Why Culture Will Become Crucial for Success in 2010 and Beyond
1. AMERICA RE-ENVISIONED. As this year's Census will soon show, we are a country comprised of increasingly diverse and expanding "nations within a nation." By 2042, it is projected that non-Hispanic whites will no longer represent the dominant ethnic group in the U.S. -- an evolution of our demographic makeup that will turn our soon-outdated dichotomy of minority/majority on its head. The 2010 Census will be, in many respects, a preview of things to come, and is primed to serve as a catalyst for the reimagining of our old conceptions of the American story and dream. Over the last decade, brands such as McDonald's, Nike and Toyota have made bold attempts at targeting a growing non-"general" market, earning accolades and success for authentically connecting with a multi-dimensional U.S. audience. In 2010, we expect to see more brands rising to the challenge of understanding consumers that defy traditional segmentation and tried conventions -- an emerging business imperative.
2. CULTURE AS A SELLING POINT. As the composition of the country grows more complex, brands must also rely on their understanding of culture beyond ethnicity to stay relevant, and must invent strategic ways of harnessing it. Anthropologist Grant McCracken sees culture as so integral to brands that it should have its own executive position (the CCO, or Chief Culture Officer) in today's corporation: "Culture is an essential piece of the intelligence an organization needs in a turbulent world. ...The corporation cannot hire in [or farm out] its cultural intelligence any more than it can surrender financial decisions to a visiting bookkeeper. Some things are too important to be left to outsiders. Some kinds of intelligence must be integral to the organization."
A deep connection to culture has always been a necessity for brands but going forward, we will see it manifest in more lateral ways. One that we've seen building momentum is the mainstream adoption of niche-cultural branding: ingredients, foods and products with heritages rooted around the world (i.e. kombucha, acai, shea butter, matcha tea, Greek-style yogurt, bubble drinks) are gaining mainstream popularity, and global brands as backers. This embrace of the foreign points to a widening of our palates and growth of a cross-cultural consumer that sees "exotic" as refreshingly unique and bold rather than alien.
3. GAME ON. Gaming and gamers are more pervasive now than ever. The average adult plays games an average of 7.6 hours per week, and is followed by a generation of digital natives that grew up on PSPs, iPhones, and Farmville. Games are all around us -- on our phones, desktops, in our living rooms and workplaces. But not only is gaming as leisure becoming more commonplace, many aspects of our day-to-day lives are starting to take the form of gameplay as well. Mobile apps such as Foursquare and the karma-building CauseWorld are adding a bit of friendly competition to nights out and visits to our favorite venues and stores, while the social sport of Twitter and Facebook continues growing more ubiquitous. Most brands and organizations have already put their chips in the social-media game, but savvier ones will look to the more nascent opportunities.
4. MICRO GOES MASS. Amidst the devastation of the Haiti earthquake and the aftermath of the economic collapse, the optimism that often accompanies the arrival of a new year (and new era) is running thin in 2010. And yet, we're coming together to offer hope in smaller pieces, in the form of simple micro-actions. One of the most catastrophic natural disasters in recent history has been met with more than $22 million in $5 and $10 text-message donations, an unprecedented show of charitable giving made possible by the ease of small-scale mobile donations. And beyond these times of need, micro-support is gaining traction as a straightforward, accessible way for everyday people to support the causes they believe in, finance promising new businesses, and make their creative visions a reality in small, easy steps. Sites such as Kiva.org and Kickstarter.com hinge on this low-entry generosity and trust and have succeeded in bringing their users' ideas to life thanks to their growing communities of micro-lenders and funders. Pepsi's Refresh Everything campaign has given novice entrepreneurs the opportunity to do good on a large-scale as well as small.
5. A HUMANIST REVIVAL. The 2000s were a mix of highs and lows for Americans. We witnessed some of the most horrific, perspective-altering events in our nation's history, as well as some of the most glorious, awe-inspiring, and unprecedented moments, the election of President Barack Obama perhaps the most unforgettable of them all. The first year of this brave new decade is the turning over of a new leaf, one we're happy to see met with a defiant return of humanism. By choice or circumstance, many of us (individuals as well as businesses) find ourselves with the task of starting over. This moment has proven fertile grounds for experimentation in finding joy and self-definition (see Living Oprah and The Happiness Project), thoughtful business innovation (see the new agency for "(human) brands," Lovely Day), and a return to the simple pleasures of life (see Coca-Cola's Expedition 206 and The Art of Eating In). The victors in 2010 will be those who see in this challenging moment an opportunity to connect with the human spirit of reinvention, resilience and yes -- hope.
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Christine Huang is head of cultural trends at GlobalHue.
Ozioma Egwuonwu is VP-director of cultural strategy at GlobalHue.