We need more than a chief culture officer
Last week we received Grant McCracken’s Chief Culture Officer and as usual I decided to share my thoughts on the topic. Just to be clear, don’t get your expectations high because this is not a review of the book. You can read my review of the book here.
I like the book not only because it provides real examples of how culture can affect business, but because it focuses on the need for organizations, any kind of organizations, to understand and connect with their audiences. Something we are supposedly doing with this clicky-clicky-magic called digital and social marketing. But before we can try to truly connect with anyone we need to understand people and culture and by culture McCracken doesn’t mean trends; he means slow culture.
We, ad agencies and organizations from all kinds and sizes, need to understand the fundamentals of culture and how culture influences trends and lifestyle changes. We don’t need cool hunters who know everything about the newest and the shiniest. We need culture officers to study slow culture, to put frameworks around trends and to explain how these trends came about. We need people who can actually predict trends. Culture officers are not just planners in ad agencies, but people in every organization who are involved in each level of the organization from product development to customer service to marketing, because culture officers are the ones who understand how we, ordinary people, use and relate to products, not engineers and researchers. I especially like the idea of putting frameworks around trends and understanding how these trends are influenced by culture and slow changes in culture.
Think about some of the most popular trends today: technology is treated as fashion, our strong identification with brands, the DIY movement, the quarter-life crises, the new milestones of adulthood, everyone is a brand and everyone can be an influencer, buying local, small or not buy at all. All trends that wouldn’t exist without slow changes in culture. What is even more interesting is that many of these trends, although different at first glance, came about because of the same changes in culture. But, and here’s where Chief Culture Officer misses part of the point for me, if the point of having a CCO is to understand and connect with consumers, why are we focusing only one the sociological part of understanding them? Why are we missing the physiological and psychological aspects? Why don’t we try to understand how exactly humans make decisions? Why humans do what we do?
For centuries it was assumed that humans are rational animals, that we make rational decisions. But so many scientists and strategists have challenged this assumption in the past several years. Most of human behaviors are subconsciously driven and surveys and focus groups can’t explain how or why we do what we do because in most scenarios most people don’t know why we do what we do. Almost all commonly used tools for researching and understanding human behavior can only predict intended behaviors not actual behaviors. Today we have the opportunity to do research that actually helps us predict behavior, not intended behavior. I am not saying that every ad agency and every organization should have a multimillion lab equipped with fMRI scans and machines that produce synthetic hormones for research purposes. What I am saying is that every organization that claims to be big and whose profits depend on understanding people should have someone who takes advantage of all the scientific research done and use it for commercial purposes. A Chief Behavior Officer, if you will. What does this have to do with the idea of CCOs? I see these two seemingly separate functions as one position: someone who studies not only culture, but also sociology, psychology and physiology to understand humans. Planner 2.0 in a way (not a planner for the digital or post-digital era, or whatever you want to call it), but someone who truly understands humans and combines results from science experiments and observations from ethnographic research to create actionable insights used on every level of the organization.
The function of CCO is just one half of the equation. We need CBOs or at least people with that duty since titles are kind of irrelevant today. Thoughts? Would love to hear them.
P.S. Dear Grant McCracken, thank you for the book. It’s a wonderful addition to our library.
Photo credit: Goldmund 100