Episode 351
May 17, 2024

Building Culturally Intelligent Brands

Phillip and Brian sit down and have an enlightening conversation with the author of Cultural Intelligence for Marketers: Building an Inclusive Marketing Strategy, Anastasia Kārkliņa Gabriel. This book is the “How It's Made” for building culture-shaping brands, providing more understanding of how boardrooms, researchers, and foresight professionals think about their work. Listen now and join the conversation!

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Phillip and Brian sit down and have an enlightening conversation with the author of Cultural Intelligence for Marketers: Building an Inclusive Marketing Strategy, Anastasia Kārkliņa Gabriel. This book is the “How It's Made” for building culture-shaping brands, providing more understanding of how boardrooms, researchers, and foresight professionals think about their work. Listen now and join the conversation!

Not a burden of some, but a responsibility of all

Key takeaways:

  • {00:07:39} - “When we think about resonance, naturally, I think we ought to ask, "Well, how do we actually shift our attention on the customer, understand their experience in regards to issues of equity, or just generally their unique lived experience within the category in relation to the product?" And start there rather than start with the question of how to make the brand appear more inclusive or more culturally fluent.” - Anastasia
  • {00:18:22} - “It all starts with research. If we cannot understand the cultural landscape fully and comprehensively and the role that the brand plays at the intersection of category and culture, then it becomes challenging to actually execute strategy that is attuned to those realities and to execute effectively.” - Anastasia
  • {00:27:10} - “When we think about what is driving consumers at a deeper emotional level, I think we can often move away from some of those biased perceptions of what people care about based on how they look or what they read like on paper.” - Anastasia
  • {00:34:58} - “The way that I propose to think about culture is really it invites us to think about culture as a set of practices, a set of values, as a set of beliefs that are guiding us to determine what is normal, what is common sense, what is acceptable, what is desired, what is valued in a culture.” - Anastasia
  • {00:42:03} - “I have a more positive outlook on the intersection of commerce and culture because it seems that they're kind of inseparable, and people speak in public and exchange ideas in the same spaces where they shop and pick up products and discover brands.” - Anastasia

Associated Links:

Have any questions or comments about the show? Let us know on futurecommerce.com, or reach out to us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn. We love hearing from our listeners!

Brian: [00:01:33] Hello, and welcome to Future Commerce, the podcast at the intersection of culture and commerce. I'm Brian.

Phillip: [00:01:40] Hey. I'm Phillip. And before we get into it today, I just want to remind everybody we have our symposium at the MoMA coming in just about a month's time by the time you listen to this. We will be sitting down with incredible thinkers. Brian, one of our most listened to podcasts of the year, Kyle Chayka is going to talk about Filterworld and is going to join us for that. I can't wait to inspire the ecommerce and retail industry executives. If you haven't got your ticket just yet, space is very limited. MoMA, Celeste Bartos Theatre, June 11th at 1 PM. Join us for VISIONS Live, that is presented by Future Commerce, and get your ticket at futurecommerce.com/visions. And that's it. Anything to say about that, Brian?

Brian: [00:02:34] Don't miss it. It's going to be so fun.

Phillip: [00:02:39] It's always daunting, Brian, when you get a message that someone booked travel international to come to an event. And I'm like, oh, gosh. This better be good then.

Brian: [00:02:47] Better be good.

Phillip: [00:02:48] Speaking of good, and as we're intersecting both culture and commerce and thinking about what the future of the two look like and what brands are trying to do in order to affect the culture that they inhabit, we found, I think, what might become the seminal text and the foremost thinker around such a topic. Today, we are going to invite someone who has written a literal book on this. This is called Cultural Intelligence for Marketers: Building an Inclusive Marketing Strategy. And here to tell us about how we can do that in brands of all sizes, Dr Anastasia Kārklina Gabriel, who's joining us on Future Commerce today. Welcome to the show.

Anastasia: [00:03:27] Thanks so much for having me. Such a huge pleasure to be here.

Phillip: [00:03:30] It's an incredible honor to have you too. You sort of start this off with a bang, and I had a thumb in it. And then when I showed the book, it slipped out here. You really have found the thing that we intuited, but it seems to be your whole life study and your work. It seems to be the topic of focus that you actually have given a lot of thought to and you've actually written the book on. And that is the fact that strategy is storytelling in a strategic way that uses emotional resonance to achieve specific outcomes, and we all do that in various ways through technology in our brands. But I think what you say about culture in this book is so resonant, and I can't think of a better way to describe how we look at commerce as it has this influence on people's lives and their beings. But in your own words, tell us a little bit about why you wrote this book and the way that you hope people use it in their everyday work.

Anastasia: [00:04:24] I would love to answer that question because it really drives everything that I do, and the journey that I've had in advertising and marketing. I come from an academic background and activist background. So when I transitioned into working within the corporate sector five years ago or so, I started noticing that marketers were asking questions around cultural relevance, around issues of identity, around issues of resonance with various audiences, particularly diverse and marginalized audiences, specifically in the aftermath of 2020. And what I discovered or kind of the relation I had was that the world where I come from, the world of academia that is often not seen as quite as relevant or actionable in the world of business actually had quite a few ideas, contributions, frameworks, and concepts that could be really helpful to marketers who are looking to harness the power of culture, understand how brands can become more socially responsible, inclusive, and resonant with their audience. And that's how the book came about. It's essentially taking my background in cultural studies and the doctoral training I received and my experience working with brand clients and agencies fusing both to say or to ask rather, how can we make some of these valuable concepts accessible, simplified without losing their essence, and actionable in the marketing context?

