The Sociology of Business analyzes what consumers value, and how it transforms brand communication, strategy and execution, and business growth.
What consumers value, and how they distinguish themselves from others and convey their status makes the modern aspiration economy. In contrast to the traditional aspiration economy, where consumers collect commodities, Instagram followers, airline miles, and busy back-to-back schedules, in the modern aspiration economy consumers collect cultural, social, and environmental knowledge. Not long ago, wearing real fur was a signal of wealth and status. Now, it’s a signal of ignorance. In contrast, fake fur is inexpensive, but it displays status lended by knowledge about climate crisis and importance of sustainability. Thanks to luxury rental and resale services, these day anyone can walk around in a Gucci belt. But not everyone knows that Rimowa dropped a new suitcase or who made their food and clothes. Wokeness is a modern class distinction. In the modern aspiration economy, worth and values replace wealth and economic status.
It is not only business savvy, but also socially urgent that brands start trading in the modern aspiration economy. Overproduction and air travel are killing our planet, and social media addiction and busyness are killing us.
Accumulating commodities and counting air miles and social media likes are aspiration symbols that reward the bad behavior of companies and individuals. We need a new narrative of success, and brands are uniquely positioned to carry it out. By their very nature, brands trade in status: they promise us to be younger, more attractive, smarter, happier, more accomplished, richer. For the longest time, brands operated according to Veblen logic that status is linked to wealth and desirability to price. Now we all have the opportunity to flip the script and link worth and values to our business success.
Here, you will find analysis, examples, and tools of how to use the modern aspiration economy to shift your brand narrative and competitive strategy, create and distribute brand symbols, and ensure that your products and services create both monetary and moral value.
I challenge readers to think how to create, distribute, and deliver social, cultural, and environmental capital when making their business and brand decisions:
Pay attention to how consumers spend their time and money and how they relate to each other, and how these social processes create the new forms of cultural, social, and environmental capital
Understand that values create value and that ethics creates efficiency: replace traditional status symbols and narratives of success and put forward environmentalism, social responsibility, and cultural knowledge as the new ones
Detect the social, cultural, and economic mood by spotting on inversions, contradictions, coincidences, and oddities in consumer behavior and culture
Address collective versus individual dimensions of consumer behavior: shift from targeting individuals to targeting communities
Build taste collectives around commercial symbols and grow through niches
Understand the benefits and differences between the three models of social influence and turn your products into shareable social symbols
Capitalize on social mimicry in the way you come up and scale your creative output
Root your brand strategy in one or more of the four Cs: Community, Content, Curation, and Collaborations
Understand that people consume through collecting: sneakers, likes, references, memes, points for minimalistic living
Learn what business strategy can borrow from sociology
The sociology of business covers the latest news, observations, case studies, analysis, strategy, and tactics in the seven areas:
The Modern Aspiration Economy
Aspiration today ranges from Rolex to Louis Vuitton to Cartier to Sonos to Shinola to Kim Jones’ Dior collabs, to minimalism, time, space, privacy, self-actualization, and to Blenheim Forge knives, who identify with the exceptional artisanal work and displays of human originality.
The idea of “hacking” culture is a play on the concept of growth hacking popular among the Silicon Valley startups that we use to point out that success of ideas, brands, and products predominantly depends on the mood of the times.
Three Models of Social Influence
Thanks to platforms like Instagram and TikTok, consumer choice across categories is now more susceptible to social influence than to individual preferences. There are three models of social influence that marketers need to understand when/how best to use.
We are going through the imagined community renaissance, thanks to modern brands stepping in as the social constructs of belonging left vacant by traditional institutions of social cohesion, like organized religion, civil society institutions, and mass media. Consumer collectives are the new audience unit.
Mimicry as Taste
The modern aspiration economy is filled with examples of products, services, and brands that are popular because they are sharable social symbols: MSCHF, Instagram Face, Baby Yoda, Rimowa luggage, matching pajama sets, minimalism, intermittent fasting, Peloton. Thanks to the Internet, products across categories are now more susceptible to trends than to individual preferences.
Flipping the Script
At the time of Veblen, brand strategy was simple: marketers aimed their communication at targets defined by their household income and purchasing habits and their messages encouraged consumption of commodities as a way to accrue status. Now they have the opportunity to flip the script by focusing on one or more of the 4Cs: content, community, collaborations, and curation.