Today I met Anthropologist Grant McCracken. First of all he was on stage doing a great talk on the importance of anthropology, which is in his words “too important to leave to Anthropologists”. Something which I can most certainly agree to. There is a discussion going on about Capital-letter Anthropologists (the real deal who went to school and all) and the rest of us who have just studied some or maybe even the ones who has a special gift of empathy and understand cultures. Designers can choose to take on the role of being the ones who enter companies or organizations to give the perspective of an anthropologist on how the culture inside the company (or outside, the culture of the customers) is to be understood and secondarily turned into useful knowledge, strategies and corporate expressions.
Grant gave several examples of how bad things can turn when companies forget to consider the cultures they are acting with. Like Levi’s who missed the cultural trend of hip-hop and missed an opportunity of 1 billion dollars. As one Levi’s representative said, “who knew baggy pants was were a paradigm shift?”. Or Quacker, who bought the Snapple brand at 1,7 billion dollars and sold it 3 years later for 400 million. They missed that the culture underpinning the use of Snapple was in decline and the penalty of not knowing the culture they were engaging with was 1,3 billion. No small deal – even to a large corporation.
I was enlightened by Grants talk. What I’ve been trying to put into systematic use over the past three or four years at Stagis is the use of cultural knowledge as the basis of creating strategic design and communication initiatives for our clients. Because culture is basically what identity and good corporate branding is built on. As McCracken put it, a Harley Davidson motorcycle is just a means of transportation. Any other description of the product consists of culture. After his talk I went to meet him and what do you know – before I could get on the plane home Grant had become a Facebook friend. I guess the modern capital-letter Anthropologist is digging into the cultures of the web too 🙂