Brian: [00:06:06] You used the word resonance a few times there. I feel like that's a big part of how you view whether or not something is culturally intelligent is how it resonates. Can you expound a little bit further on that idea of resonance and what it means in the context of your book?

Anastasia: [00:06:26] Good catch, Brian. Yes. I think a lot these days around resonance and just the fluency with which we reach audiences in the context of the kind of marketing discourse that we are in, which is that certainly performativity and inclusive marketing no longer cuts it. And if in the past it might have landed brands into trouble, then at the moment, consumers are ever so skeptical, ever so vigilant, and ever so able to scrutinize brands. And so I think about resonance quite a bit to ask what does it mean to truly resonate with consumers and understand their lived experiences and tapping into those emotional registers of customers through the lens of inclusivity and cultural opportunity. And so, to me, resonance really is as a concept or idea or goal that we should have in our work really tackles that problem of performativity. Traditionally, brands would go to market with inclusive messaging to make themselves look good.

Phillip: [00:07:39] Mhmm.

Anastasia: [00:07:39] And [00:07:39] when we think about resonance, naturally, I think we ought to ask, "Well, how do we actually shift our attention on the customer, understand their experience in regards to issues of equity, or just generally their unique lived experience within the category in relation to the product?" And start there rather than start with the question of how to make the brand appear more inclusive or more culturally fluent. [00:08:04]

Phillip: [00:08:05] It's such an interesting time to be having this conversation right now because I think there was performativity, to your point where maybe from 2020 onwards to 2022 or so a lot of brands were making a lot of very public investments in public professions of investments in inclusive marketing, inclusive messaging, but maybe not so much in the last year, year and a half where we see a real platform that consumers are trying to take and maybe undergirded by some bravery in the culture as we come back on another election season. It seems like the pendulum swinging back towards brands, customers may be pushing back a bit and saying, "Well, maybe we have a voice here that is we feel marginalized." How is that not part of this discourse? And what do brand leaders think of this when you speak to them as every campaign is being scrutinized for all the risks associated with it?

Anastasia: [00:09:09] There's such understandable fear in going to market in this climate and speaking around questions about there's such fear understandable fear of speaking about issues pertaining to identity or belonging, and empowerment of different groups. And we see that I think, across the profession where more and more now I'm being asked to write things that focus on the business case for inclusivity to kind of reiterate or help leaders make that case in the C suite. So that has been really, conversations I've been having with different platforms, different leadership teams that feel like they need more data points, more resources, more evidence to bring back the business case for inclusive marketing precisely because we are in this climate where it seems much safer to sit this one out and just not necessarily go to market in any kind of obvious way being purpose-driven or engaging some kind of social issue. And I like to draw a distinction between purpose-driven work and cultural intelligence work because any brand can be culturally intelligent and inclusive without being purpose-driven. Right? And so in the book, I talk quite a bit about what it means for leaders, for marketers, for researchers, creatives to really think about integrating the process of inclusive thinking, inclusive innovation into their process from research to ideation strategy and execution without being so focused on this idea of putting out a purpose-driven campaign or speaking on a social issue. Because at the end of the day, speaking on a social issue might be one campaign. But unless we change how we cast, how we do research, how we think about different audience segments, that sort of work is not sustainable in making advertising and marketing more socially conscious and responsible over the long term.

Brian: [00:11:21] It's interesting to me. Yeah. You bring up this idea of purpose-driven versus  thinking inclusively from a strategic standpoint and long term standpoint. And I recently heard a kind of a statement around the difference between a protest and a religion. You could see a lot of similarities between them in a certain sense, but in another sense, protest ends and once the protest starts, there's a goal, and if it's achieved, it's done. Whereas with a religion, the intent is for it to stick around for a long time. And on page 27 of your book, you talk about brands as religions and the similarity. And I actually think there's a lot, and we've talked about this quite a bit at Future Commerce about the idea and the connection to religion. I think brands are probably a lot closer to religions than to protests in that their goal is to continue to serve the market on a long term basis or at least for certain types of brands.

Phillip: [00:12:37] For at least a system of belief. Right.

Brian: [00:12:37] Yeah. Systems of belief, symbols, ideologies, things like that. And so I think what you just said is really interesting. It seems like purpose-driven would fall more into the camp of protest. What do you think about that, Anastasia?

Anastasia: [00:12:58] That is such an interesting question. I think, yeah, as you were talking, I thought well, full transparency, I'm a lifelong activist, so I've been in a lot of protests and a lot of movements. And so the world movement came up when you are making a distinction because religion is a form of movement. Right? Values-driven movement of people who are banding over certain beliefs. And we can think about any sort of social justice movement or cultural movement in very similar terms. And then we have these sparks of protests, visible actions that capture attention. But as any activist will say or will be clear about, those don't necessarily constitute the long term work. So I do think in some sense, we see purpose-driven campaigns as these, you know, gestures, public gestures of support. And I'm not saying that they are not relevant or in certain cases for certain brands, you know, if you are a brand like Nike, Patagonia, Ben and Jerry's, Frida, you know, etcetera, etcetera, that these protests, so to say, might be relevant to your brand. Where I think it gets sticky is that we kind of don't really consider what other modes of advocacy brands can take not to "save the world" but to be part of culture, to transcend advertising, to insert their products and offerings in a space within cultural dialogue that really makes a positive impact but also drives business. And so for me, it's just a narrow outlook on what it means to make a difference commercially and socially for brands.

