Cultural Strategy | Douglas B. Holt

Summary of: Cultural Strategy: Using Innovative Ideologies to Build Breakthrough Brands
By: Douglas B. Holt


Step into the world of innovative ideologies with the book summary of ‘Cultural Strategy: Using Innovative Ideologies to Build Breakthrough Brands’ by Douglas B. Holt. Gain insight into blue-ocean opportunities and how breakthrough innovations can reinvent markets. Explore the difference between disruptive innovations and the ‘mix-and-match’ approach, drawing from examples such as the Model T, iPod, and Cirque du Soleil. Discover the potential of cultural innovation, which extends beyond engineering and economics, taking advantage of social movements and changing cultural expressions. Learn about the cultural strategy model, and how today’s mass media plays a crucial role in disseminating cultural expressions.

Innovating for a Blue Ocean

When conventional thinking leads to unsuccessful marketing tactics, innovators must focus on developing breakthrough innovations that create new categories and restructure markets. Using cultural expressions, marketers can transform functional benefits into emotional ones to engage cognitive territory in consumer minds.

Marketers who focus on function-driven innovations rely on the outdated notion that building a better mousetrap leads to success in mature markets. However, this notion leads to “benefit slugfests,” where brands attempt to promote incremental innovations in “red oceans” and drown amidst the competition. Breakthrough innovations, instead, are developed in “blue oceans” and are the key to establishing profitable new businesses that resonate powerfully with consumers.

Conventional thinking about innovation offers two routes to find and exploit blue ocean opportunities: revolutionary technological innovations that alter a market dramatically, and mixing and matching existing concepts to create a new category. Cirque du Soleil, for instance, synthesized musical theater and the circus to offer new entertainment.

Instead of relying on these conventional tactics, innovators can use cultural expressions to transform the way customers perceive functionalities. This approach, called “mindshare marketing,” engages in emotional benefits to win cognitive territory in consumer minds. By promoting unique selling propositions that suggest significant and enduring advantages in the functional benefits model, marketers can distinguish their brands. However, this model works best for distinctive products since every advance eventually becomes commonplace as competitors duplicate them.

In contrast, cultural expressions serve as compass points, organizing how consumers understand the world and their place in it. When marketers align their offerings with the softer values of emotions, they compete to own recognizable emotions from a short list of generic terms. While Levi’s fights to stand for “confidence” and “freedom,” so do Lee, Guess Jeans, Volvo Station Wagons, and Verizon Mobile telephone plans. Thus, innovators must focus on developing breakthrough innovations that create new categories and restructure markets while transforming functional benefits into emotional ones using cultural expressions.

The Power of Cultural Innovation

The success of a product is not solely dependent on its material aspects. Mass-cultural expressions, such as ideologies and societal norms, play a vital role in shaping consumer behavior. The concept of cultural innovation takes advantage of the ideological opportunities produced by new movements and fresh thinking, offering limitless innovation beyond economics and psychology. By adopting this approach, businesses can gain a competitive edge in the market. Cultural expressions consist of three components – ideology, myths, and cultural codes – that marketers can use to appeal to a segment of society. Today, mass media propagate cultural expressions that businesses should readily exploit to their advantage. Therefore, companies that introduce ideological opportunities can disrupt markets, launch brands, and create a blue ocean. Cultural innovation tactics that address a social disruption explicitly are particularly successful, proving that a better ideology can be a powerful catalyst for success.

The Power of Cultural Strategy

The success of Jack Daniel’s and Marlboro can be attributed to their cultural strategy. Jack Daniel’s used the “frontier ideology” to promote its whiskey, which resonated with Americans’ nostalgia for traditional masculinity. Marlboro’s ads drew on the idea of “working-class frontier masculinity” and appropriated gunfighter qualities. By using cultural codes that aligned with consumers’ ideologies, both brands became billion-dollar businesses. These examples show that creating a mythology to express a brand’s ideology is key to success, rather than necessarily offering radically new features that alter a product’s value proposition.

Ben & Jerry’s Success through Cultural Innovation

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, founders of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, succeeded in making their brand a blockbuster by designing a provocative cultural expression. The brand reflected their political views, making fun of the conservative establishment while offering a way for liberals to indulge in both ice cream and idealism. The cultural innovation that captured the yearning of a segment of American society played a pivotal role in the success of the brand. Unilever purchased Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream for $326 million in 2000, which began as a counter-culture ice cream shop in Burlington, Vermont. Despite being in a mature and saturated segment, Ben & Jerry’s found success while similar competitors failed. The brand became popular because it gave liberals a way to be idealistic and indulge in ice cream. Ben & Jerry’s success story is a testament to how cultural innovation can play a significant role in launching and reinvigorating billion-dollar businesses.

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