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Cultural Strategy: Using Innovative Ideologies to Build Breakthrough Brands [Paperback]

Douglas Holt , Douglas Cameron
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

23 Aug 2012
How do we explain the breakthrough market success of businesses like Nike, Starbucks, Ben & Jerry's, and Jack Daniel's? Conventional models of strategy and innovation simply don't work. The most influential ideas on innovation are shaped by the worldview of engineers and economists - build a better mousetrap and the world will take notice. Holt and Cameron challenge this conventional wisdom and take an entirely different approach: champion a better ideology and the world will take notice as well. Holt and Cameron build a powerful new theory of cultural innovation. Brands in mature categories get locked into a form of cultural mimicry, what the authors call a cultural orthodoxy. Historical changes in society create demand for new culture - ideological opportunities that upend this orthodoxy. Cultural innovations repurpose cultural content lurking in subcultures to respond to this emerging demand, leapfrogging entrenched incumbents.

Cultural Strategy guides managers and entrepreneurs on how to leverage ideological opportunities:

- How managers can use culture to out-innovate their competitors
- How entrepreneurs can identify new market opportunities that big companies miss
- How underfunded challengers can win against category Goliaths
- How technology businesses can avoid commoditization
- How social entrepreneurs can develop businesses that appeal to more than just fellow activists
- How subcultural brands can break out of the 'cultural chasm' to mass market success
- How global brands can pursue cross-cultural strategies to succeed in local markets
- How organizations can maximize their innovation capabilities by avoiding the brand bureaucracy trap

Written by leading authorities on branding in the world today, along with one of the advertising industry's leading visionaries, Cultural Strategy transforms what has always been treated as the "intuitive" side of market innovation into a systematic strategic discipline.

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Cultural Strategy: Using Innovative Ideologies to Build Breakthrough Brands + How Brands Become Icons: The Principles of Cultural Branding
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Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; Reprint edition (23 Aug 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199655855
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199655854
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 15.2 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 45,553 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


May well be one of the most important books on advertising and branding in the past ten years. (Richard Huntington 15.10.10)

About the Author

Douglas Holt was Professor of Marketing at both the Harvard Business School and the University of Oxford. He is now President of the Cultural Strategy Group, a consulting firm that provides brand strategy and innovation solutions using the cultural strategy framework. He is a leading expert on brand strategy, having established cultural branding as an important new strategy tool in his best-selling book How Brands Become Icons: The Principles of Cultural Branding. He has developed cultural strategies for a wide range of brands, including Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Ben & Jerry's, Sprite, Jack Daniel's, MINI, MasterCard, Fat Tire beer, Qdoba, Georgia Coffee, Planet Green, and Mike's Hard Lemonade, along with a number of non-profit organizations. He holds degrees from Stanford, the University of Chicago, and Northwestern, and is the editor of the Journal of Consumer Culture. He has been invited to give talks at universities and management seminars worldwide, including the Global Economic Forum in Davos

Douglas Cameron is Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer for Amalgamated, an influential non-traditional advertising agency known for developing content across multiple media platforms. He has developed brand strategies and campaign ideas for a wide range of clients, including Ben & Jerry's, Clearblue, Coca-Cola, Fat Tire beer, FOX Sports, Freelancers Union, Fuse Music Television, Mike's Hard Lemonade, Sprite, and Svedka vodka. He began his career at Cliff Freeman & Partners, the most lauded creative shop of its time. He entered the world of marketing inadvertently: travelling the world as a bagpiper, he was invited by David Ogilvy to perform at his French castle. Ogilvy insisted he take up advertising. He graduated from Dartmouth College, where he received the English department's top graduating honour.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An important new direction 4 Jan 2012
A quick search on Amazon will reveal thousands of marketing guides, analyses and 'transformative' approaches to this age-old trade. These titles provide start-up advice, handy mnemonic acronyms, and all manner of exhortations to 'zig' when others 'zag'. This volume however is short on conceptual snakeoil but thoroughly convincing in its main arguments. Holt and Cameron have combined detailed academic analysis with extensive practical experience to produce what I believe to be the best book on marketing for years.

Holt and Cameron suggest that in a 'Blue Ocean' - an environment typical to most household consumption products - marketers need to take advantage of social disruption and emergent tensions to position their products and services. New and established brands should aim their marketing efforts towards these tensions, using attributes of their products to speak to cultural trends within society. This kind of trend is most obvious in demand for environmentally sound products, the backlash against big companies and the like, and certainly, the book features case-studies that follow this type of marketing innovation. But Holt and Cameron also revisit famous marketing case studies such as Nike and Starbucks in order to show the cultural aspects of the strategies that saw them succeed. While several chapters are unashamedly conceptual and reference underlying academic theory, the multitude of case studies and the simple explanation of cultural innovation as a strategic tool make this book readable and enjoyable.

Holt and Cameron make a very strong case for cultural innovation as a way of doing business rather than a new trend in marketing, and this book is head and shoulders above the gimicky slogans of the genre.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Just finished reading what I think is the most important brand planning book since John Grant's The Brand Innovation Manifesto.

Whilst neuroscience, evolutionary psychology and other behavioural sciences have helped us to better understand the `demand' side of commerce, what we've been missing is way to create brands that (really) work on the `supply' side.

