Grant McCracken presents a provocative take on the Sumner Redstone’s (right) firing of Tom Freston (left), which kicked off an intense discussion.  He read the situation like this:

Freston got his job as a CEO of Viacom because he was deeply informed about contemporary culture and lost it because he was not informed enough.

Whether this is true or not (I think there’s some truth here) remains to be seen.  But the fact is, most corporations ARE disconnected from contemporary culture.  Try and get them to jump on an emerging trend before a competitor does is like trying to get a Texas governor to pardon a man on death row.  And when you finally get to a decision-maker, they get apoplectic.  As with other initiatives—Six Sigma, Total Quality Management (TQM) or Integrated Marketing–the leadership to ensure that a company is plugged into popular culture comes from the example set at the top. 

What I’m interested in is a complete reframing of the skill sets needed to be in marketing.  Yes, it’s important to know strategy and how to traffic work through a system.  But it’s equally important to ensure that your marketing efforts don’t happen in isolation, since changes in the culture impact how brands and marketing efforts are perceived.  A new idea?  Hardly.  But the real metric is the number of companies that do this well.  Since this number is small, there seems to be some room for improvement.

That’s all for now.  Check back for a more in-depth discussion of McCracken’s latest book Flock & Flow, where he discusses ways that corporations can solve this problem.  Suffice it to say that it won’t be easy.

Read his full post here.

Posted by Rob Fields

  • Shouldn’t we add that this applies only if your customers know (are influenced by) Pop Culture? It is all about our target markets, not reach.

  • A very valid point, Lewis! However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that being sensitive to contemporary culture applies to all businesses. It’s not about knowing what the latest, hottest, club/song/fashion accessory. Rather, it’s about being attuned to shifts in the landscape of sensibilities that impact how a company’s marketing efforts are received by its intended audience(s). That, I think, is going to be useful whether you’re in the B2B or B2C space.