Category Archives: Anthropology

Coming Together Over Free Coffee: A Starbucks Political Statement and Marketing Magic


 

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The U.S. political environment is pretty bound up these days with the debt ceiling crisis and government shutdowns, etc.  All the CNN and MSNBC addicts among my readers (I imagine quite a few) are likely well aware.  If you look to your Facebook and Twitter feeds you will likely see lots of griping and general dissatisfaction with the inability of our government to be able to work together as a team to solve our financial problems in an effective manner.

How do you get politicians to play nice?  If you watch political dramas on TV (aside from the aforementioned “non fiction” news channels)  like House Of Cards on Netflix then it might seem counter-intuitive and darn near impossible.  But Starbucks CEO Howard Schulz would like to think that we can all get along and encourage collaboration – ease the bind in our governments bowels by lubricating the works with a steaming hot cup of coffee!  In that spirit, there is lots of “free marketing buzz” around the  Starbucks free brewed coffee promotion  being activated this week at Starbuck’s nationwide.

The concept:  today through Friday if you buy a cup of coffee for a friend or coworker you get one free.   The political message Starbucks is serving up:  let citizens lead by example by demonstrating a spirit of generosity, togetherness and collaboration.   Obviously more of a marketing ploy to tap in to the political sensibility of those first-worlders with enough taxable income to be concerned about the debt crisis (and spend several dollars a day on coffee) than an effective political activism tactic – but it leverages a warm fuzzy social fact that connects well with the brand – the idea of coffee as a social lubricant in America.

I applaud Starbucks for being so intuitive with their brand strategy in that regard.   Just like tea in Great Britain (and Asia for that matter), cigarettes in China (among only-child teens and twenty-somethings  who seek to make friends by sharing smokes) and other forms of social bonding over consumables – Coffee in the US represents the spirit of community.  It’s why Starbucks was able to so successfully launch a “third space” coffee house chain whereby people can find another place to be and hangout over hat’s not their office or a bar but still offers a stimulating incentive to get together.  The coffee house trend became popular during the Beat era in the US and saw a resurgence during the 90′s.   This was reflected in popular culture with TV shows like Friends  where the cast of New Yorker characters would regularly meet at the “Central Perk” coffee house to catch up and bond over life’s big and little situations.  :)

It’s a far cry to think that congress can solve the world’s problems by integrating some slow-drinking caffeine and cozy couches into their collaboration process. Methinks a bottle of Jack Daniels would go a little further, but I digress.

In any case – this narcissistic anthropologist can appreciate some good strategy – albeit a bit transparent – when she sees it.  I raise my cup of Joe to the marketers who can find ways to make political statements while also making money.

 

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The Future of a Global, Mobile Internet: Context Is Everything to Emerging Communications and Tech Brands


I have been receiving emails for a few weeks now from internetserviceproviders.org asking me to look at their infographics for potential sharing on my blog. In this case, the relentless communication has paid off.

I thought this particular graphic, rife with statistics (some dated, and some perhaps questionable, but still thought-provoking) was interesting. I have a friend who is currently working in the telecommunication’s field, doing ethnographic projects exploring emerging markets in Latin America and Africa.

I think it will be interesting to dig deep into the context of interpersonal communication and the role of the internet / mobile internet in socialization, education, business and other aspects of life. The numbers promise the potential of some great deep culture / surface culture stories that could lead to the development of some very meaningful brands if those companies make a point (like the one my friend is working for) to listen.

That success will come from empathy for context.  And empathy starts, however, with an awareness of cultural relativism: the idea that one’s assumptions about behavior and cultural norms based on one’s  own cultural experience are not necessarily true in other cultures.  I think the numbers only tell one part of the story:  the opportunity.  Many corporations make the mistake of seeing a number and  translating it into dollar figures as an opportunity for business growth but not going deep enough into the human side of the opportunity.    I’m excited that my friend is working for a company that makes a point to examine that opportunity.  In this industry, especially – the impact of human understanding can be enormous: not just from a business perspective for his employer, but to the degree to which that company can deliver products and services that truly enhance the lives of their customers.

An interesting time we live in.  So, let t he numbers inspire some thought.  I’m interested in what some of my readers in the regions mentioned here feel are points of context that telecommunications providers should consider in developing their products and services.

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Culture Trumps Strategy


I was recently interviewed by a gentleman named Francois Gossieaux, co-author of The Hyper-Social Organization and co-founder of C Suite 2.0 

The topic was the role the study of culture plays (or should play) in the business of brand strategy.

