Build a better mousetrap and the world will take notice
Market innovation has long been dominated by the worldview of engineers and economists–build a better mousetrap and the world will take notice. The most influential strategy books, such as Competing for the Future, The Innovator’s Dilemma, and Blue Ocean Strategy, argue that innovation should focus on breakthrough functionality.
The archetype of the working class
In another era, Marlboro cigarettes won over smokers with an archetype of working class frontier masculinity, at a moment when the culture was primed to rebel against the sedentary “organisation man” type that was wearing thin.
Cultural innovations draw upon source material–novel cultural content lurking in subcultures, social movements, and the media–to develop brands that respond to this emerging demand, leapfrogging entrenched incumbents. Based upon eight years of careful research a problem that is common amongst entrepreneurial companies with successful niche businesses—is what they call the cultural chasm.
The strategic problem faced by many start-up technology companies when they take their technological innovation into the mass market—what Geoffrey Moore famously termed “crossing the chasm.” The same principle holds for ideological opportunities, except that the chasm is cultural rather than technological.
The authors say the principle is a kind of cultural alchemy: the company converts an ideologically charged element of subcultural experience into a broader marketplace myth, to be enjoyed ritually by less-engaged mass-market consumers. That’s a bit of a mouthful but with the examples provided, you can see that this is different to just selling benefits and functionality.
A powerful tool for entrepreneurs
Cultural strategy offers a powerful tool for entrepreneurs looking to break into the mass market. By crossing the cultural chasm, young companies and niche businesses can transform their offerings into mainstream successes. Holt and Cameron conclude by explaining why top marketing companies fail at cultural innovation. Using careful organisational research, the authors demonstrate that companies are trapped in the brand bureaucracy, which systematically derails innovation.
The Lee Cooper & Levi jean stories are worth the price of the book alone.
Reject the brand bureaucracy
Cultural innovation requires a new organisational logic. In all of their cases, the authors find that cultural innovators have rejected the brand bureaucracy. Holt and Cameron’s retelling of the tales of Nike, Starbucks, and Ben & Jerry’s is persuasive in proving that the entrepreneurs involved had an ear to the ground of the culture as they designed and developed their offerings. And their reports on some current innovators’ attempts to devise ‘cultural strategies’ show that there might be reliable ways of doing so deliberately and therefore that any company hoping to launch an iconic offering might really be able to pull it off.
If you want to listen to the podcast discussing the book on Newstalk, go to: