Consumer Insight and Unusual Pairings: A Managerial Guide to Consumer Culture

By Dr. Jack Tillotson

”Out-of-the-box thinking in management: As bold as pairing socks with sandals.”

The exploration of consumer culture, where the art of consumption shapes modern social dynamics and relationships between meaningful lifestyles and the marketplace, has traditionally been an academic pursuit driven by intellectual curiosity. Applying these scholarly insights from the realm of creative consumption to practical business scenarios has often been met with skepticism, akin to the unusual and cringe-worthy act of pairing socks with sandals.

In today’s managerial landscape, creativity isn’t a term commonly associated with managers; it’s typically reserved for musicians, artists, and actors. However, understanding the nuances of creative consumption can offer valuable applications in the world of management. Drawing inspiration from diverse sources can empower managers to break free from conventional thinking.

This out-of-the-box thinking provides managers with the confidence and conviction needed for unconventional tasks, much like the boldness required to fashionably pair socks with sandals. Truly comprehending phenomena such as sock-and-sandal combos often demands a grasp of their contextual significance. For instance, in Finland, donning socks with sandals isn’t just a fashion statement; it’s about keeping feet warm in chilly conditions.

Recognizing the value of such contextual comprehension has sparked interest in hiring anthropologists and designers impassioned by cultural insights. Successful consulting firms like the Gemic, Practica Group, and ReD Associates have leveraged consumer culture to identify various challenges in real-world business scenarios and develop strategy, foster innovation and build thought leadership. So, how can consumer culture find more direct applications in managerial practice? Here are three starting points:

  • Branding Evolution

Brand managers have long acknowledged that cultural meanings, consumer communities, and social affiliations play pivotal roles in a brand’s market success. The significance of social affiliations in branding is evident, as seen in the realm of celebrity endorsements. However, as noted in Forbes by Giana Eckhardt, a Professor at King’s Business School in London, such associations come with inherent risks, including the potential for undesirable events. These challenges can erode the brand’s reputation. Hence, an essential aspect of brand endorsement is understanding the person’s social identity and its alignment with both the brand and its target audience.

  • Navigating Business Ecosystems and Embracing Digitalization

In today’s era of digitalization and platform businesses, business ecosystems are teeming with opportunities to glean cultural insights into consumption patterns. Embracing the digital age, scholars like Rob Kozinets, a Professor at the University of Southern California, have introduced ”netnography” to the researcher’s toolkit. Netnography involves participant observation adapted to the unique dynamics of computer-mediated social interactions. This approach underscores the importance of cultural context in deciphering online data.

  • Pioneering New Business Models

A growing interest in sharing and alternative, non-monetary forms of exchange has emerged in the marketplace. Research into the sharing economy explores how social interactions, such as sharing, grant access to resources that might otherwise be out of reach for certain users. By studying sharing practices, researchers unveil the intricate connection between resource access and the surrounding social systems. More recently, research has delved into innovative forms of collaboration and how consumers can drive transformations in public policy and market legitimacy.

In summary, creative consumption practices and insights stemming from social and cultural consumer research hold significant potential in addressing real-world business challenges. Such research offers fresh perspectives and unconventional solutions for managers, enabling them to navigate the ever-evolving landscape of contemporary business while keeping their feet warm along the way!

About the author:

Dr. Jack Tillotson is an assistant professor (tenure track) in the School of Marketing and Communication at the University of Vaasa, Finland. His research broadly focuses on the social impact of consumption. He is originally from the United States and immigrated to Finland from Portland, Oregon in 2013. Dr. Tillotson received his PhD in marketing from Aalto University School of Business. Previously, he studied sociology at the University of Oregon and business administration at the Pamplin School of Business in the University of Portland.