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On Tattoos & Indelible Branding

I recently celebrated milestone birthdays with my high school girlfriends in Las Vegas, arguably the scene of some of the best people-watching around. While lounging by the pool at the Bellagio, I noticed a guy in his late 20’s who was sporting a surprising tattoo on his chest: the Lacoste alligator, positioned (of course) on his left upper chest.

An extreme example of branding, perhaps, but for thousands of years, humans have classified their experiences and affinities symbolically, using them to communicate and encode their values socially. But in today’s dynamic, frenetic web-based world, where you can change your status 10 times a day if you’d like, more permanent statements of branding are becoming increasingly rare.

Take my son. A fifteen-year old sophomore football player, he had the initials of his high school “carved” into his crew cut the week of the big cross-town rivalry. He felt so much passion for his school and teammates that he craved an outward expression of that cultural pride. One that, in his words, would conveniently “grow out in a few weeks.”

head     foot

Marketers today are caught between the wisdom of creating long-lasting iconic branding elements and the necessity of keeping their brand experience fresh and current. Either way, to succeed, brands must find a way to enter their targets’ cultural context and connect with them in a meaningful way. Embedded brands tap into something deeper, that which connects us as humans, not just as consumers and marketers.

That’s why our tools intersect with people where they live their lives: so that the insights and ideas we help create will actually work out there in the real world. And why we go to painstaking lengths to provide a seat—sometimes real, sometimes virtual— for target cultures (aka consumers) at the marketing and innovation development table, treating them like the co-creators that they genuinely are.

In today’s bit-based culture, people don’t physically pass around business cards as much as they used to (or at least that’s what I tell myself to explain those undepletable boxes in my desk.) But I love our business cards, for three reasons: 1. They are round (I’ll bet you can figure out why ☺). 2. They feature our beautiful bird-in-flight logo, a colorful aviary mosaic soaring across an earth-brown globe. And, last but not least, 3. They capture our brand idea: Connect with Culture. Because fostering a meaningful connection between humans—consumers and brand stewards alike—is intrinsic to everything we do at Global Mosaic.

It’s our indelible branding. What’s yours?

Christine Mc Gahay
Culturologist, Global Mosaic, Inc.

 
 


What is Culture?

Often times one thinks of culture in the National Geographic sense – Maasai warriors draped in red cloaks or half-clad villagers living in the remote Amazon.  I’m intrigued by these cultures and have spent time studying many such “cultures”. 

But culture is not limited to the National Geographic definition.  Culture is something that lives amongst ALL of us as we go about each day. It is the lens through which we view the world, informed by where we live, the community we surround ourselves with, our life experiences, values and beliefs.   It determines what we want, need and the people and brands that we connect with.

I’ve been fascinated by culture my entire life, spending an embarrassing amount of my childhood reading about different ways of life in my parents’ Encyclopedia Britannica.  The first 11 years of my career were spent as a global strategist, traveling the world and helping multi-nationals expand into new markets.  This often involved “creating” a market need for an existing product: convincing Africans that they needed soft drinks,  Chinese children that they needed fast food and recently emerged Eastern Europeans that they needed deodorant.

It soon became clear that the brands/products that “stuck” were the ones that took the time to immerse themselves in the target culture and understand true needs/desires, rather than just trying to create a need for an existing product they wanted to sell.   I became an architect of approaches that allowed for deep and meaningful immersions into the target culture, allowing them to actively contribute to the discussion on what they need/want.   To inspire upstream rather than evaluate downstream.  In fact, it seemed to me that the target culture could even help co-create the brands/products they found most resonant.

I founded Global Mosaic in 2002 to do just that.  To work with entities that want to create truly resonant brands, products and positionings that grow organically out of cultural understanding, rather than being thrust upon it. The fact is, brand initiatives that grow out of cultural understanding connect more deeply.  Become competitively insulated.  Have sticking power.  Net, they become embedded into the fabric of that culture.

Since then, Global Mosaic has worked with companies, organizations, countries and even political candidates on five continents.  A lot of our work is global.  A lot of our work is domestic.  Whether your target culture is youth in India or health mavens in the U.S., there’s a culture to understand.  A cultural context that will help to understand the deeper influences that impact category attitudes/behaviors.  Cultural values your brand can tap into.

Think of your end-user as more than “consumers” of a given category.  Think of them as humans with a rich cultural context.   Step inside their world  and view life and the category through their lens.   Invite them to be your collaborative partners in creating, expanding and positioning brands/products. Let them inform.  Let them inspire.  Let them be the creative beings that they are.

AnneMarie Evans
Founder, Global Mosaic, Inc.