Grant McCracken Q&A with Tom H. C. Anderson
I learned of Grant’s work just before the ESOMAR Annual Congress in Montreal last year where he was the Key Note. It turns out he lives in the next town over and is now a member of the Next Gen Market Research Group (NGMR) which I moderate on LinkedIn.
Grant holds a PhD from the University of Chicago in anthropology. He has been Director of the Institute of Contemporary Culture at the Royal Ontario Museum, a senior lecturer, Harvard Business School, a visiting scholar, University of Cambridge and is now a research affiliate at C3 at MIT. He has consulted for many companies, including the Coca-Cola Company, Diageo, IBM, IKEA, and Kimberly Clark. He has served on advisory boards for IBM and the Boston Beer Company.
Some of his recent books include: Flock and Flow: Predicting and Managing Change in a Dynamic Marketplace, Culture and Consumption: New Approaches to the Symbolic Character of Consumer Goods and Activities, Culture and Consumption II: Markets, Meaning, and Brand Management. This fall his newest book Chief Culture Officer will be published.
Tom: You are an Anthropologist interested in contemporary culture. What does that mean?
Grant: I study contemporary culture the way an anthropologist studies any culture. There are important differences, lots of variation at any given time, change over time, dynamism all the time. Contemporary culture is a handful. But anthropologists are good at finding patterns in broad, noisy data sets.
Tom: I believe your most recent book is Transformations and deals with self reinvention. Can you tell me a little about self reinvention, why it’s important now, especially for marketers?
Grant: In culture, individuals have the right to reinvent themselves. This doesn’t happen in other cultures, so the challenge was to figure out why and how this reinvention works.
Tom: How will the current economy affect our culture, especially consumption/consumerism?
Grant: I am working on this very topic at the moment. I think there’s a good chance that consumers will merely scale back their consumption and when prosperity, credit, and confidence return we will party like its 1999. Still, we could see some major changes. I’m in the process of trying to sketch out the possibilities now.
Tom: That sounds good to me! Which are the most important sub/counter cultures currently, and which aspects within them are worth paying extra attention to currently?
Grant: In a way, sub and counter cultures have moved out of the social world into the personal world. Each of us has lots of selves within. This internal diversity is the thing we need to understand more. Marketers have been segmenting markets externally for decades. Now it’s time to segment by the internal distinctions and speak to one or several of the selves within.
Tom: Is it possible/wise for marketers to try to segment customers by culture, or is it too broad to be actionable/useful?
Grant: Well, certainly they can and should segment by culture theme and trend.
Tom: You’ve said our culture is changing at lightning speed and have given examples of the Old Regime, as Martha Stewart, and Oprah Winfrey as the new more influential regime because Oprah doesn’t care about status. Any other good examples of old regime brands and new regime brands?
Grant: There will always be a Martha. She speaks to and for a certain constituency. But I think her cultural trend and theme is being supplanted by the Rachel Rays of the world.
Here is a link to the NGMR group on LinkedIn.
Grant and I are also both on Twitter
[NOTE: 11/25/09 Update Interview with Grant on new book CCO here]