Monthly Archives: August 2012

Youth Culture Series Part 1: The Evolving Mindset of Global Youth


In the last couple of decades, as Gen Y have come into their own in the U.S., youth culture on a global scale has shifted from a very western-focused, self-centric culture to that of a more holistic and globally unified focus on success rooted in the collective

This shift has occurred in tandem with and as a result of evolutions in communication, globalization and the spread of capitalism as well other potent macroforces that have been changing our human, cultural and consumer landscape.

In future conversations those macroforces will be addressed both as stand-alone phenomena and in connection with youth culture. But for now, lets take a look at the global youth culture and mindset shift that has been observed since the years leading in to the new Millennium:

How has culture changed on the ground?

We can see these shifts brought to life in the day to day culture of youth. For example, in the U.S. “bling” is no longer in the youth lexicon as a fashion-forward ideal of showing off financial success (or aspiration) through flashy brands and expensive shiny things.

Rather, a mindset of financial pragmatism favors fast-fashion from lower-cost retail and less focus on standing out from the crowd. Young adults aren’t flocking to expensive badge brand vehicles, either. Instead they look for life-stage appropriate rides that are both affordable and approachable.

Look to brands like Scion (scion.com) who, after a dramatic shift from their original brand messaging when they launched in 2003, focused on a very timely customization, stand-out-individualism and separatist niche-culture mindset to a more inclusivity and empowerment-based strategy. Notably, since about this time last year (when their new “look” hit the ground running) , their sales have just about doubled.

Social networks have taken the place of cliques: rather than seeking to belong to the “it” group at your school or in your neighborhood, young people can connect to like-minded teens from across town or on the other side of the world, enhancing and expanding their sense of belonging without alienating others.

Ask a recent grad in the U.S. or Canada what their career aspirations are. Chances are they will tell you they are looking for a job that allows them to fulfill a greater purpose and gives them the flexibility to pursue interests and priorities outside of work – and that they are willing to get paid less money as a trade-off. You may even find 29 year-olds who’s early onset midlife crises as caused them to shift careers entirely from something high-powered to another more down-to-earth passion based entrepreneurial venture. Take a look at quarterlives.com (http://www.quarterlives.com/) , a virtual resource devoted to helping young adults navigate their new American Reality).

Look to organizations and movements like the Nexus Global Youth Summit (http://www.nexusyouthsummit.org/) or the global Youth Action Network (www.youthlink.org) and see how young people are finding ways to benefit the greater good on a global scale and improve their local communities. More and more philanthropic and entrepreneurial NGOs and even private-sector focused communities are emerging to empower young people to create the change they want to see in the world and create opportunities for others.

How has the Global Brandscape shifted as a reaction to changing youth culture?

Forward thinking brands are beginning to take notice of the new youth dialogue. In examining macroforces as a business priority, the shift in the more and more influential culture of global youth and young adults is one that will affect mainstream culture at large.

Denizen Jeans is a new global brand from Levi Strauss targeting youth. It launched in 2010 in China and is now available in India, Mexico, Pakistan, Singapore and the US.
If you look to their website (http://www.denizen.com/global_home)  you will see how they define themselves from an inclusivity perspective:
“The dENiZEN® name means “inhabitant” – belonging to a community of family and friends. Denim is in the name, the heart of the brand.”

Having worked on the strategy for this brand from a global cultural exploration perspective, it is definitely a near-and-dear-to-my-heart example, but one that rings true to the shifts we are seeing in youth culture on a global scale – especially where the emerging middle class is concerned.

You also see the increased popularity in social media game platforms like Zynga’s “ville” series (e.g. Farmville and CityVille) and Words With Friends that focus more on social interaction, collaboration and the spirit of “play” than on winning.

And you can look to the occupy movement to show how young adults have lead the charge against inequality and mobilized around a global voice for social change. See the geo-tagged Flickr Site courtesy of The Guardian UK (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/interactive/2011/oct/18/occupy-everywhere-movement-flickr-map)

So what’s next? What should Marketers keep their eyes and ears on?

Platforms for democratization of entrepreneurship that empower socially minded consumers to support upstarts like Kickstarter (www.kickstarter.com) and Etsy (Etsy.com) are just the beginning. The next generation of young consumers will continue to develop new concepts in social empowerment to help others succeed with the support of their like-minded peers.

Global brands that target youth will require a universal brand positioning who’s marketing messages are both globally synchronized and based on a higher order ideal, but able to execute with local relevance. Brands will be required to be part of the solution from the ground up, tapping into a savvy young consumer who’s loyalty will depend on your ability to empower them to succeed…but not at the expense of alienating others.

So remember to take the time to check in with “kids these days” rather than hanging on to long-held stereotypes about youth and rebellion and self-centered irresponsibility as the dominant motivation of younger generations. This kind of old-school thinking will lead marketers down a slippery slope. It’s important to look forward, knowing that global youth are doing the same and waiting to see what brands will do next.

A Peek Into Context: Millennials Blog About Their New American Reality


In my anthropological studies of American youth, I have unearthed a lot of insights about the emerging mindset and values shift towards a more balanced, holistic perspective.  I have even used a turn of phrase to describe how Millennials are no longer seeking the American Dream but living an “American Reality”.

I came across this young blogger (who actually came across another one of my blogs” and thought “here is a brilliant example”.  So, I thought I would share a peek into “James Room”:

Lies My Country Told Me: The Hollow American Dream.

