The Cultural Analyst

Jottings on the world from a cultural perspective

October 11, 2011
by Taneli Heinonen

How Can Cultural Analysis Be of Use in the Field of Tourism Marketing?

“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” – Seneca

In the end of our first year of MACA we conducted our first team project for an actual client. My group worked for a client involved in marketing tourist experiences. Tourism is one of the biggest industries and a main source of income for a huge amount of people around the world. Tourism research is a huge branch, but most of the research followed by businesses within the industry is statistical or survey-based. It’s very common to calculate the amount of bed nights in a specific city or give estimates on a scale 1-5 on how pleasurable a specific pre-defined sector of travel experience has been for a traveler. Metering is essential but it can only provide you with the information on issues you are aware of you wish to get information on. By engaging in ethnographic research one can also find the so far unexpected and build the awareness that is crucial also in order to produce quality measurements.

Unfamiliarizing the Surroundings

To be able to understand the mundane everyday rules while remaining open for the unexpected we have to unfamiliarize with the familiar. By travel and change of place we unfamiliarize  the surrounding culture. Traveling makes you more aware of the mundane things around you. You become more alert and pay attention to everything around you: landscapes, buildings, everyday encounters, how do people speak, what do they do, what’s the food like etc. Everything is new and interesting in a new location. In this sense we as cultural analysts aim to be tourists within the fields we try to understand.

Understanding the Tourist Experience

Cultural analysts can help understand the tourist experience by engaging in it and analysing the web of elements it is constructed of. Taking human experience as a starting point implies a shift from product-centric approach to people-centric approach. Place is most often the product sold in tourism marketing, but what do people actually seek when they travel? This empirical question can only be answered by understanding how the tourist experience is embedded in its context – the life of a person who performs travel practices.

From Promoting Place as a Product to Helping People Construct Meaningful Experiences

Tourism marketing is mostly about advertising tourist attractions and services in a specific city, packaging and distributing experiences and ideas of experiences. Research can help marketers to understand how to package and share their information messages to people in a manner that provides new value in customers lives. People are not just tourists buying a specific standardized travel experience. These experiences are understood and consumed, become part of our lives in different ways. To realize how, we need to understand ways of living, relations, shared meanings and ways of doing things in different environments. We need to understand culture. This means going to the people and understanding their experiences, motivations behind them and meanings derived from them.

My home town Helsinki is also being marketed as a place with specific, beautiful sights. Could it be something else?

Cultural Analysis as a Tool for Understanding Life-changing Experiences

Economic indicators or rigid definitions based on length of stay or bed nights in a destination don’t really tell much about the diverse meanings people attribute to different tourist experiences. Cultural analysis leads us to take part in people’s life and engage in their experiences in order to learn from them.This task is not easy but the goal is clear. There are two questions cultural analysis helps businesses to answer to “What is it that is meaningful for people in what we provide and how could we provide something more meaningful?”. Cultural analysis and ethnographical methods imply an emphatic aim to understand people, their problems, needs and dreams. (Ruckenstein, Suikkanen &Tamminen, 2011)

People engage in different kind of travel practices in order to have life-changing experiences. Changes might be small; like relaxation, learning to surf or just being able to say “I’ve been there” but they are based on experiences that become part of our life and our self. Even though difference is a source of curiosity, returning home is a prerequisite of the tourist experience. Travelers appreciate the unfamiliar but also want to return to their familiar everyday lives. Experiences can vary greatly among people doing the same things in the same place. This is why mere measuring doesn’t give a sufficient base to tourism marketing to build strategic decisions on. Cultural analysis gives rich and deep insights of actual practices of travel and peoples motivations to engage in these practices. These insights are the foundation of the understanding that you need in order to succesfully package travel experiences for people.

Reference: Ruckenstein, Minna, Suikkanen, Johannes & Tamminen, Sakari (2011): Forget Innovation. Focus on value creation. Edita. Helsinki.

Foto: Lotta Hagström

September 27, 2011
by Joakim Sternö

Visit to Sony Ericsson

Recently a few of us went to Sony Ericsson to pitch cultural analysis and listen to how they try to integrate research into the design process. The tiny meeting room was overcrowded since almost the entire “Experience Lab” decided to show up. Even though they were not able to talk in detail about their research projects it was interesting to hear about their work.

Traditionally the research at Sony Ericsson have been located to the marketing department of the company but is nowadays more and more being transfered to an earlier stage in the development process. In order to actually make the research applicable rather than be used as an evaluation. Fortunately they also do a lot of qualitative research so we could leave the “quant vs. qual”-discussion aside. Two of the researchers (of one had a background in social anthropology!) had just gotten back from a week of research in Los Angeles on “heavy music listeners” but most of the research is done inhouse in their lab it seemed.

