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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Culture Code


The author, Clotaire Rapaille, an internationally acclaimed cultural anthropologist and marketing expert, shares some techniques he has employed in scores of Fortune 100 companies to effect the bottom line - profitability.

Freudian philosophy dictates that individual unconscious guides each of us in unique ways. Jungian philosophy professes that collective unconscious guide us as members of the human race. The book illuminates a third unconscious - the cultural unconscious.

He stresses that emotion is the energy required to learn anything. For example, when parents forbid a child to go near a hot pan, the child might not fully comprehend the magnitude of danger until he touches it- experiences the pain and learns actively. The combination of the experience and its accompanying emotion creates something widely known as an imprint. ( A term first applied by Konrad Lorenz )

The author was working with autistic children in Paris. The following is an excerpt from the book:

After one particular lecture at Geneva University, the father of a student approached me.
"Dr. Rapaille, I might have a client for you," he said.
Always intrigued at the possibilities offered by another case, I nodded with interest. "An autistic child?"
"No," he said, smiling. "Nestlé."

At the time, focused on clinical and scholarly work, I barely understood what the word "marketing" meant. I therefore couldn't possibly imagine what use I would be to a corporation. " Nestlé? What can I do for them?"


But he did when he went ahead with the assignment on a sabbatical. The Swiss company was trying to sell instant coffee in Japan without much success. During his sessions he discovered that most Japanese, in a tea drinking nation, didn't have any imprints of coffee.

Nestlé devised a new strategy and created desserts for children infused with the flavor of coffee but without the caffeine. The younger generation embraced these desserts. Their first imprint of coffee was a very positive one, one they would carry throughout their lives.

Similarly, when Chrysler wanted to launch a new vehicle, American consumer surveys mentioned gas mileage, handling, and cornering ability etc. None of which the author believed because he claimed the answers were driven by logic. However, after his discovery sessions, which inevitably include:

One hour of playing the alien or 'professional stranger' where he asks the participants to explain what a product is and for what purpose it is used. By the third hour , where participants lie on the floor with pillows and listen to soothing music - people separate themselves from their cortex or the 'logic brain' and finally begin to say what they mean.

The American code for cars is IDENTITY. And this gave birth to PT Cruiser, an aggressive car but with average gas mileage and safety ratings. When the Stuttgart based company Daimler-Benz acquired Chrysler (I'd say around 1998), PT Cruiser was under production and the new executives of Daimler Chrysler predicted it would fail, because the German code for cars is ENGINEERING. Believing it would be a marketing disaster, they relegated production to one plant in Mexico.

This turned out to be a huge (although understandable) mistake. German executives responded negatively to the modest quality of the car's engineering. American consumers responded positively to the car's high level of identity. The plant in Mexico was ill equipped to keep up with demand, and there were long waiting lists. If the new executives at Chrysler had understood the American Code for cars, and had relied on it rather their own Code, they would have avoided the many problems they had getting the desired number of PT Cruisers onto American Highways.

The pages are filled with many such wow moments and you are fascinated by the acknowledgment of differences in target markets based on cultures. A chapter in every basic Organizational Analysis class, but something we often overlook while formulating business strategies. This book makes an interesting read for both Marketing majors and non-business folks alike.

3 comments:

Mampi said...

seems to be a promising read.
thanks for sharing.

Lahari said...

Liked ur post. A interesting and informative post .. Splly I liked the concept of Nestle.

clickable said...

I believe there's also mention of why people prefer curves in their cars or computer user interfaces...apparently it subconsciously reminds us of a mother's breast! Sounds more than a little Freudian to me.