What do Italians, Harley riders and Trekkies have in common?
They each have their own multigenerational sense of group culture.
Culture is the most powerful tool for developing longevity and loyalty within a tribe. Looking out across the digital community landscape, it also appears to be the most underestimated. Marketing professionals have long tried to harness some of the power of culture through branding as expressions of values, experience and identity. But we don’t confuse brand with culture. Well, most of us don’t.
Culture is tough for us to nail down, yet we know it when we experience it. We get upset when it changes or is threatened. How do you define culture?
Here are two dictionary definitions of culture from http://Dictionary.reference.com to kick us off:
1. The behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group: the youth culture; the drug culture.
2. Anthropology. The sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.
The origin of the word is interesting too:
Mid-15c., “the tilling of land,” from L. cultura, from pp. stem of colere “tend, guard, cultivate, till” (see cult). The figurative sense of “cultivation through education” is first attested c. 1500. Meaning “the intellectual side of civilization” is from 1805; that of “collective customs and achievements of a people” is from 1867.
Looking at these references, I see three things:
1. Repetitive behavior shared across a group of people and across generations
2. Common beliefs
3. An origin referring to caring for, guarding, cultivating
Repetitive behaviors, ways of doing things, jumps out at me. Last year, an anthropologist told me that despite our perception, repetition develops first and meaning is assigned afterward. Anyone who is superstitious can attest to this! It brought to mind a cultural struggle in my own household:
My husband is German. They open Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve. We opened gifts Christmas morning. It took seven years and 3 kids to create a compromise on this issue. Of course, when gifts are opened has no bearing on the meaning of the Christmas ritual, but changing “the way” we do it was unexpectedly difficult for both of us. It felt like changing how you did it could change the ritual beyond identification.
What rituals have meaning for you? Do you have any that have developed in your family, friends or region that might surprise us?
So let me know if this makes sense:
If repetitive behaviors become rituals, are cultivated and shared with others and develop deeper, common meaning; culture no longer seems so amorphous and challenging as a goal for our online communities.
You may ask, are we really talking about developing culture around a common interest or a product?
Multigenerational interests gone cultural:
- Social gaming
Multigenerational products gone cultural:
- Harley Davidson comes to mind as a multigenerational product/culture.
- I also want to lump DeadHeads in this bucket with the pursuit of Grateful Dead music and concerts as representation and expression of a lifestyle.
Emerging product cultures:
- Sanuk, with their leverage of surf culture
In the coming posts I will talk about specific cultural examples and opportunities available in digital groups and the approach needed to “cultivate” their emergence.
I would love to hear about examples you have experienced in your online travels!