Helping brands to explore and fully realise their cultural relevance is a core theme in what we do. Crowd DNA consultant Alice Ellen explores the roots of such thinking; the work of Pierre Bourdieu in particular.

Academic theories and concepts often fall by the wayside when entering the world of consumer insight. Many books and articles are decades old and densely written in dry academic prose; definitely not something you can have a quick flick through on the commute to work. However, taking a little time to digest these theories can prove extremely beneficial in helping us understand our participants, by building upon and borrowing from relevant information.

Pierre Bourdieu’s Distinction is one such text that contains some interesting and important ideas, including a framework that can still be used today, given a little tweaking. Cultural capital, in particular, is a useful concept to decode the world around us.

In a nutshell, Bourdieu identified cultural capital as one form of capital that your status might be derived from, together with economic, human and social capital. Cultural capital can be displayed through embodied expressions like tattoos and piercings, or by depicting our status through the material objects that we own.

Examples might include:

So what does this mean in terms of consumerism and branding? Delving into how people display their cultural capital can be an extremely useful way of pulling out the differences between various social groupings, especially when thinking about demographics and recruitment; it can help us move away from the sometimes reductionist approach of grouping consumers based on income and qualifications alone. Cultural capital is therefore a valuable concept and analytical process – one we can use to capture the nuances between social groupings and in mapping what different groups value.

A good example of how Bourdieu’s theories have been built upon for use in an up-to-date, culturally relevant context is Sarah Thornton’s work on youth cultures in the 1990s. Here she draws on the idea of cultural capital and extends it into the world of subcultures to explain how different social groups express their identity. Thornton describes “subcultural capital” as the way members of a subculture depict their status and differentiate themselves from other social groups, by obtaining cultural knowledge and expressing taste and style through commodities. Therefore, it is important to understand that different tribes in society express their cultural or subcultural capital through shared passions, as a way of measuring their cultural worth in the world.

This is why cultural capital, and more broadly speaking, culture in general is so important for a brand to both understand its target audience and relevance within the world. For, brands, as we know, don’t exist in a vacuum. Brands that understand this, instinctively focus on how to cultivate cultural capital first, playing an intrinsic role in consumers’ lives, and thus not just planning at a market level but really honing in on cultural strategy to gain a competitive edge and boost brand value.

Frank Sinatra Has A Cold

Gay Talese's 1966 Esquire feature, 'Frank Sinatra Has A Cold', is one of the greatest studies of celebrity ever. With insight and innovation in mind, Crowd DNA managing director Andy Crysell explains that it also demonstrates the power of observation over interview...

‘Frank Sinatra Has A Cold’ ranks as a defining piece in so-called new journalism; a painstakingly detailed, powerful and fascinating under-the-skin read. It was, however, a state of affairs forced on Talese through Sinatra – recoiling at soon being 50; experiencing a number of career pressures; indeed suffering from a cold – refusing to talk to him. Celeb gawking aside, it serves equally as a prime example of the benefits of observation over interview (or, in ‘…Has A Cold”s case, in observation alongside only questioning those on the periphery of the scene, rather than the target ‘audience’).

Ethnographic-style reporting, next to visual documentation, brings a richness and a discursiveness to stories that regimented interviews don’t always allow for. Vitally, the broader cultural context becomes clearer and, often, less anticipated and potentially more advantageous ground gets to be covered – something that it can be a struggle to achieve when there’s a lengthy set of highly granular questions to crunch through in a discussion guide.

We’re not prescribing project method designs that are devoid of interviews in all work (sometimes highly granular questions really do need answering through very direct interviewing) – rather to highlight that, when well considered, there can be rigour and process in observation, too. And returning more particularly to the example of ‘Frank Sinatra Has A Cold’, while skilled ethnographers practice observation as a matter of course, exploring the journalist skill-set as well opens the doors to bringing better reporting techniques and a storytelling mentality to ethnography.