Phillip: [00:15:03] There's such a good point in there in that there's the way that customers engage with brands is much more like a relationship these days and much more of a discourse. It's something we've described as multiplayer. The future of brands is multiplayer, and that can mean a multitude of things. It could mean that we're actually literally cocreating. It could mean that the actual act of discourse and the interpretation as you write in the book, the interpretation of a message is a co-creative act, in that it's not just about what you intended to send in a particular campaign or in a series of pieces of creative. It's also how your intended audience or your unintended audience receives it, interprets it, and then uses that as a means of co-creation. And sometimes that is its own form of protest. So I think that fundamentally, we have sensed or intuited some of these same happenings in the world based on our work with brands over this last number of years. But I'd love to know specifically, what are the tools that you're using and some of the ones you talk about here in the book when a brand leader or an executive team realizes, okay, there's an opportunity here or we need to make an investment in a specific way we need to be more culturally intelligent. How does that conversation begin in an organization? Who do they turn to and what are some of those tools that are used in order to make this shift into a more culturally intelligent brand?

Anastasia: [00:16:42] I said heavily on the research side of strategy, and so a lot of my work, both in my day job and before in my consultative practice has really focused on deploying insights and cultural insights into really identifying those areas of opportunity because we can say that wellness or sustainability might be a cultural opportunity for a particular brand. However, the question then is, well, what does it actually mean for the brand positioning, for the product, for the category, and how we identify that area of opportunity that makes sense for the brand, but also perhaps that not a lot of other competitors are playing and where the brand can actually be a leader in that sense in that conversation. And, in my work, I've utilized quite a bit of commercial semiotics. So back to Brian's point around brands being sort of vessels of meaning, like religion, for example. Brands signify something. Understanding, at a very kind of rigorous methodological level the emotional registers that brands already tap into and how those emotional registers intersect with what's happening in culture, with what consumers are expecting, what is being increasingly valued, and so on. And so, I mean, there are multiple tangible tools that we can utilize in that work from semiotic analysis to trends analysis to thinking about what's currently dominant in culture, what's emerging in culture, and being able to track trends and track culture in that way. But, essentially, all that is to say that for me, [00:18:22] it all starts with research. If we cannot understand the cultural landscape fully and comprehensively and the role that the brand plays at the intersection of category and culture, then it becomes challenging to actually execute strategy that is attuned to those realities and to execute effectively. [00:18:43]

Brian: [00:19:35] I think especially for marketers, you know, research has been an important part of how they've been able to identify audiences, for a long time. And so I think you're going to get a lot of nodding heads when it comes to using research as a tool to help identify what these signals are. And there are a few things though that are a little bit different. I think what you're looking for, and you mentioned semiotics as part of that, is really important. The what you research, it seems like that's a little bit of a shift based off of your book. I think the other thing that that I found really interesting is discourse seems to be sort of the at the top of this as well. So as research is conducted, it's not just a one way street. It might be a two way street and involving your customers and beyond your customers, what's happening in the world, in the process of feedback, and we've talked a lot about parasocial relationships and their role in the process of marketing, but I also feel like there's something in the range of research that results in the parasocial. And I recently heard in the work of your colleague, Matt Klein, this idea of saropocial relationships, which is sort of the reverse idea of a parasocial relationship where audiences, or you have this odd relationship with your audiences as well where you don't actually know them the way that they could be known by you. And so I do wonder as you go to market to go research what's happening in the world, what does that do to your relationship with the customer? Are you building out archetypal ideas of who people are, or are you getting into their actual percepts of how they interact with your brand?

Anastasia: [00:22:01] Yeah. Such an interesting question, and my work is really driven by my own realization coming into the world of business from a very different path that, you know, ordinary people don't think like marketers. I think that's where any kind of engagement or customer has to start. Ordinary people don't think about brands like marketers. And semiotics, to my early point, is so important to this work because so many of associations that customers form with brands are subconscious, are operating on this very level of emotional registers that sometimes customers aren't even able to enunciate themselves, and are not able to make sense of. And so it's that's something that I'm always aware of whether I'm running, you know, focus groups or interviews or doing ethnographic research. I feel like as marketers, we have to have this dual perspective of being the custodians of our brands or people who service our clients and also understand how a regular consumer thinks about brands, about products, and what they value. And so, to your question, Brian, you know, I really, in my work, move away as far as possible where it makes sense from demographics and kind of understanding customers through the lens of we often hear that, and that's my such a pet peeve. You know, "What does the black community think about this?" Or "What does the LGBTQ community think about that?" Right? And really focusing more so on people's values, on people's priorities, and what resonates with different customer segmentations. And, specifically, I'm fascinated to think about that even more since I read recent research that said that 57% of all mainstream consumers say that they are incredibly influenced by the trends and tastes of diverse and multicultural communities. So that complicates things even further when we think about speaking to different demographic segments and understanding what consumers care about because culture is moving at such a fast pace. And our work with audience can no longer be really isolated into these demographics groups, and how we understand them individually. So that's something that I've been thinking a lot about recently.

Brian: [00:24:32] How do you then interpret the data? I think the reason why a lot of demographic work happens is because it's easy for people to conceptualize and to action. And so what do you do...

Phillip: [00:24:46] They're immutable qualities. Right?

Brian: [00:24:48] Exactly.

Phillip: [00:24:49] Race... There are ideas that you can just lump people into a specific type of a group, and that's how we measure stuff. Google Analytics. It just gives you, like, 3 dimensions. Right?

