I am a privileged white woman.
The first part of that label isn’t an easy one to accept. As I’ve thought about it, I figure there’s at least two ways to avoid owning one’s privilege: 1) It’s all we’ve (usually) ever known, and; 2) It’s super easy to find someone wealthier and less industrious than ourselves. But I think I caught a glimpse of it. I have started to realize the process of my privilege irrespective of the product of my privilege.
Yep, I am privileged. And white. I’m not sure to what extent the white thing always goes hand in hand with the “privileged” part. It has been my privileged experienced not to have to know.
However, I do know this:
Recently, I felt my privileged whiteness as I had not before. I learned about other Americans who see opportunity and want it too. In order to get it, they stayed in school; they did what they needed to do to graduate. But their schools were such that even after graduating, they weren’t prepared. The student did the work; the school did not. Still, these particular Americans are lucky enough to have access to a college that would support them, catch them up with remediation.
I learned that as they are catching up, they take longer to graduate because they are also working at least one other job, and not for beer money. Some of them have to take several buses to get across town to class. Some are homeless. Some pay for college tuition by donating blood.
I realized how easy it would be for privileged folk to look only at the institution’s comparative 5-year graduation rates and casually wonder if there is something wrong with the students.
I am a privileged white woman. It’s not that grief or hard work has never touched my family; life happens to the privileged just like the rest of the world. The difference, I think, is that when it does, when life happens to the privileged—when we wander, when we make mistakes, when we break minor laws, when we plan, when we want something, when we work, when we do whatever it is we do, we— privileged few—are given a wide margin to make assumptions, to consider, to react, to recover. Privilege, in my white American experience, is not only the access to opportunity; it is the wide, graciously gentle and forgiving path on the way to those opportunities.
I share this now because it's clear that we white folk need to get comfortable talking about race and privilege. And then we need to start talking about and planning how to confront the systems and structures that create inequities and exclusion. Pretending is not working anymore; for fellow Americans who aren't white and privileged, it has never worked.
It goes without saying that these last many weeks have been a roller coaster of emotion; so you have to take your laughs where you can. One of ours was occasioned by a recent mayoral press conference in which he spoke of “getting back to as normal as possible,” “the new normal,” and the fact that things will be different. In a roundabout fashion, he captured the crux of the problem ahead of us—we’re stuck hoping to resume normal, while becoming aware that some things—perhaps many things—have shifted and we’ve learned a lot in the meantime.
In the midst of shut-downs and foreboding economic forecasts, we’ve seen incredible resilience and creativity. Corporations who’ve never considered flexible work arrangements have discovered it’s not so bad. Universities have learned how to host virtual admission events. Our corner coffee shop has leveraged its access to vendors to become a corner grocery store. A local minister now offers streaming prayer and happy hour sessions for scared congregants who can’t congregate.
Given these creative adaptations—and the ongoing challenges—it seems that the question of what’s next shouldn’t be limited to achieving an approximated version of “before” as soon as possible, but rather reflecting on all of the creative ideas we’ve implemented, and putting them into context of improved operations. Some organizations are still frankly stuck in the trees of crisis mode. Others are starting to try to see the forest for the trees by considering questions like these:
I won’t be the first to suggest that these health, economic, and social crises represent opportunities—not that we asked for them—but here they are. We’d be foolish not to capitalize on our unwilling creativity. Is there someone in your organization who can ask the questions above? Or, if it would be better to have someone outside, give me a call.
Recently, I’ve been privileged with several culture excavation projects. One of them was for Pikes Peak Community College’s (PPCC) strategic goal to increase its Latino enrollment and ultimately become an official Hispanic Serving Institution. In Colorado, our Latino population is 21%. However, our largest local school district has 30% Latino population and some of the other high schools are as high as 66% Latino.
To prepare PPCC’s Marketing Department for effective outreach to the Latino market, we did secondary research, interviewed community influencers, conducted bilingual focus groups with Latino high school students, and interviews in Spanish with parents. We learned things like this:
PPCC has hired a dedicated bilingual recruiter who is well-connected with community influencers and partners on information sessions for students and families. We translated the viewbook and recommended ways to simplify and translate key financial aid and immigration sections of the website. We also discussed a media channel mix for Spanish-speaking parents as well as the (different) channels better suited to their bilingual students.
If you have an upcoming project that would benefit from an enhanced understanding of a population segment’s cultural lens, please drop me a line.
"To whom much is given, much is required." My mother used to say this to me and my brothers when we were using the powers of our creative brains to bedevil each other rather than "bring out the best in one another" (another of her favorites).
