2021 Round Up
Essential SoB reading & listening
Welcome to the Sociology of Business. If you are not subscribed, join the community by subscribing below and share it with everyone you think may find it useful. You can find my book, The Business of Aspiration, on Amazon, and you can find me on Instagram and Twitter. For those new here, my previous analysis was titled “Why VCs should pay attention to brands” and it is about why brand growth is the business growth.
For those in need of a little stimulation over the holidays, I collected here the most popular Sociology of Business posts, my Harvard Business Review and Highsnobiety columns, and podcast conversations.
The next Supreme will come from the metaverse. Just as Supreme hones its cultural and social flex through limited-editions and collaborations, community-building, iconic logo and brand aesthetic, and generative art, the metaverse-native brands like Bored Ape Yacht Club or CryptoPunks develop their intangible flex through blockchain, digital assets, and PFPs. Read about why a crypto-native brand is the ultimate flex.
Drip is the new drop. A drip is a continuous stream of products, signals, content, incentives, rewards, tokens, points, interactions, events or access. Perennial newness gamifies the brand experience and makes it more individual and unique. The mechanism of drips is accumulation and collecting. Collect enough tokens and unlock an auction or use it as a membership card for future promotions. Drips reward long game over short-term gains. Drips also galvanize communities, incentivize collaboration and membership, and decrease competition. Drips are the opposite of the winner-takes-all: they are decentralized and governed by activity in their communities. Current retail market is not yet made for drips.
Who is your audience. When thinking about who they want to reach and speak to, brands often think of their audience in terms of their current and prospective customers: people who are either buying a brand’s products or using its services or will so in the future. But at any given time, a brand has a much wider and more complex audience of cultural observers, fans, customers, commentators and collaborators. Read about how to build a relationship with all of them.
Degrowth as aspiration. Across industries, companies aspired to stay lean to keep profits high. No one wanted cash sitting in their balance sheet, or inventory sitting in their warehouse. But there is value in the inefficiency. The success of companies embracing the Great Inefficiency in their behaviors (and P&Ls) ultimately depends on the consumer, and how they find it desirable to work, live, and entertain themselves. Read about five de-efficiency shifts and why degrowth is the ultimate aspiration.
Targeting taste communities. Thanks to the Internet and its numerous influence networks, products across categories are now more susceptible to trends than to individual preferences. A show becomes popular because a lot of people watch it, and it’s entirely possible that a big chunk of the show’s audience does it not because it reflects their interests or values, but because everyone else they know is watching a show and they do not want to be left out (Netflix even unrolled the fast-forward viewing option for those).
The passion economy is a trap. The dream of creative and intellectual autonomy is as false as it’s attractive. Just as Uber drivers have to work an ever-increasing number of hours to make a living, while Uber takes home an ever-increasing cut, turning one’s passion into a livelihood is self-exploitation. Workers who sell their passion — the so-called cognitariat in place of the unskilled proletariat — and capitalists who own means of production — VC-based companies like Substack — are deemed to have an antagonistic relationship as the new sources of creation of wealth.
Imitation as taste. Similarly as our ancestors had to, as a matter of survival, quickly decide if a fellow Neanderthal was a friend or a foe, modern humans use social signals to quickly orient themselves in the world. On a daily basis, they actively classify one another by lifestyle, values, interests, and projected and perceived social standing. Based on taste displays, they make snap decisions whether a person is like them or far away in taste space, and thus foreign. Feeling cozy in our own taste space is largely responsible for the 37 Avenger movies and the Top Gun reboots to look forward to. Burning Man outfits, family pajama sets, Halloween costumes, weddings, craft breweries and coffee shops all appeal to human tendency to revert to the recognizable and the familiar. Thanks to it, Spotify is now a music genre, one shorter and with memorable hooks in the first 30 seconds, in addition to being a streaming platform. TikTok is a music label. Amazon’s clothing line does little more than to mimic what’s currently popular.
How brands create value. Brand value is a cumulative result of sales volume, equity, audience size, and the brandʼs market potential. But unlike other assets like stocks, bonds, commodities and real estate, there is no active market in brands that would provide comparable values. The main issue with brand valuations is their arbitrary measurement and few agreed-upon systems and processes for evaluating brand assets.
The taste map. Taste shapes how we see the world. It encodes symbols and meaning into products, places and people. Taste connects the symbolic and the commercial, and links aesthetics to consumer behavior. It reveals consumers values, identity and their desired status. If a person likes Stella McCartney, they signal their commitment to sustainability, trendiness, quality and also their ability to afford expensive clothes. By conveying various dimensions of consumers’ life, taste creates new inequalities. Brands are in the business of taste. Knowing how consumers are distributed on the taste map informs brands’ allocation of their production, distribution and marketing resources, informs their communication and defines their messaging.
Activating the taste map. In the first part of my Taste Map analysis, I explored the taste territory that replaced traditional taste dichotomies (good vs bad taste, highbrow vs lowbrow). In the second part of the analysis, I focus on how brands can capitalize on their customers’ evolving social codes and status needs, and provide new ways of signaling distinction and belonging.
4 Elements of a successful brand refresh, Harvard Business Review. A successful brand revival does not happen in a single moment. There are no shortcuts. There is only a continuum of strategic, creative, and operational decisions that, if executed consistently, put a brand on the path to cultural relevance, consumer love, and business success. This story is much less exciting to tell, but much more effective in the long run.
Want more loyal customers? Offer a community, not rewards, Harvard Business Review. Loyalty programs — that effectively bribe people into buying more of your products — are lazy. In the modern aspiration economy, people develop true brand affinity only when it gives them a sense of community. Membership strategies are an effective way to achieve that goal. To do this effectively, remember to focus on the micro, niche groups of passionate consumers. Create myths around the clubs you’re creating, helping people buy into your brand story. Encourage customers to meet up with one another, virtually or in person. And maintain the connection, offering routine touchpoints that keep members connected to your brand.
American designers are finally dominating fashion, Highsnobiety. Aesthetically, this model is known as the New American Look for the designers, stylists, musicians, DJs, and reality stars that carry it out: Kanye West, Virgil Abloh, Todd Snyder, Matthew Williams, Kim Kardashian, Teddy Santis, Rihanna, and even Kylie Jenner. These global personalities aren’t masters of traditional fashion craftsmanship. They are masters of reference, recontextualization, and cultural symbol making, and that — not craftsmanship — makes fashion today.
We are all living in a post-genre fashion future, Highsnobiety. Fashion has always been playing with hybrids, and the trend has recently accelerated. Sacai comes to mind as one of the pioneers of fashion deconstruction: bomber jackets stitched with blazers, puffer-fur coats and half-wool sweater-half-wool-coat combos. Confusion as to what workwear even looks like these days gave rise to mixes of essentials, tailoring, streetwear, sportswear, mens- and womenswear at large, and everything in between.