Brian: [00:25:03] So how then are you classifying the data and being able to make meaningful movement in your business as a result of it?

Anastasia: [00:25:14] Yeah. Let me clarify. I mean, this is not to say that I do not look at demographics in my own work or pay attention to how different demographic or generational groups are behaving themselves, what they value, and so on. So let me clarify that I do think that there is value and it would probably be scandalous for me to say otherwise because I did study identity for most of my life. So I do believe very strongly that our identity and lived experiences very much shape our preferences, our perceptions, beliefs, and so on. So I would say, I guess, practically, that means just combining both or at least not giving such a significant, so dominant significance to demographic markers and thinking more holistically about what are some of the deeper human needs that are driving consumer behavior. And so when we're doing platform research, for example, and how users on Reddit are behaving, we certainly might look at certain demographic markers. But at the end of the day, the question is, what makes this audience unique in what's driving their purchase behavior? What is capturing their attention? What are they coming to the platform for? What are some of the deeper needs that are being fulfilled by a particular community, a particular product, a particular brand? So that is my focus and my priority. And I suppose in my mind, it at least balances some of the traditional approach to consumer research, which, you know, create personas that usually have I mean, to be completely blunt, the danger of being stereotypical and biased. And [00:27:10] when we think about what is driving consumers at a deeper emotional level, I think we can often move away from some of those biased perceptions of what people care about based on how they look or what they read like on paper. [00:27:25]

Phillip: [00:27:26] The book is organized into a number of different tools, a number of different frameworks in ways that you might approach some of these problem-solving exercises. And I really, really, I think that this is an incredible text because it's kind of a full scale consultant in a box. It's everything that you could possibly need. There's work... There are questions, there are prompts. There are really beautiful, I'd say, abstract frameworks that you could use and workshop with your own teams. Of course, it's always better to have a professional lead you through such a thing. But as somebody who's just fascinated with the way that you architected the information and the way that you break this down, you sort of land on this bigger idea of the four Cs, which I think probably requires a little bit of terms and definitions so that we understand what we're all talking about. But the way that you go about explaining how these become useful and you ladder them back into case studies that I think most people that are listening to this would recognize because they're all fairly, you know, they're all, I would say almost monocultural events. We all have some touchstones in the marketing world with some of these examples. So I really appreciated the way the recency and of the content and really appreciated the relevancy of the content. Talk a little bit about how you organized the book and how the tools and the frameworks that you've created or adapted for marketers work into that overarching four Cs philosophy.

Anastasia: [00:29:08] Yeah. The intent behind the four Cs as a framework was both to mimic the marketing process from research to creative ideation, messaging, creative execution, and customer engagement. So from culture, communications, critical consciousness, and community kind of going through that as a, you know, 4 step process, if you will, but also as a resource where any professional within the marketing function can pick up the book and select whatever is most relevant to their work. And so the book is really structured around main concepts that I introduce readers to that I think are going to be useful to think about cultural fluency and brands' role in culture. So we go through a concept of representation, ideology, and how representation essentially cannot be just limited to who is represented or who is casted in a campaign, but the kind of messaging that brands are sending out into the culture, into the marketplace. And then the 4 Cs are really there to help marketers ask questions that will uplevel and elevate their current process. And so the first C, Culture, really asks, how can we utilize analytical and trend research tools to understand what is currently happening in culture, where culture is going, the role that the brand has in culture, and how brands can carve out an opportunity for themselves that is not just speaking at random to a social issue, but one that actually is organic and natural for brands' role in the category as it intersects with the larger cultural discourse. The second C, Communications, really talks about what you mentioned, Phillip, earlier, the interpretation as a co-creative act. How do we prevent very easily preventable mistakes when brands put out any sort of messaging into the market, oftentimes without really thinking about potential interpretations of that message and then facing backlash, and then receiving and being fearful to go back to the market, and so I introduce reception theory from cultural studies, which isn't anything complicated, but it just asks us to consider how our customers are all going to have their own interpretation of the message. And so it allows brands to think about potential interpretations and think of their response, their reaction, be prepared for those, and maybe decide that they're not ready to go to market with that particular message. Critical Consciousness speaks to the point I made earlier about integrating inclusivity and equity into the process of marketing itself rather than just focusing on purpose-driven campaigns. So I focus a lot on demystifying and clarifying the concept of intersectionality and what it means to be an intersectional marketer. And lastly, Community really touches on the future of co-creation and how increasingly customers don't want brands to speak at them. Customers want to experience a sense of belonging, a sense of being understood, a sense of being listened to. And the way that brands can achieve that is by bringing customers into the co-creation process, whether that's in research, or even some of the recent initiatives where customers are being brought into the actual product design to make the product more inclusive.

Phillip: [00:33:08] There are a couple of things in there that I feel like really helped me understand that there's more than one way that people look at all of these four Cs. So in particular, culture is a really good example because I think if you were to ask five people what they think the word culture is or how culture is realized, you'd get five different answers. I think some people would say the arts are a form of cultural expression. It's a cultural artifact, and whatever is imbued in art is the culture, that is real culture. As if to, you know, whatever happens with Taylor Swift and Travis Kelsey is to someone that is culture. Right? That is a form of cultural understanding or cultural artifact. How are brand leaders that you speak with and maybe your intended audience with the book, how do you help them to have a more holistic view of what culture really means? And the thing that reframed it for me from the book was the idea that, well, maybe understanding subcultural communities like Dungeons and Dragons and their online guilds is one way of reframing that maybe your experience and other people's experience of what culture might mean is fundamentally different?

