The Power Of Small Scale And The Death Of Cultural Transmission

SoulCycle says their competition is Netflix. Netflix says their competition is sleep. Is everyone competing with everything these days? It would appear so – and it applies to us too.


Jamie Powell has been writing about what he calls “The Death of Cultural Transmission” at FT Alphaville. Essentially, forty years ago kids watched Star Wars in a theater because it was the cool thing to do. Thirty years ago, with VCRs and then DVD players in every home, Star Wars got watched even more. As time moved forward and new movies, cartoons, and toys were introduced, the nostalgia-compounding machine that is the Star Wars franchise became as strong a brand as Coke. 


Cultural transmission relies on someone telling another person “you have to see this.” Then, when those people grow up, they tell their kids, “watch this with me.” In a world constrained by Blockbuster shelves and DVD collections, the value of Star Wars’ intellectual property becomes other worldly. Star Wars compared to whatever is next to it on the Blockbuster shelf is nearly undeniable, but what happens when the internet introduces infinite shelves filled with infinite options? Its value has to change.


Big brands don’t connect in the same way they used too. The transmission and reinforcement mechanisms are breaking down, which means the historic strongholds are eroding. The opportunity it creates for us professionally is massive. At the commodity level, Walmart and Amazon can beat each other up on near-zero margins for white label products. That’s not our game. On the custom/highly-personal service level, we’re no longer competing against the giants. Outside of choosing to buy paper towels online or in a superstore, a positive personal experience is king. This is our game. 


Decades of cultural reinforcement are less and less sticky. The new branding is personal engagement. Yes, we are competing with Soul Cycle, Netflix and sleep, but so is everyone else. If our service is good, if our product is good, if the experience is worth our client’s time and money, we have a better chance than ever to engage and stay engaged with our clients. We don’t have to be employed by a Star Wars-sized brand anymore, or have our profession passed down by generations on traditionalist nostalgic values.


The scale is smaller and the shelf space is endless. Our opportunity is to make or do something deserving of a place in our client’s lives.

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