I’m very excited to start reading cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken’s latest offering, Dark Value: How To Find Hidden Value In the Digital Economy.  First, because Grant McCracken.

Second, in it, Grant explores (at least based on the little I’ve read) the conundrum that contemporary culture creates value, but it’s not something that’s easily measured.  And certainly not by the majority of marketers who are understandably focused on ROI and other rubber-meets-the-road issues.  Of course, I get it: It’s hard out here for a marketer.  For years, marketing has demanded a seat at the C-Suite table.  You know, the grownup table where the CEO, CFO, CIO and CRO sit.  Increasingly, that’s happening.  And guess what? The CMO’s job is now harder than ever!  As a partner in a top executive search firm recently noted: CMO’s have such great expectations placed on them because the CEO thinks they have the best understanding of the customer.

But do they?

Marketers think they have a deep understanding of their customers.  And some may.  After all, in some ways we’re in the golden age of marketing, given all the digital breadcrumbs we leave everywhere we go as consumers and actors in the marketplace.  And there’s the growing focus on the customer decision journey. But even that has its challenges, as media consultant Greg Satell points out here. More important: The still-short shrift given to contemporary culture as the context that frames and changes the marketplace, along with consumer desires and needs, means that full understanding is still incomplete.

McCracken posits “dark value” as that intangible value that can’t yet be monetized.  In the book’s abstract, he writes:

Innovators like Airbnb, Uber and Netflix are creating dark value. They are creating features and benefits they didn’t intend and don’t always grasp. And because this value is hard to see, it’s hard to monetize. I believe dark value is a chronic problem in the innovation and sharing economies. To observe one implication of the dark value argument: Airbnb, Uber and Netflix are charging too little.

We will examine dark value created by AirBnb, Uber, Netflix, Evernote, Fitbit, and Facebook. We will show how to make dark value visible in three steps: 1. discover, 2. determine, and 3. declare. Ethnographers, designers, VCs, creatives, planners, PR professionals, marketers, story tellers, curators, programmers, content creators, and social media experts all have a part to play. For all of them, Dark value represents a new professional opportunity and a new revenue stream [emphasis mine].

Like I said, I can’t wait to dive in.  In the meantime, if your interest is piqued, you can buy the book as a digital download via Amazon for $2.99 (affiliate link).  An idea that’s made for spreading.

Stay tuned: There’s more to come on this.

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Posted by Rob Fields