Many of us planners have been trying to highlight the importance of culture in the equation, knowing that successful brands resolve cultural tensions. However, 50 years of thinking about brands in a mechanistic, reductionist and (ultimately flawed) scientific way has created organisational bureaucracies that prevent the creation of truly amazing brands.

Thankfully though, Cultural Strategy provides a framework, the lexicon and the evidence to rescue us from the illusion of scientific brand management. Top stuff!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You can't avoid to ignore cultural strategy 18 Jan 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book brings together many important developments in marketing thinking and gives them a solid theoretical background. It illuminates important 'truths' about marketing that most readers would have grasped intuitively and connects them with culture. Today, many marketing agencies push storytelling but without connecting the story with culture it has no real meaning. 'Cultural Strategy' is one of the handful of books that has anything new and meaningful to say about marketing. Read it before your competitors do!
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book was an eye-opener for me. I was already immersed in a cultural approach to understanding what makes great brand and advertising. This was however all fuzzy notions inside my head. This book showed me that I can actually work systematically with my cultural understanding, which creates an understanding of what makes marketing successful.

Holt and Douglas provide a framework, which uses knowledge of a consumer target group in a specific way to build a marketing plan. Furthermore, they make the reader acknowledge the importance of the cultural and ideological dynamics of society, which usually has been the preoccupation of historians, sociologists or anthropologists. They provide a systematic way of accumulating knowledge on ideological tensions in society, which can create break-through brands. For example VitaminWater is succesful not because it has a innovative functional properties, but because it builds on the health craze, the popular myth of drinking a certain number of glasses of water a day and getting enough vitamins through one's diet. This can be labelled an ideological development in the Western world. The founder of VitaminWater was very effective in communicating his product within this cultural development. He used relevant source materials from subcultures and popular media relating to this health ideology.

Overall, this book provides businesses and marketing employees in particular with a alternative framework on advertising. A framework, which has at least as much legitimacy as the bureaucratic, sciency and quantitive-analysis-obsessed approaches to marketing, which so often dominates big corporations and reduces the creativity in marketing work.

I give it four stars because it is very conceptual. It does not give much directions with regard to implications. This is a great barrier for the proliferation of the line of thought, this book presents. This lack however does not make it less important and ground-breaking.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Refreshingly Irreverant 7 Dec 2010
By C. Sullivan - Published on
Liked this book very much. The irreverence and polemic were refreshing. Holt and Cameron practice what they preach, and don't pull punches. The ideas and thinking are solid. The cases are excellent. After reading I recommended to friends at ad agencies, many of whom no doubt face H & C's `brand bureaucracy'.

Style-wise, `Cultural Strategy' found a nice niche between scholarship and practice. I liked this approach. But if you prefer 1-2-3 books on brand and strategy, don't buy the book. You're going to get Max Weber and terms like `mimetic isomorphism' just as much you get stories on brands like Nike, Levi's, Vitamin Water and Fat Tire. I liked the combination, others might not.

As someone in strategy, I do have some beef with Holt and Cameron's stance against utility, or what they refer to as `mousetrap' thinking. They take the constructivist line of thinking too far, and it diminishes their argument. They need a foil, but of all their polemics this one feels more rhetorical than substantive. Ideally, value creation and cultural innovation work together. If subjectivity were all that mattered we wouldn't be in this recession. H & C have written particular kinds of cases-- products fighting it out in mature markets with homogeneous offerings. In these situations i think they're argument holds up better. In emerging markets where the there is still a great deal of diversity in offerings, i'm not as sure. The one outlier here is the freelancer's union case, which was quite good.

But on all other accounts, this book furthered my thinking. Even if you don't agree with the authors, they'll engage you. I'd read it.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for academics, entrepreneurs, and F500 managers 28 July 2011
By William Ko - Published on
This outstanding work underscores the importance of incorporating culture into marketing initiatives to drive sales growth and market share. Citing Weber's theory of bureaucratization in Economics and Society, Holt argues convincingly that leading firms have sacrificed marketing innovation for ineffective brand management based on standardization, superfluous scientific methodology, and dehumanization of the consumer products/services and the markets that they ultimately serve. Controversially, but supported with strong empircal examples, Holt asserts that the epistemic proclivities of establishing marketing as a 'faux science' has resulted in stagnant 'mousetrap' strategies that result in minimal gains in growth.

Supported by case-studies of both successful and unsuccessful marketing initiatives, Cultural Strategy is essential reading for academics, entrepreneurs and F500 management seeking iconoclastic reconceptualizations of the consumer goods landscape.

I suspect, however, that the prevailing path dependencies and perceptions of 'brand strategy' among leading firms in industry today will inhibit Holt's central thesis from attaining wide-scale practice. But perhaps as a greater number of agile entrepreneurs leverage 'cultural strategy' to win a greater share of blue ocean opportunities, the aforementioned market-leading firms will be compelled to take notice.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unique Perspective 20 Jun 2011
By J. Burton - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I'm currently a marketing MBA and I found this book through a professor of mine. It takes a unique view of branding and is open about the fact that they provide benefits that are intangible. The biggest win for me on this book is the research done to write it. There are great case studies from well known brands and the authors take historical advertisements, cultural movements, and competitor actions into account to show the opportunities exploited by using cultural branding.
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent marketing study 26 Sep 2011
By Michael Selander - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is an eye opener on the true cultural effects of good marketing campaigns. The book effectively and engagingly touches on the most important topics and features of a true cultural strategy. I would recommend this book for anyone in the marketing field.
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