It’s this blending of social science and journalism – ethnography with a more potent sense of interpretation – that’s particularly pertinent to how we work at Crowd DNA. Better thinking, being agile, ensuring impact – we like to think that we cover off all three of our guiding principles via this type of primary method.

Gay Talese’s story for Esquire begins as per below. Click the link thereafter to read the full piece

Frank Sinatra, holding a glass of bourbon in one hand and a cigarette in the other, stood in a dark corner of the bar between two attractive but fading blondes who sat waiting for him to say something. But he said nothing; he had been silent during much of the evening, except now in this private club in Beverly Hills he seemed even more distant, staring out through the smoke and semidarkness into a large room beyond the bar where dozens of young couples sat huddled around small tables or twisted in the center of the floor to the clamorous clang of folk-rock music blaring from the stereo. The two blondes knew, as did Sinatra’s four male friends who stood nearby, that it was a bad idea to force conversation upon him when he was in this mood of sullen silence, a mood that had hardly been uncommon during this first week of November, a month before his fiftieth birthday.

Frank Sinatra Has A Cold

We often end the week hosting a 'show and tell' session, with Crowd folk in London and Amsterdam united via Skype and learning something new (over a beer, obviously), either from a project we've just wrapped up or another interesting source. But then some weeks we just eat poppadoms...

More specifically, some bright spark suggested a poppadom eating competition. Participants had three poppadoms and a variety of condiments – yeah, we know, hardly a marathon stretch but time was a bit tight. The aim was to eat them as quickly as possible and, with a time of one min 33 secs, Michael Chan was declared the victor, proving the ‘stacking’ technique as being the most effective. Bravo Michael.

Here’s some of the more flattering photos from the event.

 

What happens when you put 50+ young people from across the UK in the same room as politicians, activists, charities and figureheads from Channel 4? Policy announcements, excitement and lots of strong opinions - that’s what, as Crowd DNA associate director, Liz Cheesbrough, reports…

Over the last eight years of running UK Tribes, we’ve seen youth attitudes and aspirations shift dramatically. We’ve clung on during the recession, born the brunt of university fees, got down to grime and high to EDM, got to grips with FOMO, FOBO, YOLO… And to top it all off, had first-hand experience of Tinder’s #rightswipe causing RSI.

Since the dawn of the teenager, media and political perception of 16-24s has too often focused on these shiny, exciting and novel elements of growing up – and often used them to forecast generational downfalls. But with political apathy assumed normal for 16-24s, genuine youth priorities rarely make the political agenda – so Channel 4’s Policy And Participation Event turned the tables to find out what really matters to young people in the UK today.

The event saw our Tribes get right in the middle of the action – discussing political involvement with Krishnan Guru-Murthy, considering new youth policy from Nicky Morgan MP and debating with major campaigners and politicians from across the major parties. And the biggest priorities raised on the day painted a very different picture to the stereotypes we usually see…

Young people aren’t un-political – but they have lost faith in the political system and feel cheated by parties that don’t share their values. Labour and the Greens are coming out top for 16-24s as the coalition has burnt their bridges, and they believe the voting age should be lowered to 16, turbo-charged by youth in the Scotland Referendum.

Policy isn’t addressing the issues that matter to them – instead it feeds the assumptions of ‘middle class warriors’ in Westminster. Education and work are the top priorities for this generation, but policy follows media portrayals in focusing on drugs, alcohol and online bullying.

The people that represent them aren’t relevant – but campaigners and online political engagement are leading the way. Asked to get out of their suits and in to the shoes of young people, campaigners called for popular politics that fits in to their digital lifestyle and authentically engages them.

Above all, the key finding was politics shouldn’t be for some – it should be for all. Political education is a vital tool if young people are going to have a stake in society and a way to change the world and their lives for better – as FGM campaigner Leyla Hussein shared: “In school you should learn about finance, relationships and politics – algebra doesn’t get you anywhere in real life challenges”

For the full PDF, click here.

 

From the incremental to the radical, the digitally focused to the resolutely physical, brands need to innovate around space to stay on top of their customers’ expectations, explains Crowd DNA innovation knowledge leader, Aurelie Jamard...