Here is a “taste” of the article, but for more, including full text and a link to the full podcast interview, click HERE

My first episode of the Culture Trumps Strategy show with Jamie Gordon, the VP of Anthropology at Northstar, was a great one. Jamie always thought of herself as a participant observer in her own life, which led her to become an anthropologist. She learned the ropes as a consumer anthropologist by working for market research and brand strategy firms.

Jamie uses a framework called the study of context to understand and predict consumer behavior in the marketplace. The study of context consists of understanding what she calls the three C’s, which are the three layers of context that are relevant:

  • Client/Category Context – Understanding what happens to them as an organization and within the product category.
  • Cultural Context – The large macro cultural trends that are going on in the world and that might affect the space being researched. This is also where they also look deep cultural aspects vs. trendy things that might affect the buying behavior.
  • Consumer Context – What influences them in their world, and how do they interact with others in their inner circle.The idea is to find the sweet spot of where those three C’s overlap. This method also dispels the more traditional, but increasingly unrealistic, model where you have companies on the one side that create things and put them out in the marketplace with a target consumer in mind, and the consumer on the other side waiting for the company to produce something. While this model may have existed at some point, it does not lend itself to innovation and evolution.

Companies now need to understand that their customers are human first before they are people who buy and consume things. And as humans we are influenced and constrained by what is going on around us – our cultures. It is that culture which will determine what we buy and how we consume things. And the producers are humans first as well, and while they are in the business of creating trends, they are also consumers. So these days products are the result of a cyclical dialog among humans – both from the consumer side and from the producer side. It is this rich dialog that allows for innovation to happen.

A Perspective On The Context Of Millennial Brand Engagement From the AMA


I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel hosted by my company, Northstar Research Partners, for a discussion on Millennials at a meeting of the Toronto chapter of the AMA.
Below is a clip from that event where I am responding to a conversation about Millennials as consumers and the importance of brands having a dialogue.  It was such an interesting conversation and I was delighted to share the stage with Nicole Galluci from Boom Marketing and Greg Ambrose from Coca Cola Canada.

How Millennials’ American Dream Has Become An American Reality and What It Means For Brands


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Back in 2000 when I began my professional consumer anthropology career, I was working in brand strategy and my focus was “youth” – in particular, helping my clients understand how to connect with Millennials. At that time, they were in a generational age range that comprised everyone from pre-tweens to recent college grads.

To say they are a generation that has gone through a lot of change is an understatement. Pre 2001, Millennials were the new frontier for marketers: having come of age in a time of prosperity and respective peace. They were characterized based on their over-scheduled lifestyles, purchase power (both with regard to their own spending as well as their influence over parent’s purchases), optimism and high expectations for their future and general savvy and awareness of their importance as consumers / desire to be catered to with regard to customized products and experiential marketing.

Then, in 2001, 9-11 irreversibly rocked their thus far un-cracked foundation. They realized very quickly that they were indeed not the center of the universe and that their world was not the invincible bubble they thought it was. While still optimistic about their futures, they began re-evaluating their priorities – in particular the importance of family and community and having a support system. They became more invested in close ties to their parents, tradition and religion as a source of guidance in a now very uncertain social reality. Their parents became even more involved in their lives and developed increasingly peer-like relationships whereby open dialogues about anything from social coming-of-age issues to personal family financial issues became fair game.

Then as an even larger group of Millennials were graduating college and entering / rounding out their first several years in the work force, America’s previously untouchable economy took a nose dive. The “dot bomb” crash that happened during the span of time between 2000 and 2012 didn’t have nearly the impact that the economic crisis of 2007 and 2008 where they witnessed the collapse of everything from the housing markets to financial institutions and automotive companies.
They watched their parents, who had in many cases sacrificed many of the fundamentals of family life and quality time in favour of two-income households and financial security, lose their jobs, investments and homes and consequently became sucked up by a wave of distrust in corporations and institutions. Not to mention they were entering a less than optimal work force, if they could get a job at all.

Many Millennials ended up back at home with their parents after college and / or back in school trying to give themselves a leg up. But net / net they ended up a generation caught in limbo as they tried to bust out of their socially-induced extended adolescence into adulthood.

Now, looking at America’s new generation of young adults and young families, the American Dream has morphed into a new American Reality. How has this impacted their outlook? There are positives and negatives to the realities they have experienced:

Technological Innovation: Lets not forget the power that evolution in communication technology has had toward creating a profoundly connected and savvy generation. Despite the many challenges faced from a socio-political and economic standpoint, this generation is the most empowered by access to information and one another. They have embraced virtual platforms in knowledge sharing and networking to connect to one another and activate not just an American culture but also participate in a global culture entrepreneurship and change. They are spearheading the conceptual economy empowered by technology and as a result are creating a new type of workforce and making headway on securing a brighter future for their generation and those to come.