Anastasia: [00:34:27] This is the most challenging and the most exciting question for me. Cultural theorist Raymond Williams famously said that culture is the most difficult word in the English language precisely because we all have such different understanding of what culture is. And this is not to say that the things you mentioned whether, you know, celebrity news or entertainment or sports, foods, etcetera, are not part of culture. But [00:34:58] the way that I propose to think about culture is really it invites us to think about culture as a set of practices, a set of values, as a set of beliefs that are guiding us to determine what is normal, what is common sense, what is acceptable, what is desired, what is valued in a culture. And that seems important because then once we understand that culture is a kind of way of life, a version of reality that we inhabit, that we all agree on, that we speak the common language and share a particular set of values around various facets of society, it becomes easier to actually analyze these different aspects of the cultural arena, like in stream of pop culture, and understand where are they coming from, what is happening here, what is intention.  [00:36:00]And one good example of that is I was raised in Eastern Europe, so classical music, you know, was part of my cultural upbringing. And then when I lived in Ghana, I would listen to a lot of Afropop, and my father did not consider that to be the same kind of cultural contribution. So that is what culture really is, it's not just these forms of music, but it's how we think of them. And when we think about culture in that way, we can ask, well, why is it that Tchaikovsky, in my dad's worldview, is a form of valuable cultural contribution? And Afropop or Afrobeats is not considered high culture, is not considered valuable, is not considered creative enough? So once we start teasing that apart, we can actually see that culture is so much more than these music forms or forms of entertainment or film or even politics. It's how we think about them and how we assign value to cultural forms around us. I'm still always making sense of culture, but that is how I approach it and how I try to tease apart, tease away our understanding of culture from these concrete forms to thinking more on a level of ideology, which I think matters tremendously for brands. And I'm happy to expand on that if that's relevant.

Phillip: [00:39:18] We have the saying at Future Commerce, which is commerce is a form of culture. But in this more holistic view of an ideology, maybe it's a little bit darker than I originally had conceived it to be. Maybe commerce being culture is actually quite a capitalist and very western mentality as the things we buy and consume are a facet of our ideology and our being. Anyway, that's a sidebar between you and me because I find that it reframes the way that I've thought about that as, like, a tagline.

Brian: [00:39:57] Potentially.

Phillip: [00:39:57] I don't know. Yeah. Maybe.

Brian: [00:40:00] Yeah. I don't know. I don't know if that's true or if commerce is just an inherent part of life in general. You can't get away from it. Yeah.

Phillip: [00:40:11] A state of human interaction. Yeah. Sure.

Brian: [00:40:11] Yeah. Exactly.

Anastasia: [00:40:12] I have a funny historical fact that I find really fascinating. Recently, I learned that the Greek word for marketplace, agorá, refers to the ancient Greek marketplace, place, which combines kind of both commercial side of ancient Greek life and the social political part of Greek life. And so that was the marketplace where both commercial and social forces came to be and coexist together. And so this idea of the marketplace really fascinated me because I now work in social media. And what I learned from my research was that two words arose in the Greek language from the word agorá, which refers to this marketplace. And both verbs are translated... Well, one of the verbs is translated as "I shop," and the other word is translated as "I speak in public." And so I really love that interplay because linguistically from this idea of the marketplace, these two other ideas emerge from the same root of the same word. I shop. I exchange goods. I consume, I speak in public, and I engage with culture and society. And I find that really fascinating to think about social media, for example, now, or in digital cultures where, you know, I do most of my work, engage with online audiences on a social platform, and we see how brands are now part of these social media networks where people literally speak in public and debate issues of the day and bond over passions and hobbies and things that they value while also exploring brands etcetera. [00:42:03] So I actually have a more positive outlook on the intersection of commerce and culture because it seems that they're kind of inseparable, and people speak in public and exchange ideas in the same spaces where they shop and pick up products and discover brands. [00:42:20] So as a sidebar, that's just something I've been really fascinated by.

Phillip: [00:42:24] I'm surprised Brian's not punching the air and screaming like, "Yes," right now because that seems to be a point of violent agreement.

Brian: [00:42:32] {laughter} No question. I want to get back to something, though you said about culture sort of being a set of values and a worldview as a framework that you interact and place value on different things. And also back to the idea of resonance that you talked about because a lot of the examples that you use in your book kind of case studies, a lot of them are large multinational corporations that have to address multiple cultures throughout the whole world. When you put out a message that may resonate in the US it might not be the same message that resonates in, say, India, which might not be the same message that resonates in Korea. And the way that people interpret the vibrations that you're putting out around certain things, it's going to hit in a different way and it might even create some discord notes. Instead of resonating, it might actually clash in really big ways. And you get into this idea that there's a lot of danger around blanding because people are worried, or brands could be concerned about how their messages might hit different cultures, US versus Korea versus India or whatever, and how different cultures might interpret those messages, especially when it comes to global companies, it seems like there's a larger challenge because there are so many different value systems out there.