More than ever, retail environments are facing intense challenges due to the growing appeal and convenience of online shopping – and various brands are turning to new technologies to help re-invent their store experience. We’re also seeing interesting shifts from digital to physical, and virtual reality blurring the boundaries between online and offline. Time to explore this area in more detail.

Customer needs are converging

Hot from the press, we hear announcements that Amazon are planning to open physical pop up shops in the US, and John Lewis wanting to experiment with beacons and virtual reality in their UK stores. So what does this mean for the future of retail, and how do these announcements reflect customer needs (if at all)? Customers’ expectations are rapidly changing and strongly influenced by peers, brand experiences and the latest innovations that become accessible to them. Online shopping has grown in popularity, enabling young customers to snap the best deals and allowing parents to shop on their terms, any time, anywhere, and without the kids. On the other hand, shopping in store gives them what websites are still strongly lacking: a feel for the products and a true brand experience. But lack of time, greater choice and technological developments mean that customers have grown to expect a consistent and integrated shopping experience across channels.

Technology as an enabler

The explosion of technological innovations has broadened retailers’ options and created opportunities that would have been unimaginable a few years back, such as being virtually teleported from anywhere in the world to the top of London’s Tower 42, courtesy of Marriott, or visualising pieces of IKEA furniture in our own homes without lifting a finger off our smartphones. So from VR (Virtual Reality) to AR (Augmented Reality), Google Glass to Kinect, and beacons to drones, there is a plethora of options that are being developed and experimented with by brands to make their in-store experience more relevant and entertaining to shoppers. Some brands like Topshop have fully embraced these, and their latest endeavours include offering a virtual reality catwalk in their Oxford Circus store as part of this year’s London Fashion Week, as well as creating a Kinect-enabled AR mirror to re-create the illusion of a fitting room in one of their stores in Russia. Other brands that have embraced AR include Converse, De Beers, American Apparel and Sephora.

Experiences (are all that) matter

But retail experiences are not only the product of great technology put to good use. They can also harness the power of social and experimentation, as IKEA and AirBnB’s partnership in Australia shows, enabling visitors to book sleepovers (and try pieces of furniture at the same time) in IKEA stores overnight. Testing products in store is another way to provide added value to customers. In Germany, outdoor sports retailer Globetrotter boasts a four-storey shop including a pool, a cold room and a shower to enable customers to test the equipment and clothing before making a purchase decision.

So innovating with space around the needs of end users is crucial to any brand with a physical retail presence (and even without one as Amazon and Google rumours suggest…). It can include technology but doesn’t have to; it can be incremental or radically different; it can appeal to one or all of the senses; it can be about display, product experimentation or payment. But one thing is certain: it has to be shaped around customer needs and work with the brand’s vision, as our work with the likes of Topshop has proven.

At Crowd DNA we use various methodologies to uncover insights around end users, but also around space, starting with in-situ work and testing findings against our cultural strategy framework. If you want to know more and/or have a chat about the ever-changing retail landscape, drop me a line.

Exploring trends isn’t simple. For every development, there is most likely one headed in the opposite direction. But as explained by Crowd DNA’s trends knowledge leader, Rebecca Coleman, in today’s world of shape-shifting lifestyles it is regularly the same people that are following both trend and countertrend…

We live in a world of extremes. This means that for every significant shift in our cultural fabric, there will be a pull in the opposite direction. These countertrends may not be as dominant as their mainstream forebears, but they are no less important. In a market where everyone is following the trend, sometimes it pays to be the one offering a rebellious alternative, no matter how niche it may seem at the time.

A trend is not a fad. Trends have longevity. They are a distillation of the effect that major and minor social, political, technological and economical shifts are having on people’s lifestyles and behaviour. By understanding the current consumer landscape in this way, forecasters are able to predict more accurately how our needs and desires might be shaped in the future.

