Tag Archives: Northstar

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.

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.

Context In Professional Sports is Everything: Especially for Marketers!


In a recent post I gave a preview of some perspective I had gotten from some fieldwork we were doing at Northstar on the cultural context of Hockey for Canadians:

The purpose of this work was to prove that, when it comes to reaching sports fans, understanding the context of spectatorship and “fandom” is critical to truly effective media messaging and reach.

You can learn so much by taking the time to incorporate the study of context into any strategic research initiative.  In this case, we were able to use our contextual exploration to not only create a remarkably robust quantitative assessment tool, but to inform the hypotheses that would bring to light some truly new insights.

I am proud of our team and we are proud of this work.  Here are some of the headlines, courtesy of Yahoo Finance:

http://ca.finance.yahoo.com/news/northstar-studies-nhl-fan-engagement-130200402.html