Guest Blogger Feature: Coke’s Tom LaForge On “The New Logic For How To Succeed In Business”


Tom LaForge

Tom LaForge (Photo credit: sociate)

A client and friend of mine, Tom Laforge; Global Director of Human and Cultural Insights at Coca-Cola, sent me a note with the content below and asked if I would allow him a forum on my blog to express his thoughts.

My response was an effusive “but of course”.  I am always eager to hear and spread the thinking of thought leaders in brand strategy, marketing and research.  I have frequently gotten inspiration from Tom, who is a force for spreading the imperative of human understanding at Coca-Cola and a change agent who is helping direct the culture of global brands toward helping to make the world a better place.

I thank you for your insights, Tom.

THE NEW LOGIC FOR HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS

The overall environment in which business is operating is changing in a very simple way. Civil society is becoming more and more empowered every day. This is caused by a lot of things, particularly the internet which provides a ton of information and social media which allows them to share how they feel about that information. Social media also empowers them to do something about it. Smart businesses realize this trend will only continue. If it is not already the dominant force in your industry, it will be by 2020.

This is not a problem for companies that civil society likes. Which ones do they like? The ones that demonstrate that they “care and want for the wellbeing of others as they do their own.”

Business has always been about making money and it still is. What is now becoming increasingly clear is that the best strategy for making money is to be an ally with civil society. When everything a company does and says conveys that they “care and want for the wellbeing of others as they do their own” they are simply employing the most effective strategy for doing what they want to do – make money.

Alexis de Tocqueville called it “self-interest properly understood” by which he meant that you pursue your own self-interest in a way that does not impede others from pursuing their self-interests. Nobody wants to deny companies the right to pursue their own self-interest – they just have to do in a way that does not harm others. Simple.

So do people believe that your firm does indeed “care and want for the wellbeing of others as they do their own?” I hope so, because this is how your company will thrive! When consumers find a company that “cares and wants for the wellbeing of others as they do their own” they flock to it, they Tweet and Facebook about it, they become loyal to it. They recommend and love it.

This is the new logic for how to succeed in business.

 

Macroforces And Changes In Global Consumer Culture: Mass Urbanization


Normal, crowded street in Bombay.

Normal, crowded street in Bombay. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a part of my day-to-day and that of the Chief Culture Officer at Northstar Research, we stay pretty keenly focused on the macroforces that are shaping the world and what that means for humans and consumer culture.
We always encourage our clients and our internal teams to ask three big questions:

“What’s going on out there?”

“Does it matter to us?”

“If so, what are we going to do about it?”

These are pretty basic questions but also pretty big questions.  And in order to really grasp the magnitude of the task it’s important to start with a solid foundation of understanding based on the big picture.

At Northstar, we have focused on 7 big-picture macroforces.   To start off, I would like to talk about one that has been a topic of interest among several of my clients lately:  Mass Urbanization

  • Today, half the world’s population (i.e. 3 billion) lives in urban areas.
  • Three million people move to cities in the developing world every week – mostly from subsistence farms (OECD 2010).
  • Global urban populations will grow by nearly 2 billion in the next 20 years, and by 2050, about 70% of the world’s population will be in cities in the developing world (Nielsen 2011).

So, what does that mean for consumer-focused brands?  Well, for starters it means taking a look at how your organization defines “urban”.  Chances are that conception is skewed by a fairly ethnocentric, western context.  What we view as the realities and lifestyle impact of urban living in the developed world is likely very different from the reality of urbanization as it is evolving, especially in emerging markets.

America and the developed world’s concept of “urban” is rooted in an ethnocentric perspective based on a very specific sociocultural trajectory

From our western point of view, we see Urban life as having a very distinct cultural context:
  • Melting Pot Cities:  a multi-ethnic collection of citizens from diverse backgrounds and geographies who are all both challenged and enriched by one another’s presence
  • Distinct racial divides between the haves and have-nots (in America specifically): in particular, urban “ghetto” culture is characterized by African American and Hispanic minorities
  • A more class-warfare driven concept of street culture and youth culture in particular:  e.g., Rap / Hip-Hop music, street art and graffiti, and celebration of athletic prowess  like Basketball as a “golden ticket” to upward mobility

Bit if you look at the more likely cultural realities of  the mass-migrants to urban areas from a more rural and disconnected upbringing in emerging markets, there is a distinct difference.  In particular, you see a stronger cultural tension between that geography’s deep culture and the culture that is more timely, topical and surface level

New urbanites in emerging markets are likely:

  • Carrying with them internalized “deep culture” from an upbringing steeped in centuries old traditions:  such as deeply held spiritual traditions and family centric values in Eastern cultures
  • Following an accelerated learning curve (compared to the historical trajectory experienced in the developed world)and urban acculturation path: due to the rapid spread of globalization / capitalism and augmented by the proliferation and adoption of communication technology.  People can see both the pros and cons of how capitalism and rapid growth has affected human culture for better or worse…and they are adjusting their consumer behavior according to that information and their assessment of their personal priorities
  •   Experiencing a far more homogeneous ethnic context than in the developed world:  like in India or Asia where most people in urban centers “look alike”  and come from regions with similar socio-political realities and far  more similar (although diverse)  spiritual and cultural traditions

So, that’s a peek at what is “going on out there” from a mass urbanization perspective.  And every company that markets a global brand…especially those with a perceived urban target, should answer in the affirmative to “does it matter to us?”

That being said, there are more macroforces to consider.  Stay tuned.  But if you are a stakeholder on a global brand to consider what the other macroforces mean and what you’re going to do about it…