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Cultural Creatives:
The New Educated Consumer

By Paul Ray

Paul Ray is a veteran market researcher and co-author,
with his wife Sherry Ruth Anderson, of
The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People are Changing the World

Paul Ray photo

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Imagine a country the size of France suddenly sprouting in the middle of the United States. It is immensely rich in culture, with new ways of life, values and world views. It has its own heroes and its own vision for the future. Think how curious we all would be, how interested to discover who these people are and where they have come from. In Washington, and on the Sunday morning news shows, politicians would certainly have strong opinions about what it all means, and businesses would be planning strategies to market to this population.

Now imagine something different. There is a new country, just as big and just as rich in culture, but no one sees it. It takes shape silently and almost invisibly, as if flown in under radar in the dark of night. But it's not from somewhere else. This new country is decidedly American. And unlike the first image, it is emerging not only in the cornfields of Iowa but on the streets of the Bronx, all across the country from Seattle to St. Augustine. It is showing up wherever you'd least expect it: in your brother's living room and your sister's backyard, in women's circles and demonstrations to protect the redwoods, in offices and churches and online communities, bookstores, hiking trails and corporate boardrooms. Since the 1960s, 26% of the adults in the U.S. (50 million people) have made a comprehensive shift in their worldview, values and way of life--their culture, in short. I call them the Cultural Creatives because, innovation by innovation, they are shaping a new kind of American culture for the 21st century.

Selling exclusively New Age these days is a formula for going broke. The true market for the educated consumer is a subculture, a whole way of life, not just a market segment. That subculture, defined by its interest in spirituality and psychology, is your half of the market: 25 million adults.

These people are also the affluent half. As Bill Horwedel pointed out in NAPRA Review last fall, there aren't enough dyed-in-the-wool New Agers (about 5&endash;10 million nationwide) in most towns to keep even a 2,500 square foot book and music store in business. Horwedel is dead-on when he says, "[M]any of the customers who shopped in 'New Age' stores were, in truth, not 'New Age' at all, but represented this more upscale, sophisticated and time-pressured consumer."

Cultural Creatives are seriously concerned with self-actualization, spirituality, self-expression; they like the foreign and exotic, and enjoy new ideas. They're socially concerned, advocating ecological sustainability, women's issues, peace, social justice and planetary awareness. These aren't separate concerns; to reach them it's necessary to appeal to the whole package of principles. There are twice as many Cultural Creative women as men, with women's concerns and values finding a voice and going public. Cultural Creatives are strongly upper middle class (46% in the top income quarter) and they are everywhere--definitely in your town. Age, race and ethnicity are typical of the nation as a whole. Values, not demographics, are what identify this market.


How to Sell to Cultural Creatives:

1) Build relationships.

To beat the chain stores, offer more than service. Develop a relationship with your customer that doesn't treat them like walking wallets. See them as friends and allies, people you share your excitement with. They are heavy-duty volunteers; get them involved with your store, and back the good cause they're interested in. Because of their community orientation, you have an opportunity to make your store or business a local institution by working with them.

2) Make authenticity your middle name.
Cultural Creatives invented consumer authenticity, leading the rebellion against plastic, fake, poorly made, throwaway. It can be any style so long as it's the authentic version, and comes with a story. Shopping should be an experience with authenticity and human contact. It's bringing women's values into the marketplace. Ignore this at your peril.

3) Respect quality.
Cultural Creatives are careful, well-informed shoppers who don't buy on impulse, who read Consumer Reports before a big purchase. Not only that, they'll share what they know--they're innovators and opinion leaders, especially for books, music, art, magazines, fine foods, wines and microbrews. Tell them about your latest good stuff, and get them to spread the word.

4) Get into stories, whole process & systems.
Cultural Creatives demand "the big picture" of where a product came from, how it was made, who made it, and what happens when they're done with it.

Cultural Creatives Are:

---Buyers of art, music, books, videos, and magazines. They listen to more radio and watch less television than any other group. Cultural Creatives are literate and discriminating, but only a few will do "New Age" styles, so diversify. What do you have to offer with real social, cultural, spiritual and psychological depth?

---Big consumers and producers of arts and culture as artists and writers, and go to readings, showings and workshops. Offer such events at your store.

---Foodies--people who like to talk about food (before and after), eat out a lot, enjoy gourmet and ethnic cooking, try natural and health foods, etc.

---Experiential consumers. They invented the experience industry, which sells enlightening experiences rather than "things"--psychotherapy, weekend workshops, spiritual gatherings, personal growth experiences. They're going beyond "stuff."

---Into vacation travel. Cultural Creatives are on the leading edge: exotic, adventuresome, educational, authentic, altruistic and/or spiritual. Tours of temples in India, tours of the back country, eco-tourism, photo-safaris, save-the-baby-seals vacations, the Zen/Vipassana/Yoga/Sufi retreat instead of a vacation, etc. They don't want packaged tours, fancy resorts or cruises or Disneyland.

---Devoted to personalizing the home. Interior decoration is eclectic, with a lot of original art and crafts around the house. Their home shows who they are.

---Holistic. These are the innovators in and strongest consumers of personal growth books, alternative health care and natural foods. What ties these together is a belief in holistic health: body, mind and spirit need to be unified. They are forever sorting out the weird from the innovative. Use discrimination, or they won't trust your judgment.

For more information, or to contact the authors, please visit www.culturalcreatives.org.
Parts of this article were reprinted with permission from
NAPRA Review, March/April 2000. To subscribe, visit www.napra.com


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