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The Dogs of Dogma Are Barking.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on March 11, 2009

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.

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Reader Comments


March 11, 2009 04:58 PM

I think you're right--different subpopulations should be targeted with different marketing tactics.

I'm one of the people who, on Twitter, answered to "No" to the question David posted, but in my defense, I think I misunderstood the question. When saying that "brands should be fragmented", I took that to mean that companies would come up with separate brands or sub-brands for different subpopulations. This is already happening to some extent, but I don't think it's fully necessary.

Saying that the same product should be marketed differently to different subpopulations makes far more sense, to me.

scott crawford

March 11, 2009 05:44 PM

pfffffffft. Air just escaped from the balloon. Damn.


March 13, 2009 05:01 AM

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this just another name for behavioral segmentation? Basic business 101. In this case, maybe the segments have a variable associated with the demographic, but its still a matter of understanding the segment's needs. This segmentation allows a brand to differentiate itself from competitors, develop new products, etc -- the 'letter' of the message may change, not the 'spirit.'

Marble Host1

March 13, 2009 12:24 PM

Good thanks for the info.


March 13, 2009 03:10 PM

There was an interesting piece earlier this week in The New York Times that spoke about new smart phone applications that will allow marketers to do many of the micro-culture things you hint at.

As a package designer I must admit that I believe the package is the one thing that should remain fairly consistent. Lets let the other media respond to the infinitely small nuances of market segmentation.

Have a piece in my blog about this column and the Times piece at,


March 25, 2009 09:02 PM

Thank you for pointing out that old boomers are NOT afraid of the internet or social sites. I quit Twitter (as have many others my age) because I felt it was a waste of time. With the Facebook redesign, I made the right decision.

Another point: students don't seem to read blogs either.

To your point: sounds like the dogma is Beer is Beer. Bud is Bud. But we know that Bud is marketed a lot different in BoHo than Daytona.

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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