Anastasia: [00:44:14] Yeah. Absolutely. And that is something that we see in most of the marketing failures. We see, I won't call them out directly, but we see certain marketing in the last few years coming out from China for a global brand, a household brand that was incredibly racist, and was not at all well received in the western part of the world. Right? And so that is unfortunately something that I don't know that we can avoid per se, and I guess part of what it means to go to market is to wrestle with these challenges. But I do think that thinking about brands and marketing campaigns semiotically and thinking about how the messages that brands put out are represented, where are the rituals that are being represented, where are the artifacts that are being represented, what meaning they hold, it becomes easier to do, so to say, audits of cultural messaging or creative messaging rather as it is applied to different cultural settings. And, you know, in my line of work, when we do start thinking about marketing as a set of messages, a set of units of meaning that go out there that could mean something different for an audience in Japan versus an audience in Italy, we are able to think more critically about what certain messaging, what certain artifacts, what certain ways of representing life can mean for people elsewhere. And, you know, I firmly believe that that's what it means to be a marketer, and to understand customers and to, again, think, to my earlier point that most customers don't think like marketers about brands. They are really operating on their own cultural matrix. Another way that I like to describe culture is a software running in the background. Right? It's something that we're not conscious of. It's just that something that drives us on a visceral level. When we see a marketing campaign, we respond so strongly to it because it contradicts those value systems that we have accepted as given in our cultural context, in our personal lives. And so, just to your point, Brian, I think that's precisely why cultural intelligence is going to matter so much for brands that are operating across cultural contexts within a market, but also across globally.

Brian: [00:47:05] As brands are able to, or as people are able to pick up on messages that are for specific cultures, some of those cultures might be in conflict with their own, and so I guess my question and I know Phillip wants to keep pressing on a few more things here, but I'll just push this a little bit further. Is there danger in putting out culturally specific messages that could be in conflict with other cultures? And then is the antidote to that to sort of bland everything, so that you don't seem inauthentic? Because I think what I'm getting at is certain cultures, if you put out a message to that culture that's in conflict with another message that you're putting out to another culture, does it look like you're just pandering ultimately in the end? Can it look like you're pandering if you're putting out messages that are intended to resonate with cultures that may be in conflict with each other?

Anastasia: [00:48:28] I'd love to think about any concrete examples that you might have of that happening, which maybe will make the discussion a little bit more concrete. But just going off what you said, I suppose... I mean, everything depends on one's target audience, right, and who one is in intending to reach. Certainly, I do think that there are dangers of putting out a message and receiving backlash. We've seen that happen in multiple instances over the last few years. But then, again, this is why I think we have to think about culture in its role for brands in terms of brand positioning and strategy. Right? What is the goal of putting out that cultural messaging? Is it really aligned with particular business goals of going after a particular target audience and speaking to them? You know, I think when we start to really contextualize cultural messaging within those parameters, maybe that sets some of the metrics for what is reasonable, what is going to be advantageous. Because my worry is that we're still thinking a lot of times about cultural messaging as just kind of making a point, you know, or going to market to speak to a particular audience, and that's when that leads to kind of performativity or pandering. But when cultural storytelling is naturally integrated into the product benefits, and the product's positioning with the offering, I think that can mitigate some of those concerns around being performative. And at the end of the day, I think it's just a reality that as a brand when a brand goes into the marketplace, messaging might alienate some people and not others. And so that just seems to be what it means to be in the arena of the market and what it means to do this work. So there will always be a kind of risk to the work that we do. And my friend, Reema Mitra, who is interviewed in the book said, and I'm paraphrasing here something like, "Well, if you're not taking risks, you're not thinking about the risk, then what are you doing as a marketer?" Because that is literally our job is to assess risks and assess when it's strategic and advantageous to take a certain move rather than falling back and kind of playing it safe, which means that we are betraying our professional responsibilities to brands and clients that we service.

Phillip: [00:51:10] Just going back to the frameworks, you actually have... Oh, jeez. It's not going to show up. Come on. If you're watching on the YouTube, I'm giving away a trade secret in the book. Go buy the book. But there's the ideology representation matrix, also called a nexus. It's the two by two. It's how intentional and progressive are you versus how much impact or risk are you willing to try to make. And I think that the marketplace, Brian, to your point, marketplace is full of all kinds of brands who don't care to be measured as being high impact, high risk, intentional, or progressive. There are all kinds of brands who prefer to just lay low, but I wouldn't say that they are necessarily the future of pushing the envelope of trying aggressively to be culture creators, which is the difference here. If you want to use your brand to create culture, not to just participate in a conversation, if you think that brand has an opportunity to actually shape the world around you, well, then you do have to have high tolerance for risk, which means you're going to probably make some mistakes along the way. And I think it's probably even more nuanced than a two by two matrix, but when you're thinking about it in the terms of a potential future and, Anastasia, I'd love to hear your thoughts on where AI takes your work because my sense is that a lot of the human interaction today and a lot of the real intersectionality and not the performative sort, but the real co-creation with people that have innate understandings of various cultures and subcultures, that's a time intensive and deeply specialized area of expertise that not every brand has the luxury to be able to invest into. It also slows things down to such a degree that if we believe in an accelerating culture, brands might consider this to be too slow to be able to adopt or you have to go slow to go fast, for instance. And these all might be untenable to a certain style or size of an organization. Where does a future where we can take some of this knowledge and put it into systems of control feedback and optimization that allows you to focus your work not necessarily on a marketing campaign, but at a leadership level or at a recruiting level or maybe training an AI so that it can duplicate your efforts and your knowledge to other businesses that otherwise wouldn't invest in it. Let's talk about that potential future.

