google Alarm Wakes World Up to Privacy Issues

If you've spent any time on the web in the last few months, you're aware that internet privacy is a hot topic right now. Facebook, of course, is consistently in the foreground of the debate, but Google, Yahoo and others are also facing the heat. But for all the time we spend talking about it, the concept of privacy remains abstract. That's what's so scary about it. We can't see it, can't pin it down--and when it comes to the internet, we usually don't know that it's been violated until after the fact. 

So what if you could know when your privacy was being threatened? What if you could know right as it was happening? 

Enter Google Alarm. It's a new browser plug-in that makes a loud buzzing sound whenever users visit a site that relays information to Google. This includes outside websites--not just Google-related ones. 

The plug-in was created by Jamie Wilkinson, a technologist and Internet researcher unaffiliated with Google. His vision for the alarm is that it will take the confusion out of browsing privacy. "The collection of data through these tracking bugs that are installed all over the Web is normally a very silent experience," he says. "My hope is to make it something more visceral, and raise awareness about the issue." Mission accomplished. Despite how you feel about it, nothing gets a user's attention like his or her computer making a sound like an air raid alert. 

Read more on the story here.

--Mo Hickey

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

But Will It Make Me Happy? Part 1

This week, my son is in L.A. scouting future employment before he finishes his senior year in college. My daughter begins college next week. My house will be empty, except for our belongings.

The purge is underway. I emptied an entire closet last night. With it, comes new consciousness about defines value. According to the recent NY Times article, “But Will it Make You Happy?” unencumberment is the new Mercedes Benz. Debt ridden and anxious, Americans no longer feel good that a trip to the mall will lift their spirits. In fact, it may do the opposite. Culturally, we are unhitching our wagons from the shiny star of conspicuous consumption.

Some marketers argue that this phenomenon is not widespread. Consider that the article was the “most emailed” this week.

As my last book predicted, a new generation of consumers has emerged—people willing to carve out lives based on community, sharing, and creative making-do. Stripped down and debt-free, the Renaissance Generation is mastering what Guy Kawasaki once told me was going to be the killer app of the next decade: low overhead.

Where does this leave American businesses like retail, hospitality and manufacturing? What now? Consider these three things in your marketing:
1. Values like “belonging” are replacing one-ups-man ship. People will want to gather, make memories, and celebrate rites of passage now more than ever.
2. Transfer knowledge. Give people new ideas and ways to use things. Provide useful information they can share with their tribe.
3. Join forces. Take collective action. Become part of the local solution. Brands that are not engaged in helping communities improve rejuvenate and re-define community living will not remain relevant.

I’m curious. When you look in your closet, garage, storage locker.…which items still make you happy?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Why a Logo Is Not Brand-The New Cultural Imperative

Joe Duffy is a brand ID guru. For more than 30 years, he's been designing logos. Now, he thinks logos are highly overrated. "As great as it is to see the brand's essence distilled down into a tiny little graphic device, even when it's done properly (which is rare, by the way), it can only be one of many moving parts create a connection between a brand and its intended audience," he says. 

Duffy argues that what brands need today are a complete 'language' that is unique to them. This language must encompass every point of contact with the audience so that they know way the brand looks, sounds, even smells. It should convey in honest terms why the brand is right for its intended participants and why consumers should join up and be part of the brand's team.

What Duffy is suggesting is that brands must carry enough signal power to be intellectually and sensorially experienced as a cultural phenomenon. Think about any ritualized cultural phenomenon. Consider "Back to School" across the United States. Back to School is a highly ritualized event that evokes a variety of sensory experiences: the smell of new books and crayons, the bright white of clean paper, the stiffness of new clothes, the first chill of fall in the air... Duffy argues that a brand can and should aspire to the same multisensory recognition.

It's no longer enough for brands to get our attention. They must now infuse their essence into our lives. Is it time to gather your team and create the cultural code book for your brand? A while back, we facilitated such a process for a client. It had many positive results, but the most important was that it helped everyone in their organization understand their role in the sales process. Everyone learned the brand language. Everyone could speak with enthusiasm and confidence. Everyone could sell.

Check out Duffy's new webinar on brand identity.

Photo by HannaPritchett

Friday, August 6, 2010

Rogue Eat Pray Love Trailer on YouTube— Hack or Product Placement?

Adam Sacks recently posted a faux trailer for a make-believe sequel to Taken starring Liam Neeson. I can’t decide if it’s just Adam’s humorous take on the promotional frenzy surrounding the release of Eat Pray Love, or if it’s a satiric product placement deal for the book and movie.

Adam? I love your work, so tell us…which is it?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

What I Learned By Shutting Up

More and more, it seems offline action taken collectively is what will rebuild what’s broken in the world. Clay Shirky’s new book has some good examples.

The more I study collective action, from Tanzania to Toronto, the more I uncover the important step of creating a shared agenda. It begins with problem consensus.

Take, for example, a group of farmers in Indonesia blighted with crop failure. Root rot, many suspected. But the experts from the extension service didn’t rush to judgment. Instead, they did something radical for experts. They came into the village, set up, and shut up.

They gathered the farmers and asked that they share their observations. One wondered out loud if it was possible to look at the roots more closely. Microscopes were brought in. There were tiny worms devouring the roots - not root rot. They had immediate consensus on the problem. Then, collective action could take place.

Experts can advise. Experts can stimulate new thinking by asking the right questions. But if what we are after is collective action where things get done, not just talked about—then sometimes the experts have to do something counter-intuitive. They must shut up. And let the community find its way to the nature of the problem, and the agenda for action.

Enough said.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Path to Clarity: Ask Yourself One Question

I’m one of those people who thinks ideas are sexy. I am a high-concept sensualist. But lately, it seems that falling in love with our ideas or theories can be deadly. It can actually make us stupid.

Having decided something, we become partially blind to evidence which challenges our choice. Social psychologists call this a "confirmation bias".

I'm slowly learning to be more skeptical about my own ideas and more open to the ideas of other people. Lee Clow, the famous Chiat/Day ad man noted for his path-breaking work with Nike and Apple brands, used to keep a slip of paper in his pocket that said, “The other guy may be right.”

The world is filled with stubborn problems. Digital culture is a lightning-fast vector for raising issues. But what happens then? Without a course of action we are doomed to a relentless churn cycle of posturing. We become convinced about things that should be questioned.

We may be entering a time when it’s better to be wrong than blindly convinced.

In a culture undergoing profound change, is self-doubt the new wisdom?