Cultural insight is the backbone of both the advertising and fashion business. But even those companies and brands that are not considered cultural need to have a strong social connection in order to better relate to their customers. Ultimately a brands’ relevance and their ability to understand and translate the cultural context often depends on a skilled mediator who can frame a culturally cohesive offering.
The recent appointment of fashion stylist Nicola Formichetti as the creative director of Mugler signifies the growing recognition that brands must be at one with the culture in which they exist. Long gone are the times when a stylist’s work was limited to selecting the right accessories for a photo shoot or a catwalk presentation. Now, brands require them to look at the entire collection, piece by piece, and combine it all in an image that is culturally relevant, commercial and therefore profitable. Stylists’ relationship with pop culture through their continuous involvement with a social and professional network of photographers, artists, musicians, performers or just a mere observation of what the ‘cool kids’ are doing nowadays, makes them finely tuned radars for what’s new, interesting and relevant.
Many brands from outside the fashion world are currently moving towards that direction, looking for professionals that have great understanding not only of the product itself but also of the cultural context in which it is being consumed. Not long ago in his book ‘How to Create a Living, Breathing Corporation’ Grant McCracken introduced the idea of a Chief Cultural Officer – a corporate leader with the ability to incorporate the popular culture into the DNA of their organization and brand identity. By facilitating a connection between the company (its employees, products and services) and its consumers, Chief Cultural Officers allow their brands to respond quickly to the fast culture and include it not only in the image of the brand but also in the design of the product or service. Similarly to what a stylist does to fashion brands, CCOs experience the popular culture on all possible levels getting out of the office, living and breathing the culture-bound lives of their customers. But their role is much more complex and strategic, not limited only to ‘noticing’ what is happening around the organization and gathering the cultural insight for the sake of the product or service design itself. They need to manage people, facilitate organizational knowledge development, leverage the wisdom, interests and cultural relevance of others within the company, and ultimately help translate the culture into the behavior of company’s employees.