Social networking platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn provide unparalleled connection resources. Online media platforms like YouTube, WordPress and Reddit also allow unparalelled access to getting your message out there and sharing those that are most worthy. Millennials have the power to create their own media influences rather than being subject to them and that makes all the difference in empowering a generational culture.

Raising their Voice: Having born witness to the onset of financial, social and political instability both on their own turf and around the world, American youth have taken activism and addressing social issues to a new level. Social responsibility has become a part of the fabric of their being and they use all the resources at their disposal to make it part of their day to day: using technology platforms as well as their spending power to support good causes and raise up new ones every day.

From Kickstarter (an alternative funding platform for entrepreneurs) and Etsy (online shopping for hand crafted goods) to programs like the “It Gets Better” project (itgetsbetter.org) that combats the high suicide rate among gay and lesbian youth by showcasing inspiring video messages from celebrities and adult gays and lesbians who have been there and moved on. Not to mention movements like Occupy, the growing “green” consumption and local food trends that have had multi-generational influence by have been embraced and championed by younger consumers.

Financial pragmatism: With all of the financial instability this generation has experienced, budgeting, discounts and smart spending are a permanent part of their vernacular. Young people tend to be stereotyped with expectations of behaviour geared toward instant gratification and peacocking (in this day and age with brands, etc.). But Millennials are far from short-sighted and frivolous. They are entering the workforce carrying student loan debt, paying off credit cards and delaying expensive purchases.

There are apps galore (like Scout Mob and Foursquare) to help them save money . They seek advice from their parents on considered purchases like cars, opting for practicality versus flash and unlike any other previous generation are more inclined to give up four wheels all together for alternative transportation. In a recent study, nearly half of 18-24 year old drivers said that if forced to make the choice they would rather have access to the Internet over a car!

Holistic Balance-Seekers: Their financial pragmatism is only part of the bigger picture. Inspired by lessons-learned form watching parents pay the price for commitment to work and making money over following their passions and spending more time with family, Millennials have been forging a new path to fulfilment. Having watched the aforementioned financial collapse, they are realizing there is more to life than building net worth. This is a generation who would rather have a job with purpose or one that fuels their passions then make lots of money.

Many Millennials have, however, taken that traditional route only to have early-onset midlife crises. I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had with disillusioned late twenty-somethings who have already burned out on their high paying professional careers and decided to go back to school or start an entrepreneurial endeavour that makes them happy. One young lawyer told me “I’m 29 and already burned out. I’m sick of working 70-hour weeks for something I’m not passionate about. I’ve decided to quit and put together a business plan to open up a bakery.”

Entrepreneurial Motivation: Lest you think that this New American Reality has beaten Millennials down, be reassured that this generation is nothing if not resilient. They have all kinds of power in their hands and they know how to use it. On the brink of an emerging conceptual economy they are bursting with ideas, energy and entrepreneurial spirit. Millennials are empowered by technological, social and economic platforms of their own creation (per previously mentioned examples) to find their niche and succeed. They may try on several careers in their lifetimes, but they will definitely not stop until they have gotten it right, setting the stage for “Gen Z” and others to come by showing them that not only can you change the system from within the system, but you can create a whole new one…all you need is the will and you can find the way.

So how do you make sure your brand is relevant to today’s savvy and empowered Millennial customer?

Empower their ambition: be a source of support and inspiration and provide platforms that help forward their entrepreneurial spirit

Listen to them: Brand building and innovation should be a dialogue, not a monologue…and who better to help you evolve then a generation committed to new concepts and ideas!

Use technology to facilitate connections: Don’t be afraid to connect with your customers. Utilizing online and mobile platforms is a smart way to connect with Millennials in their context and shows your commitment to dialogue.

Be a source of stability: for brands who have sustained over time, longevity is an asset and can have strong emotional resonance with this generation who has seen a lot of turmoil in their young lives. Authenticity – a hallmark of brand value for Millennials, starts with having a heritage to call upon.

Be Optimistic: a positive attitude is contagious. Make your brand an easy choice by virtue of its good energy.

Have a point of view and walk the walk: Millennials seek to live lives of purpose and gravitate toward brands that can express a unique purpose of their own. Take ownership of your brand’s perspective and make a point to consistently communicate that voice in your marketing communications and activate that within your corporate culture. They will know and if they trust in your intention they will also follow.

