“Culture moves faster than brands and companies,” 2 Dope Boys co-founders Michael Brooks and Phil McKenzie said in their Monday morning workshop at SB’17 Detroit. As the antenna and point of translation that operates between culture and business, 2 Dope Boys imparts the importance of bringing cultural and historical context to uncover the true problem within organizations.
While physical gentrification is moving people out of physical spaces, “cultural gentrification” refers to the minor, methodical removal of the fabric of a place, institution or organization. Humans know how to navigate in the culture they are familiar with – it is an instinctual process. For this reason, we don’t think about culture on a daily basis yet can recognize the need to readjust our navigational compass when elements change.
The removal of the two-story mural of rapper Notorious B.I.G. in Brooklyn, New York illustrates cultural gentrification, which is slowly changing the fabric of increasingly popular places such as Brooklyn. In this case, protesters contend that removal of the mural would destroy the culture that makes Brooklyn special; hip-hop is a shared connection to music, language and storytelling.
Companies and brands are constantly dealing with pop culture – it is an invisible force that is always impacting our interactions as we move in and out of organizations. Pop culture also serves as a shared human connection, understanding and experience. When large brands interject themselves into spaces that haven’t been deeply researched, they find challenges and can “eff up.” Case in point: the now infamous Pepsi ad with Kendall Jenner. Brooks and McKenzie contend that the brand did not empathetically understand the cultural cues or how its brand fit with the Black Lives Matter movement. In contrast, Converse has a heritage that is anchored in music and continuously amplifies its cultural lens in a resonating way. Through a cultural audit, such brands understand where they play within historical and social context without losing their core message.
Brooks and McKenzie contend that a Cultural Prime Directive helps brands and organizations grasp the importance of cultural spaces and determine the type of cultural alignment that serve their core strategic values. Additionally, a Cultural Prime Directive helps guide brands and organizations to avoid “brand eff ups” and cultural misalignments that threaten their validity. Brooks and McKenzie offer these four principles and context that can serve as a roadmap for behavioral shifts:
- Do No Harm: This relates to how brands interact with culture without being a predatory. Instead of trying to control cultural movements, brands should embrace support and steward them for wider benefit.
- Reevaluate Time Horizon: In the current age of quarter-by-quarter “Wall Street-ification,” brands must engage in an organic development of culture. It is not about what happens in this moment or long it takes to get to a certain milestone.
- Be Brave: When there are challenges in an organization, employees and senior leaders do need to step out on faith. Bravery requires encouraging people to push themselves and think long term. A marketing manager wants to have the right environment to bring ideas forward. For brands, it is important to know the right time to interject into a cultural movement – allowing the cultural movement to swell in a positive way.
- Love-Centered Revolution: Center your work on doing things you are proud of and power everything through that lens. Also attempt to frame everything in a universal sense of love (not romantic). Be open to hearing other conversations and putting yourself in other people’s shoes.
With a heightened sensitivity for approaching culture, brands can understand the world beyond a demographic lens. The Cultural Brand Directive provides a guide to brand behavior and actions. Brands can reflect the sets of shared-values communities that drive consumers, appropriately push trends and create cross-demographic alliances.