It’s a given now that culture and the larger marketplace in which it exists is shifting quicker than ever.  To be frank, it’s tough to keep up.  Given that, it’s very likely that phenomena will slip past you.  Only later will something catch your eye–a tweet, a blog post, an article in the NY Times, etc.–and make you cock your head to the side with a quizzical look on your face.

In which case, the most important thing you can do is ask yourself this: “Did I miss something?”

And it’s critical to be completely honest with yourself, otherwise you’ll miss things.  No matter how open-minded we like to think we are, we’re all operating out of a set of assumptions, biases and experiences that shape how we perceive things.  We walk around thinking that we understand how the world operates when, in fact, we don’t.  Or, rather, our understanding is tenuous at best.  Because things change, while our frames of reference stay fixed.  Shift happens, right?

I recently gave a talk at the National Black Arts Festival on the culture gap.  Specifically, it was a look at how to close the gaps that arise out of age, class, race, gender, socio-economic status, etc.  The thrust of my presentation was simple: There are no gaps in culture.  What we’re often faced with is a gap in cultural understanding.  For me, a great example is Drake.

I don’t get the guy’s music, don’t like his voice.  In fact, my teenage son always gets a kick out of it when he brings up Drake and I mutter some obscenity under my breath.  Yeah, it’s like that.  But then I saw two news items.  First, in its first week, his latest album took the number 1 spot with 658,000 units sold.  No small thing in these days of illegal download sites, but not surprising once I learned that he’s got real marketplace clout, selling over 3.5MM copies of his two previous albums combined..  Second, I saw a piece by New York Times music critic Jon Caramanica who laid out the incredible influence he’s had on a whole coterie of rappers.

Did I miss something?

Apparently.

Even though I don’t “get” him, Drake is worth paying attention to as a popular phenomenon.  The more dispassionate questions we could start asking: What does he mean to this generation of fans?  What does his popularity indicate about music taste circa 2013?  What does his popularity indicate about how pop music–and hip hop, especially–is developing as a genre?  What forces came together to push him towards the forefront of the rap game?

Start answering these questions and you’ll begin to make clearer connections about how the current landscape impacts your brands and your consumers, especially if you’re trying to connect with millennials.  After all, culture is a medium.

Repeat after me: There are no gaps in culture.  Just gaps in our understanding of it.

Now, what are some cultural phenomena you missed?  Let me know in the comments section.

Posted by Rob Fields

Observer. Curator. Marketer. Dot connector.