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Cultural Strategy

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Cultural Strategy

Using Innovative Ideologies to Build Breakthrough Brands

Oxford UP,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

You don’t need a better mousetrap – you need a better ideology that resonates with consumers.

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative
  • Applicable


Most branding experts belong to the “better mousetrap” school – an innovation-driven model that says success follows technological advances that improve product function. Most brands fight to win consumer mindshare around an established set of benefits. This approach doesn’t explain how “me-too” brands come to dominate markets. Starbucks, Marlboro, Ben & Jerry’s and Vitaminwater are blockbuster brands that offered nothing new, but their fresh marketing resonated with consumer ideology. This is the backbone of the “Cultural Strategy” model from brand experts Douglas Holt and Douglas Cameron, though those with a cursory interest might find it the dense, information-packed text hard to read cover to cover. getAbstract recommends their thorough, fascinating case studies and idea-based tactics to those who’ve grown tired of the functional-innovation viewpoint and would like to try using cultural intelligence instead.


A “Better Mousetrap” Mindset

When marketers promote function-driven innovations, the idea driving their tactics is: “Build a better mousetrap and the world will take notice.” This notion leads companies into “benefit slugfests,” particularly in the mature markets known as “red oceans,” where brands drown trying to promote incremental innovations. Breakthrough innovations, which restructure markets and open new categories, form in “blue oceans.”

Conventional thinking about innovation offers two routes to find and exploit blue-ocean opportunities. The first is a technological innovation, revolutionary in that it dramatically alters a market or creates a new one. The Model T, the iPod, Viagra and Facebook are “disruptive innovations.” The other tactic is to “mix-and-match” existing concepts to create a new category. Cirque du Soleil synthesized musical theater and the circus to offer a new entertainment.

“Mindshare marketing” promotes superior “functional benefits” or engages “emotional benefits” to win “cognitive territory” in consumer minds. The functional-benefits model promotes a “unique selling proposition” (USP) to suggest a significant, enduring advantage...

About the Authors

University of Oxford professor Douglas Holt wrote the bestseller How Brands Become Icons. He and branding specialist Douglas Cameron are co-principals of the Cultural Strategy Group.

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