I thought of this life lesson after a recent encounter with brand badness. The situation was this: I bought lipstick from a brand called “Urban Decay.” At the time, the brand name didn’t register in my consciousness. Later, however, I realized that the tube of lipstick is designed to look like a shotgun shell and sold under the line: “What’s your vice?” Suddenly, I could picture how the brand’s product positioning might have been developed: a conference room where people doodled on flip-chart paper listing things that came to mind with the phrase "urban decay;" maybe photos of graffitied concrete street scenes pasted around the room. The result of that process? Urban Decay presents its line as makeup with a wild side for “beauty with an edge.”™ It’s “feminine, dangerous, and fun.” Those who are “addicted” to the makeup can sign up to be “Beauty Junkies, because "Addiction has its perks.” The mascara is called "Perversion;" the lipsticks are shiny bullet casings.
Giving this brand the benefit of the doubt, I looked to see if portions of their proceeds are donated to help high-performing urban students with scholarships, or maybe to build community centers in blighted areas.
I found that Urban Decay supports an initiative claiming to “empower women,” So far, they have given $528,000 to different women's causes ranging from legal care in New York to education in Uganda and Kenya. So that's something,
But is it too little too late? The brand is built on making light of the issues that contribute to the hell recipients of their donations experience every day. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that no one actually experiencing urban decay is buying shotgun lipstick for $17 a tube. Or, that women who have real addictions and might be perceived as “junkies” don’t worry whether their makeup brushes are vegan. I’m guessing that all the brand riffing is for the benefit of privileged people who want to feel edgy and colorful from a well-lit, easily accessible, strip mall in a safe, newly developed part of town. Donations aside, I find the disconnect between the brand and the realities the inspired it to be callously, shamefully indifferent and disrespectful.
If I sound more vitriolic than usual, sorry. In my mind, branding is a lovely combination of strategy and creativity with a hefty dose of psychology and sociology thrown in. To use the work of branding to make light of the real problems, of violence, poverty, human weakness and suffering is an irresponsible use of the practice. Urban Decay, use your powers for good. I will not be buying any more shotgun shells,
What do you think? Am I being too hard on Urban Decay? Do brands owe the world anything other than their ability to create loyalty, make money, etc.?
Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation
It was a lovely summer vacation day and the dulcet sounds of one child yelling to another “You’re not the boss of me!” ring through the house.
As I try to breathe and stay out of the melee, the marketer in me holds out this phrase and examines it. “The boss of me…” Who’s the boss? In this house and of those children, it’s me, of course. I’m the boss; I’m one of those kinds of moms. In the marketplace, however, it’s sometimes less clear.
Who’s the boss? There’s a couple possible answers to this question. One is leadership. I’ve been around the consulting block enough to see different leadership styles. There was that one president who liked his people to jump a little when he walked in the room. Then there was another who made a beeline for his Marketing Director after a board meeting so he could crow, “I win.” But most of the other leaders I’ve seen are more participatory, working to develop a team in which each person can contribute.
Another possible answer to “who’s the boss” is the customer. That answer seems obvious—sort of like reliably saying “Jesus!” when asked a question in Sunday school. Customers and the market need to be taken very seriously; you can’t sell it if they hate it. When I can (i.e., when leadership agrees), I like to start a competitor analysis project not by finding out who the client considers a competitor—because the client is often a little too easy on themselves or too dated in their assessment. I like to ask customers who they see as the client’s peers in order to provide the best sense of where in the competitive set the client organization might live at the moment.
But who’s the boss? If an organization lets itself be entirely swayed by the passing whims and opinions of a (distracted) market, will it ever strike out and try something really visionary? Can the market be reasonably expected to guide leaders into new terrain? Do they always know what they want but can’t yet get? As much I love some great customer insight research (and I do), and as much as we like to celebrate an interesting leader, I’m increasingly convinced that the real boss lives somewhere in the complicated relationship between markets and the intrepid leaders who engage them.
What do you think? Is there a formula? A ratio of leader: market?
Marketing is about change, right? We study and apply the best ways to connect because we want to move people to feel or do something.
Here is a case study of how a local pastor brilliantly applied the tips from a book called “Switch” to subtly influence and motivate behavior.
The situation was this:
In Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, authors Dan and Chip Heath describe 9 “prescriptions for change.” The pastor applied 5 of those 9 presecriptions:
Can you think of an initiative you’d like to move forward by about 250 percent!?
Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation, LLC
In the last post, I posited a sort of back-to-the-village theory about the evolution of marketing. Little did I realize that within a month, I’d be in a Honduran, coffee-growing village talking about marketing.