Anastasia: [00:54:02] Yeah. Such a interesting time to talk about that because all of us are integrating these tools into our work literally as we speak and wrestling with the possibilities, the dangers, the sort of what could be possible, and in what ways that could backfire. I'm certainly of the belief that human creativity cannot be replaced by automation, but automation can really help us parse through large datasets, through sort of speed up the research process, cut time on tasks that we have in the past, you know, spend quite a bit of resources on. And so it's an exciting time to be a part of this kind of wave, specifically within technology, and see how it is really leveling up what we can do with our time and the resources on an organizational level. At the same time as somebody who thinks about bias a lot and thinks about how data is trained, you know, there's obviously that part of me that wants to be cautious. And, you know, when speaking to kind of the leadership level of organizations wants to ensure that we don't cut corners in efforts to be efficient where we actually reproduce some of the dynamics of the past that have characterized marketing and advertising, which is that marginalized and diverse segments of society are usually left behind. And we know that technology is being produced by humans oftentimes features that bias in the mechanisms that we utilize. And so for me, that future is very exciting. It is bright and promising as long as we are able to keep that ethical compass in place and precisely why some of the frameworks that I introduce in the book focus on innovation and strategy, but are always kind of pressure-tested by what I call these forces of ethics, of inclusivity, diversity. And so, in my work, the question is, how do we take advantage of technology while not sacrificing the advances we have made in ensuring that our data is representative and responsible in terms of customers that we are trying to reach and represent in marketing media?

Phillip: [00:56:46] Maybe there's a future, Brian, because I'm concerned that the way that... So let's take your example before about geographies. And if you take the geographies, well, that seems to be something well, we can all relate to this idea of geography being something that we might want to tailor messaging around. But with the audience that listens to this, they're very excited about the future of AI and being able to personalize every type of media and not just on the transmission, to your earlier point, Anastasia. It's not just in how we intend to send the message, but now we have a literal reality dial that can dial up or down on a hardware device. Maybe there's a future where you can adapt incoming messages to be filtered down to your own personal preferences. So maybe this idea of ideology is also in and not just in the metaphorical sense of I've interpreted a message a certain way. It's that I've literally filtered it and massaged incoming marketing messages or any stimulus, not just to be purpose-built for a regenerative geography, but for my own worldview. And that to me seems as natural of a progression as, like, it's not just that I put your first name and personalized the last thing you bought by category in your email. It's that I'm preferring that everything in my world is shaped and filtered to be specific to Phillip and my worldview. And so is there even such a thing as inclusivity anymore? Because this it's just the Phillip worldview, and there's nothing else besides that. That seems like it's powerful and also dystopic to some degree because then it comes down to, you know, does this work basically reinforce this idea that we do have to uphold some form of monoculture so that we all have a worldview that does have some agreeable ideology, I don't know, that's more universal instead of so individualized? That's just a musing. I don't know if you have anything to add to that.

Anastasia: [00:59:21] I am fascinated by that imagination of the future. I think I don't know that I have coherent thoughts.

Phillip: [00:59:31] Oh, I obviously don't.

Anastasia: [00:59:34] I'm challenged by what you're saying in the best way because I am torn. The cultural theorist in me is torn between thinking about how actually, the level of ideology a lot of us do share even if we don't realize very similar common sense. We function in a coherent society where, you know, we have accepted norms way of doing things, how we run organizations, etcetera. So there is a broader matrix that we are all, the software that we're all running on. But I think you point to something very interesting which is the fragmentation that we're also seeing where there are a lot of more different strands of ideologies that create these tensions within that larger cultural matrix. And so I don't quite know where I'm going with this, but, yeah, there seems to be this tension in my mind of how we think about what cultural ideology means, how it manifests, what it means to engage customers at that level, and whether what you are proposing, in some ways leads to more personalization, but also leads to a lot of more of these tensions reemerge and make themselves known.

Brian: [01:00:49] Yeah. This gets back to to Marshall McLuhan's global village and the tribal elements that can take place from any part of the world. Right? And so as you form worldview  or worldview has been formed, your worldview has been formed, you can build connection points to only other people that have that same point of view as you worldwide. And so his...

Phillip: [01:01:15] Network States, Brian.

Brian: [01:01:16] McLuhan's theory was like we're going back to a tribal society effectively, and because we have the ability to connect and only connect with those that we find to be our tribe.

Anastasia: [01:01:35] Yeah. That is so true. Particularly, I've been thinking a lot about that specifically in this, you know, social-political moment, as myself immersed in a lot of cultural conversation, activist conversations, and thinking about my experience even online as a just independent user, you know, and a person on the Internet and how even I experience being in a kind of echo chamber as much as I often talk myself about the need to break out of our kind of tribal affiliation, so to say, or the bubbles that we operate in. I talk about in the book as expanding our point of reference and kind of reaching across the divide and engaging different kinds of cultures, subcultures, and ideologies. So, I mean, we could go on a rabbit hole thinking about algorithmic mechanisms and how that kind of facilitates what Brian is talking about. But all that is to say that just feels so real to me, not even as a strategist or a researcher, but just as somebody who is thinking a lot about what it means for us to operate in these kinds of fragmented, isolated, digital worlds even, which is how most of us now consume media, news, etcetera.

Phillip: [01:02:49] It's so interesting. We're right at the beginning of a new form of media, and I'm sure every marketer that's out there, they're really trying to I think we've sensed that it's a struggle to keep up with the world as it is now and the structures that are in place now and the marketing tools we have now, never mind an emergent future where we're giving customers more co-creative control, and this co-creative control might be literal in that tonal shaping and preference filtering. These are all things that I think we have early rudimentary examples of being able to control those sorts of things. If not in your social media, then elsewhere too. I think it's such an important thing for us to understand how the world works, how brands work, and how they operate. And I've read this book, Anastasia. Now my second read through, this is, for me, have you ever watched the factory show How It's Made? This is How It's Made for building a culture-shaping brand. I understand now how boardrooms and how researchers, and foresight professionals think about the work that they do and how they make educated risk-assessed investments in the way that they shape their brand and the messages that go to their customers. I am so thrilled that you came to share this with our audience. Anything that you have to share here in our last few minutes? I'll give you the final word.

