What happens when there's no longer a mainstream? A few words of advice to all marketers, regardless of their stripes.
Listening to the radio yesterday morning in the car, I caught an interesting example of an increasingly important trend in the world of communications: the tendency of savvy multicultural leaders to think post-culturally.
Though not entirely new - in name or in concept - the term post-cultural was coined by my business partner Toby Chaudhuri during a recent conversation about the failings in older (20th century) approaches to engagement. The more we looked at the new way organizations are thinking about age, race, gender, and creed, the more we realized that a new set of assumptions was emerging. While there are many things that marketers can do differently today, there are three critical linchpins to the entire phenomenon.
Say Goodbye to the Mainstream
Yes, my partner and I are advocating for the use of the word post-cultural. But that's not because cultural no longer matters. Instead it's because culture is now a given and factors into everything a marketer says and does. In this sense, post-cultural is to culture what postmodern is to modern (or a more recent example, what post-digital is to digital). It's a statement about something (in this case, marketing) forever changed by a trend (in this case, cultural marketing). The world is forever modern, forever digital, and yes, forever multicultural. And while the term multicultural felt relevant at a time when the targeted cultures were in the minority, it feels antiquated at a time when the mainstream - as we know it - is fast disappearing, and so-called minorities are on the rise. Take, for example, Latinos, the general subject of my ClickZ column. By mid-century, one in three Americans will be of Hispanic origin. It's already difficult to think of Latinos as outside the mainstream - and not just because of the numbers, but also because of their clout - but by 2050 it will be impossible. The world is changing, and so must the framework we use to think about people and how to engage them.
Say Hello to the "Manystreams"
And the framework needs to recognize that in lieu of the mythical mainstream (always a myth, but now it's becoming apparent to everyone) is the notion that the American populace is the amalgamation of many cultures. It's also the recognition that by culture we mean any number of groupings that people use to identify, self-identify, and associate with. You can be at once a Latino, a male, a marketing consultant, a progressive, and a lover of books, ideas, music, science, and justice. You can be all of those things (like me) or some of those things (like some of my friends). The things we care about should not be lumped into an empty abstraction like the so-called mainstream. Instead, we should appreciate their distribution on the long-tail of interests that more accurately defines who we are. We have known this for some time: niche matters. And in the post-cultural world, niche culture (also known as tribes) matters. In fact, it's perhaps the only thing that really matters.
Behold the Metatribe
But the post-cultural worldview looks beyond the many component pieces - the many niche tribes - that make up our world today. It also sees how the pieces can come together with the glue that binds all cultures: values. For my first post on ClickZ's Marketing to Latinos column, I coined the term "metatribe" to describe a seemingly contradictory phenomena: that while Latinos actually comprise many different groups - with many different values - they come together when more universal values are invoked. I suggested then that engaging the Hispanic metatribe was the path to scalable marketing at a time when mass communications was reaching its limits. I still believe that. But since then I've come to see the metatribe as an even more potent force, capable of bridging differences across multiple cultures, Hispanic and non-Hispanic alike.
Will the Supreme Court lean post-cultural? (Source: Wikipedia)
And I was reminded of this today. The radio segment I heard this morning was about the challenge to the Voting Rights Act - a landmark from the civil rights movement - that is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. Among the many groups who have joined African American activists in protecting the law: Latino activists who are concerned about the potential impact on their communities. Credit African Americans, Latinos, and other groups for rallying around a common cause. In the post-cultural world, our differences are what make us interesting. But what binds us is even greater. And a note to marketers: it's what helps to get products sold, to get politicians elected, and to get movements started. For some, they see the future and are beginning to adjust. For others, post-cultural is already here.
Cultural image on home page via Shutterstock.
Giovanni Rodriguez is an author, consultant, and public speaker on organizational leadership and digital/social communications. The views expressed in this blog are entirely his own.
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