I had a great Design At The Edge class at Parsons School of Design on innovation with David Armano, VP of Experience Design at Critical Mass, this week and learned two major things. First, the use of social media and digital platforms is determined by micro-cultures defined mostly by age. Second, orthodoxy appears very early in innovation.
David talked a lot about twitter in his presentation and then opened it up for discussion. Turned out that none of the 80 or so students were on twitter. They were all on Facebook. Most of the students were sophomores and juniors and used Facebook as a private network among friends. The seniors, however, were beginning to use Facebook as a network to get jobs. There was a sharp Age Break or Life Cycle Break within the Gen Y class. Younger students faced inward in their use of Facebook, toward their friends. Seniors faced outward, networking with people outside their circle of friends. Facebook has both a social and professional function, and at least two micro-cultures.
Three micro-cultures really. Aging boomers are using Facebook socially to contact old friends, including old boyfriends and old girlfriends. Back to social micro-culture.
This insight led David and me to discuss, over dinner, how companies should fragment their brands according to micro-cultures. Those brands that sell across demographics, such as razors or cleaning materials, need to target their messages differently to different micro-cultures.
David started tweeting about it—and received a wall of orthodoxy back in reply. No, people argued, brands have to be consistent and uniform in their message.
Well, no. Companies don’t sell their brands consistently across global cultures, such as China or India. So why sell them the same way across internal micro-cultures inside the US or Europe—or China and India for that matter? Even in the new arena of social media, the dogs of dogma started barking.
Which leads me to think more broadly about the dogs of dogma. We’re hearing and seeing them bark away all over the blogosphere and mainstream media about Washington policy. Old categories of liberal vs. conservative, big vs small government, etc. are framing conversations when we should be looking to new paradigms of innovation and design for solving our problems. If there is one thing lacking in the Obama Administration—and in the media—it is the voice of innovative thinking. Instead, we hear the dogs of dogma, barking away.