Anastasia: [01:04:29] Well, first of all, I'm most humbled by your generous comments and words about the book. So thank you so much, and thank you for having me and your attention and time. I guess if I were to add something it's that I do feel very strongly that as a profession, we're at a kind of inflection point and a crossroads in marketing and advertising as an industry. And it just seems that this question of culture and cultural intelligence, from my biased point of view, seems to just be so important as to where we are and where we have come from in the last three to four years. And so it is just my hope that the book inspires marketers to continue having these conversations despite some of the backlash that exists against diversity, equity, and inclusion more broadly, but also more specifically within marketing circles, the kind of skepticism that exists around brands being socially responsible. My gospel in my work is that a brand doesn't have to be an explicitly socially conscious or socially engaged brand to really be engaged in thinking more critically about the kind of media that the brand is putting out there and asking questions about whether that media is representative and whether that media is responsible and resonant with their audiences. And so the broader questions of cultural fluency that often are focused through these considerations of equity and inclusion are really just a matter of professional responsibility of how do we serve our customers in a diverse multicultural society more adequately, more efficiently, and how do we rewrite some of the mistakes of our industry when certain segments, marginalized segments, historically marginalized segments of society felt really left behind and unseen in marketing, but also in product design and innovation, etcetera. So it is my hope that the book inspires some of these conversations to carry on despite the understandable pressures and challenges that marketing leaders are facing this year.

Phillip: [01:06:52] And I appreciate the fact that the work that you do you've put into practice, and you've given some tools and some examples of ways to visualize and work through this type of a conversation within your business. And just as a person who's just curious about the world, this really helped me understand more about the types of work that people of your ilk do, and that is just so valuable to me. So thank you. And thank you, Brian, for coming down this rabbit hole too because I know that one thing, this might be an After Dark segment, Anastasia. I'm happy to cut, to chop this part off at the end. I felt a little bit like this is a challenging conversation for me to have because I am kind of you know, I'm a cis white male raised in a traditional, conservative upbringing. I mean, even the word traditional there is probably loaded. I want to have these types of conversations. But it feels uncomfortable. But I love that discomfort to some degree. I want to have the conversation about how brands are thinking about shaping culture because I think that they do have that power to do it. So how do they wield that effectively? But it also feels a little strange for me to have that conversation. Any coaching? I'm sure you deal with this in the boardroom, but, any coaching that you have for others like me or other brand leaders like me who are curious but want to have this kind of conversation and to sort of approach that discomfort and be able to have that conversation in a way where maybe I don't feel like I'm going to get it all right all the time. Maybe that's what a lot of people feel.

Anastasia: [01:08:46] Well, first of all, kudos to you because I think you're doing an excellent job, and I did not pick up on that at all. And I think, you know, it's part of what it means for all of us, I think, to become more conscious because on a personal note, I often feel rather vulnerable and comfortable as somebody who is an academic and an activist in these spaces talking to business audiences and questioning my own biases, you know, when I am working with clients because I come from a very liberal progressive background, and thinking, well, how are my personal beliefs and "agendas" coloring how I am doing my work. And so all that is to say that I'm a firm believer exactly in what you said around normalizing that discomfort or dwelling in that discomfort and shifting it away, which is what I tried to do in the book, away from just scrutinizing people from dominant groups or challenging people from dominant demographics to do that work, which is certainly very important. But actually seeing that as all of our responsibility as marketers who are wading through culture and bringing our own assumptions, biases, and prejudices. And I don't even mean to say those things in a negative way. All of us have them.

Phillip: [01:10:11] Sure.

Anastasia: [01:10:11] Into our work of producing messaging and putting that into the marketplace for, like, masses of people to consume and see. So it is my hope that by normalizing that conversation, by really building cultures of questioning within our teams and organizations, it could really become not a burden of some, but a responsibility of all and at least something that I know we try to cultivate on my team where that sort of discomfort, that sort of questioning is really encouraged and celebrated. And so to me, that's the answer in a way forward. You know, moving away from what many people think about what people experience as shame or discomfort anxiety to a kind of celebration of that sort of I mean, bravery because I do think it takes a certain level of courage to question oneself and to get out there and still have those conversations.

Phillip: [01:11:12] I love it. Dr Anastasia Kārklina Gabriel from Kogan Page. This is Cultural Intelligence for Marketers. Go pick up a copy now, and appreciate you so much.

Anastasia: [01:11:23] Thank you, Phillip. Thank you, Brian. I had a blast. I appreciate you having me here.

Brian: [01:11:27] Thank you. It was great.

Phillip: [01:11:27] Thanks. Thank you for listening to Future Commerce and watching. You remember, you can get other episodes of this podcast. We have two short run series that are operating right now. We have Decoded and Step by Step coming up as well. All Future Commerce podcasts can be had ad free by joining the membership. It's futurecommerce.com/plus. Future Commerce Plus members also will be the first in the door at our next symposium event, and that's the MoMA at the Celeste Bartos Theatre. We hope to see you there June 11th. Go get your ticket right now. Futurecommerce.com/visions. Thank you for listening to this episode of Future Commerce.

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