I was there as a volunteer for a “Business Brigade” hosted by development organization called Global Brigades. The Global Brigade model emphasizes sustainability but recognizes that those in poverty have immediate needs that have to be met before they can plan ahead. So the first steps for working with remote and impoverished communities is to bring in medical and dental teams; then clean water; then latrines, then paved dirt floors, then “eco-stoves” that vent cook fire smoke out of the houses rather than in; then a small community staffed bank capable of micro-loans. The final step is to help the community identify a sustainable business so the community can earn more than the average $2 a day. That’s where the business brigade comes in. Our little brigade team was composed of marketing, merchandising, and process professionals. We met with the members of the El Zuzular community bank and learned about their approach to growing and selling coffee.
At first, if I’m honest, the challenges facing them seemed insurmountable. Imagine the typical difficulties of an agrarian life (e.g., no rain, crop disease, etc.) and then add to it dishonest middlemen, limited access to transportation, a high government tax on the final product, and zero crop insurance. When they’re lucky, the 23 co-op members grow about 6500 pounds of coffee a year and make a little over a dollar a pound. They have to live on—and reinvest—the profit for the rest of the season. Yikes.
As a team, we went back and forth trying to think of what we could offer to help the community. Finally, we went outside. We took a short trip to a popular tourist destination where we learned there is a growing Honduran interest in for fair-trade, locally sourced coffee. Small tourist shops were selling roasted coffee for $10 a bag.
We reported this back to our community members. As coffee growers, they confessed that they had never purchased a bag of coffee (they drink their own). So we shared what we’d learned and showed them how to think about their own brand strategy, do their own market research, and think of creative ways to make their product stand out.
The experience in Honduras was amazing for a hundred reasons, but it was also a good reminder to me as a consumer insights and research person. Marketing might be evolving to a more of a village in terms of the sources we trust as consumers, but as marketing professionals, it’s vital that you occasionally leave your village and see what new market opportunities might await one village over.
I’m cooking up a theory. It’s not fully formed, but I’ll put it out there and see how it evolves.
It goes like this: A long, long time ago, people lived in small, mostly agricultural towns. They spent their lives there. They knew everyone and everyone knew everything about each other. Family honor and personal reputations were all anyone really needed to know when it came to news they could use.
Over time, things changed, but communication was still slow. Marketing was primarily pushed through TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, etc.
Then, right about the time I got out of college, Al Gore invented the internet and things began to change. Quickly. Suddenly, it was all so fast and easy. Marketing people got giddy. We had all these new channels available to us. Email! Banner ads! Pay-per-click! QR codes! Short ad spots in front of YouTube videos! So many options, and oh-so-trackable!
Then, social media came along and we started in on that too. (And here’s where my theory picks up again…) People (especially young people) developed a savvy, cynical eye toward all of this communicatin'. They just assume most of the messaging is “spun.” So while they have access to all of the information they want; they trust very little of it. They regularly tell me that when they’re looking for information that matters, they “don’t trust” anything that comes from official channels unless it’s just the facts.
For example, prospective college students tell me they trust a college to accurately present the statistics about acceptance rates and average test scores, but they do not trust the college to accurately present information about diversity, or the student life experience, or the level of academic challenge. Those kids used to tell me they looked to social media for the real scoop; it was more relational, less formal, and seemingly authentic. Now, they tell me, they don’t even trust the college’s social media because they assume that too is a closely managed channel (and they’re usually right). Now, to get the real scoop, they say they look at the social media feeds from kids who graduated from their own high school and attend the college in question.
So my theory is that over the years, the experience of trust in messaging expanded suddenly and is in the process of contracting again. Our global society is still super global, but our locus of trustworthy sources might be shrinking back down to the village we know.
The question to us marketers will become how to cultivate the village?
Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation
P.S. Since this was posted, Ad Age published this article about the Hilton Brand trying to address the rising interest in community and authenticity. Check it out here: http://adage.com/article/cmo-strategy/hilton-introduces-hotel-brand-millennial-mindset/302310/
I know; I’m going to get myself in trouble with a headline like that.
There are people with doctorates in Communications (Hi Jeannette). There are people who call themselves “Futurists” (Hi Alvin Toffler). I am neither. However, I’m going to take a humble stab at this question of the future by sharing some of the insights discovered through the marketing and communications research I did for clients over the past year. So, in no particular order…
Have you ever sat down to do something and realized you’d forgotten what you meant to do? It happens to me all the time.
This is partially because I’m constantly interrupted by EVERYONE in my house and find it difficult to form a complete thought.
I’d worry, but I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this experience. As a marketing strategy consultant, I’m routinely asked good and important questions posed by busy people who are getting interrupted by colleagues with their own questions and requests. There are times when I wonder if we as marketers get so caught up in the going, doing, producing, and getting it OUT that we forget to anchor it all back to the reasons we do it all.
So this is a post that takes us back to the beginning: What are the intentions of communication?
Next time you sit down to get something out, take a minute to root yourself if the real reason you’re doing it, and how those foundational reasons can inform the way you put your message together.
Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation
Culture geek. Proud Colorado native.