During my undergraduate and graduate seminars on intercultural marketing and management, students have often asked me how corporations keep up with cultural change. How do they anticipate shifts in the cultural landscape and adapt their management and marketing strategies accordingly?
My short answer is that the majority of corporations fail to even recognise the importance of keeping track of what is going on outside the confines of the C-suite and express surprise at having missed out on opportunities to capitalise on big, global trends.
One notable example is Levi Strauss who, we assume, should know what teens want and understand the infinitely complex thing cultural anthropologists call “cool.” Levi Strauss has been both the largest brand-apparel company in the world and the No. 1 purveyor of blue jeans in the world, but when they missed out on hip-hop and did not create a seamless connection between it and their marketing strategy, the penalty was a harsh one billion dollar loss in profit.
In order to answer this question I am naturally inclined to lean towards the wisdom of Canadian anthropologist,Grant McCracken (2009) who argues that the corporation needs a CCO, a Chief Culture Officer.
This person knows culture, its unpredictable twists and turns, the depth of its structure and knows that corporations live or die by their connection to it. However, as we all know, the Chief Culture Officer does not yet exist but, as I inform my students, we all have the ability to apprehend culture, observe societal change and then, hopefully apply our insights to the everyday marketing and management tasks we deal with in the business world. The biggest challenge to overcome is to not underestimate the potent, often overlooked connection between C-level executive decision making and the wider world “out there.” Whenever I interact with, and advise any potential entrepreneurs, whether they be French, American or African, this last point has become my signature mantra.
There are of course a few role-models or potential CCOs (as McCracken calls them) that can inspire you to remain alert to cultural trends and their impact on corporate practices. Silvia Lagnado created the Dove “Campaign for Real Beauty” with the marketing juggernaut, Unilever. She uncovered a blue ocean market for the brand by truly understanding consumer disenchantment with canonical definitions of beauty and consequently proposed revised marketing campaigns that appeal to real, not fictitious, female consumers. In 2008 Dove was named one of the ten brands with the greatest growth in the past three years.
Enseignant-Chercheur, Management et Marketing Interculturels
Crédit Photo : Fotolia / CCI Paris Ile-de-France