Most importantly, take the time to understand their context and take the initiative to understand how and where your brand fits. A little insight goes a long way in making human connections that can seed la generation of loyal customers

Self Driving Cars: What Is The Ultimate Impact of Low-Effort Mobility?


Self Driving Cars: What Is The Ultimate Impact of Low-Effort Mobility?.

Macroforces and Changing Consumer Culture: Advancing Human Insights


At Northstar, we continue to keep an eye on macroforces that are driving change in global culture and consequently consumer culture.   A recent post discussed Mass Urbanization and its implications for consumer culture :https://thebrandsherpa.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/macroforces-and-changes-in-global-consumer-culture-part-1-mass-urbanization/

In the spirit of helping our clients and peers continue to answer the questions of “What’s going on out there, does it matter to us and if so what are we going to do about it” I would like to elaborate on another  of the several macroforces we are keeping an eye on and what it means for the future of consumer culture.

It is important to note here that the macroforces impacting our lives do not all necessarily exist in a vacuum.  Rather, they can indeed influence and be influenced by one another.  The macoroforce of Advancing Human Insights is one such phenomenon that is remarkably influenced and formed by advances in communication technology as well as globalization.  It also, as force that is gaining momentum, is perhaps the most strongly human-culture driven force out there.  We designate it as a macoforce because it is a phenomenon that has gained very strong momentum in a short period of time and is having a significant impact on life as we know it.

We see this macroforce present in trends such as

  • Ongoing advances in food and nutrition
  • Increasing focus on fitness and healthy lifestyles
  • Monitoring of global happiness as a measure of success, e.g.: Gross National Happiness, The Happy Planet Index, The Relative Happiness Index

Following in the footsteps of Nicolas Sarkozy, UK Prime Minister David Cameron has directed the Office of National Statistics to develop metrics to measure the UK’s “general well-being.” Happiness indices have received a fair amount of press in recent years since Nobel Laureate economists Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen began advocating a move away from a exclusively economic view of gross domestic product towards a model that takes into account less concrete measures, such as sustainability and, yes, well-being.

So how does this evolution impact consumer culture?

For starters, it will have an impact on our global workforce.  Especially in more developed economies, we will see fewer workers willing to sacrifice lifestyle balance for the sake of a big paycheck.  Definitions of success will becoming increasingly rooted in ability to be happy, healthy, socially and financially successful.  This is in opposition, of course, to the relentless pursuit of financial success.   That means values will become more important than status and thus consumers will increasingly scrutinize their spending priorities based on the value products and brands bring to their life and the lives of others.

Consumers will also continue to be more mindful of health and wellness and how their consumption contributes or detracts from that pursuit.

They will begin to increasingly embrace the power they have to both pursue their own happiness and personal fulfillment as well as impact that of others: locally and globally.

Consumers in the developed world will start seeking more wisdom from “old world” cultural roots on how to live a fulfilling life.  There will be a strong spiritual influence here as well as the influence of longstanding cultural traditions.  We will seek our roots to seek meaning and ultimately rediscover our “humanity”.

Consumers will begin to require more substance than style and more art than efficiency.  They will seek ways to use their consumption to forward the pursuit of happiness of others close to them and those they connect to around the world.

What does it mean for brands?
Brands and companies will increasingly be judged not just by their products and marketing but also by their corporate culture:  Is it a place people like to work? Do they treat their employees well?  What are their sustainability policies?  Transparency is a new reality and consumers are increasingly looking to discover the human side of business.

Companies and services that help consumers find and manage balance in their lives by facilitating health and wellness, fitness, self reflection, personal time and even the simplicity of “fun” will grow and thrive in this changing consumer landscape.

Brands with an authentic voice that help to make the world a constructively happy place will also thrive.  Marketing messaging is powerful and global brands that can help humans find  common ground rooted in a more balanced and positive way of life will win a good amount of loyalty, with the side effect of helping to make the world a better in the process.

When all is said and done, the companies and brands that will survive will be those who, from the inside out, do as much as they can to serve their consumers by anticipating and delivering against their increasingly human needs to be better.  This is not an idealist philosophy. It is foresight based on a preponderance of  empirical evidence leading to sociological and anthropological fact.  This global advancement of human insights is directing change in consumer culture at a rapid pace and those brands and companies that can embrace that reality in their heads as well as their hearts and activate against it in business strategies  will no doubt see sustainable ROI as they help consumers lead the way toward a more “human” future.