The New Age in America
America has been stereotyped as the land of low culture, where Americans scarf down fast food, drop millions at Wal-Mart and turn on the television to watch the latest reality show. They do not appreciate craft or culture, and amuse themselves with whatever mass-marketed diversion that manages to capture their fleeting attention. But Patricia Martin, president of LitLamp Communications Group, cautions against accepting this generalization. She contends that not only is it false, but that we are actually on the cusp of a renaissance period in the United States.
This assertion is the basis of her new book, RenGen: The Rise of the Cultural Consumer and What It Means for Your Business, which seeks to explore this shift, examine its causes and define the implications for marketers.
Martin contends that today’s society holds much in common with that of the Great Renaissance. Specifically, she breaks it down into five conditions:
• Death Comes First: The author believes that modern times have much in common with the period following the fall of the Roman Empire. The old ways of doing and thinking are crumbling and new ideas must rise to take their place.
• The Rise of the Beautiful Mind: In a world that seems increasingly problematic and threatening, people naturally and collectively start searching for solutions. Martin coins the term “PING” to describe the brain’s search for “potential inspiration for new ground.” Modern stressors, she says, have caused us to go into “PING mode.” The greater the knowledge base, the more the brain has to draw from, and the Internet provides a bigger base than ever before. We have currently, she asserts, both the motivation and mechanism for the birth of big ideas.
• The Collaborative Context: Despite the use of the term “renaissance man” to describe someone with wide skills and interests, our society has become increasingly specialized. This calls for increased collaboration as projects require groups of people with varied skill sets to work toward a common goal. The new renaissance, according to the author, will have to be a team effort.
• Catalytic People: Martin explains the various types of people that must work together to foster a renaissance. “Master Patrons,” for example, use their wealth and influence to support creative endeavors. She provides interesting examples of people, both current and historical, that fill the roles she classifies as vital.
• A Facilitating Medium: The book draws a parallel between the rise of the civilian-use of Roman-built roads and the rapid spread of Internet usage as mechanisms for increased ease of communication and the sharing of knowledge.
A New Mindset, A New Market
So what does this mean for modern business? According to Martin, it is all leading to the rise of “the cultural consumer.” For too long, popular wisdom has dictated that no one has ever gone broke underestimating the American public. The author challenges that notion, suggesting just the opposite: failing to acknowledge this surge of creative, intelligent people may prove foolhardy. Attention must be paid to the RenGen.
In particular, Martin shines a spotlight on a segment of the market she terms “VIVIDs.” The anagram stands for “Voracious Independent Visual and Inner-Directed.” This particular type of consumer is college-educated, affluent, well-traveled, regularly attends cultural events and prefers to patronize businesses that support the arts. Although VIVIDs make up the “sweet spot” of the cultural consumer market, Martin warns against targeting them solely. The younger, edgier, “indie” consumer must also be considered as they are the true future of the RenGen.
Some companies have already begun to take advantage of this shift. The author cites PNC Bank’s sponsorship of cultural events in Philadelphia and Absolut Vodka’s artistic ad campaigns as successful examples. Starbuck’s “Make Your Mark” program is also profiled as particularly innovative idea. Through it, employees of the coffee company receive time off (and occasionally even grants) to concentrate on “socially meaningful pursuits that are beneficial to the community.” This type of modern patronage takes advantage of and contributes to the new renaissance.
Why We Like This Book
Martin offers an intriguing premise and plenty of information to ponder. Her use of historical examples is particularly engaging and the hopeful, positive tone of the book is refreshing. Appendices including an historical timeline and a brief research report on the attitudes of marketing managers toward cultural consumers are added bonuses.