Skate to where the puck is going

Cultural forces of change, micro-trends, and category conventions have more power over your category than you do. 

All corporations know that changes from outside the corporation cause the greatest upheaval. Despite this, at great peril, few spend much time looking outside their category, their product, and their consumer.

Be the one who kills your own product

Change is the only constant you can count on . . . 

Even when you own and define your category.

Even when you are both a noun and verb for your category.

Even when you are the name and subject of a chart-topping song.

Even then, waves of cultural change will sweep in and change everything. You can ride the waves or be drowned by them.

Below are glimpses into a few of the older deep dives into societal forces that were impacting categories, communications, and brands.

Powerful cultural trends lead to forces of change

Societal mega-trends change slowly but those that persist become powerful levers to force change.

Because these forces influence your business powerfully, it’s critical to stay on top of both the trends and forces they will fuel.

Identity crisis

Opportunities and risk emerge at the intersection of cultural change and enduring human needs.

This has been a powerful force for male identity. As this change has gained traction, some men have been in an identity crisis free-fall.

Historically, the role of men has been to provide wealth. The rise of women and the collapse of the middle-class has stripped many men of the ability to see themselves as successful.

However, those who jumped into the solution revolution (often unknowingly) entered a territory that has garnered elevated status. Interestingly, it’s a territory that subtly harkens back to one of our earliest icons — the cowboy.

Men are born to succeed, not to fail.
–Henry David Thoreau

One of our most powerful and enduring cultural icons

In 2011, we conducted an exploratory about the meaning and relevance of America’s most enduring icon. While often portrayed in shallow terms, the meaning of the cowboy lies deep and resonant in the psyche of Americans. Below is a glimpse into what the exploration unearthed.

Mythic allure

The cowboy is a mythic icon representing the spirit of America. He’s a reflection of the best in, and best of, people. The idea of the cowboy is about individuality within community. It’s about one man working among many – both with others and on his own. It’s about taming the land without destroying it. Doing what’s right because it’s right. It’s about hard work and accepting risk. It’s about respecting and conquering nature. It’s about humility. And economy. It’s about loyalty and integrity. Community and family. It’s about blazing new trails and creating a better life. It’s about the promise of a new day. It’s not about the cowboy, it’s not about the costume, it’s about the cowboy way.

“I’m a stranger in a land I used to know. Everything has changed ‘cept some things inside of me... how’d I get so far away?” –Far Away, Marty Stuart

Universal archetypes

Archetypes can be a powerful way to understand roles and expectations when you have a diverse audience.  We identified customer archetypes for a major automotive company to assist with messaging and program development.

Framing and metaphor is necessary to say what you believe because most thought is unconscious. That is, it is below the level of consciousness.

Elements of culture and forces that change them

One way you can look at the forces of change is by understanding the kind of influence the forces of change are having on key elements of our culture. When we look at these forces, we explore the tensions that are having (or might have) the most influence on your business. Looking at your business through this lens can protect against uncontrollable outside influences. Below is a snapshot of the influences exerting pressure at that time.

In 2013, we explored forces of change for a science and technology company that was preparing to introduce an innovative textile.

This method of inquiry enabled us to build brand and communication guardrails that could have been powerfully impacted by external cultural influences.

Power shifts

In 2009, for a packaged foods company we did a cultural forces deep dive prior to conducting primary research. The goal was to understand the issues --and the influencers-- important enough to bring into the ethnographic exploration. This proved to be essential because without including these influences our research would have uncovered what was soon to be outdated.

Category influences

In 2010, for a bank we created a snapshot of emotional money triggers. The client goal was to develop a set of provocative and humorous prompts to get members thinking about money traps that can ensnare them as they go about their day.

Money can buy you a fine dog, but only love can make him wag his tail.
–Kinky Friedman