However, humans are not simple creatures and as soon as something becomes a trend it is inevitable that there will be some movement against it. This is the countertrend. It used to be the case that this was often an act of cultural rebellion – for example, when the mainstream trend was to aim for corporate and capitalist success in the late seventies, the punks sprang up to offer an extreme alternative. Interestingly, in today’s world of shape-shifting lifestyles it is regularly the same people that are following both trend and countertrend.

One of the most prevalent examples of this right now is the trend for being “always on” versus the counter trend for digital downtime. This is manifesting itself in a number of ways, from busy urban people taking occasional time out by visiting an off-the-grid holiday home to wearable tech, such as Kovert that alerts people only to urgent calls so that they can live without a phone in their hands 24/7.

We have also seen this via the notion of living by way of our phones versus truly living in (and for) the moment. Who can forget that picture of a sea of glowing mobile screens at Pope Francis’ election in 2013? It seems that everything we now experience has to be captured and shared. As a response, many are extolling the virtues of not filtering our lives through a screen. In a recent TV interview, musician Jack White said that when on tour he had been compelled to ask audience members to step away from their devices in order to enjoy the show with their “eyes and ears”.

Perhaps it is our modern desire to “have it all” that is also making this a time when trends and countertrends can live side-by-side. If you are constantly busy, there’s little point in ever seeking the middle ground. We have both FOMO (fear of missing out) and JOMO (joy of missing out). We want everything and nothing all at the same time and many industries might not exist if it wasn’t for this paradoxical human nature. For example, detox brands would be almost obsolete without over-indulgence.

For brands, it is vital to be aware of both trend and countertrend to tailor the most relevant and authentic response for your audience. When it comes to countertrends, dominance is less important than targeting. Where the countertrend is a niche one, it is often followed more loyally and passionately and is therefore well worth tapping into – if appropriate. Also, often the countertrend can usurp or equal the prevailing trend. Think of slow food starting to overtake fast food (especially with a certain demographic), or the idea of local becoming increasingly important in a globalised economy.

Keep your eyes peeled to the Crowd DNA blog for upcoming trends – and, of course, countertrends.

Ideas for ideas

How do you get to great ideas? Crowd DNA's creative delivery knowledge leader, Eric Shapiro, shares some pointers from a recently attended talk which, among other things, referenced Spandau Ballet, Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies and Manchester's Hulme Crescents estate - and yet all made complete sense...

Hugh Garry has one of the more enviable jobs in media. The ex-BBC producer runs Storythings, an agency that helps clients find new ways to tell their stories, mainly through digital media. Recently, he helped Crowd favourite Gruff Rhys develop an app to complement his new book and aided MOMA in New York in improving their online video offering. Hugh’s job involves consistently coming up with great ideas. In the most recent of the increasingly Crowd DNA-blogged Shoreditch House lectures, he turned his attention to this very topic and advised on a few ways of helping us think more creatively and to come up with great ideas more frequently.

Ideas are a complex blend of serendipity, facilitating the connection of disparate experiences, and opening your eyes to the world around you. The most challenging element of Hugh’s talk involved grasping the concept of allocating time to facilitate these processes. Staring out of windows more often was recommended, as was going on long walks and, perhaps more extremely, taking a year’s creative sabbatical away from the office. Good ideas can’t be forced to happen, but there’s things we can do to increase the odds.

Initially, this strikes as very luxurious. It’s a lovely idea to leave the office and go for a walk around, but sometimes stuff needs to get done, right? Well, yes and no. Good ideas hold water, therefore taking the initial time to come up with something solid will save time in the long run. Furthermore, it’s great ideas that keep agencies like ours relevant and worth their salt.

Why the picture of Spandau Ballet? Among a whirlwind of colourfully diverse cultural reference points, Hugh pointed to them as a case in point when it comes to losing the effortless and the serendipitous, and instead forcing the issue; thus gravitating from just about the coolest thing on his radar as an 11 year old, to bland pop filler by his mid teens.

Nobody wants to end up like ‘Heart Like A Sky’-era Spandau Ballet. So maybe I’ll get out of the office for the lunch break after all.