Foto: Lotta Hagström

My personal impression was that a lot of the research at Sony Ericsson is focused on the specific products (mostly forthcoming), which is fine and important from a user experience perspective. But I think that cultural analysis has its strongest benefits in the strategic processes. Talking to a member of the portfolio development team about when the iPhone was released and  if it was a surprise to them he said it largely was. That Apple, with the iPhone, broke many of the norms and ways of how things “should be done” in the mobile phone business.  One of the most valuable insights a cultural analysis and ethnographic approach can give, to a company, is exactly about revealing these often invisible norms so a company can break them and widen the whole perception of what for example a mobile phone might be.

September 21, 2011
by Joakim Sternö

A shitty good metaphor

Yesterday instead of going to bed I followed the twitter feed from the EPIC 2011 conference in Boulder, Colorado, #epic2011. EPIC here standing for the Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference. Suddenly something interesting happened that revealed how a catchy term can turn into a powerful metaphor depending on a shift in space and context. Since EPIC was not broadcasted live the following was very much a meta-event to the actual conference.

During the afternoon session Rich Radka held a speech together with Abby Margolis under the headline “Changing models of ownership”. Tweets were flowing and the term “jobbie” suddenly came into action and took over the feed during a short period of time. As a by-stander following this meta-conversation it seemed like Radka had coined the term but it was not completely clear when @uxprivacy first brought it into the twitter discussions.

The “jobbie” – not a job not a hobby, but both. – Rich Radka #concept #epic2011

(Others have used the word before in a similar sence as I interpret Radka as when “work-time is fun-time” and in a different way as a “hobby disguised as a job” but not ones primary income.) Others retweeted and @mayasuri even stated that ethnography was her “jobbie”.

not going to lie, ethnography is currently my jobbie…good thing or bad thing? #epic2011

Even though @mayasuri expressed hesitation about if it is a good thing it was more of a positive vibe surrounding the term in the feed. This would suddenly change when @enquiringdesign hinted that there exists a connotation to the word.

#epic2011 Feel obliged on behalf of all Scots following this thread to point out that ‘jobbie’ means a whole other thing here….

@mayasuri had apparently now googled it and found it’s “true” meaning in the urban dictonary. And so did @dragoncr as well.

to educate those at #epic2011 not from the UK :

#epic2011 I would reconsider the whole “jobbie” term

Yes, “jobbie” means poo in a Scottish accent. However does this mean we need to abandon the term as @dragoncr suggests? Before its Scottish meaning had unfolded @planetjohnsen was more critical to the whole idea that surrounds the concept.

“Jobbie” – a way to find a purpose in life when the only goal of professional life is to fulfill shareholder demands? #epic2011

@planetjohnsen seems to be referring to that work in general for many people has become a primary identity marker. However I think that what is considered “hobby as a job” is especially true for the growing population of journalists, graphic designers, artists and others within the so called cultural and creative industries.  Often working on a freelance basis as “involountary entrepreneurs” , hired for short term projects by multiple clients, and therefore loose the safety nets and benefits of being an employee. But they are also outside the organisations that gathers workers who could speak for them and negotiate their rights. Neither the employers or the unions consider them “theirs’”.  They fall outside the traditional institutions which the welfare state was built upon during the 20th century.

In a debate article in Dagens Arena earlier this week the sociologist Karl Palmås addresses this problem. (For non-swedish readers you can use the google translated version of the whole article.)

Synd bara att de som förväntas bära upp denna flexibla och kreativa ekonomi står helt utanför alla de trygghetssystem som byggts upp under de stolta folkhemsåren.

- – -

I framtida statsbudgetar behöver vi se fler åtgärder som syftar till att korrigera diskrimineringen av det arbete som sker utanför de stora organisationernas trygga värld. Trygghet i dagens ekonomi förutsätter upprättandet av ett alternativt institutionellt ramverk för – exempelvis – pensionsavsättningar och a-kassa.

Men här spökar i dagsläget åtminstone två problem: inom industriella hierarkier finns det automatiska system och medarbetare som efterser dessa transaktioner, medan ”den nya underklassen” förväntas sköta detta på individuell basis (utöver de tusentals andra individuella val som vi förväntas göra idag). För det andra är arbetsmarknadens regelverk konstruerat på ett sätt som sätter käppar i hjulet för potentiella lösningar på detta problem. Exempelvis kan man i dag inte arbeta inom egenanställning utan att riskera att förlora sin a-kassa.

Even though I think the “jobbie” as a metaphor for freelancers’ work has more to do with general working conditions than the amount of pay I let @planetjohnsen conclude this post with his response to the earlier tweet by @dragoncr.

@ Jobbie: a shitty paid job. Fits perfect! #epic2011

The Øresund bridge uniting Sweden and Denmark.

September 19, 2011
by Joakim Sternö

An Experiment

This blog is an experiment and we don’t know in what direction it will take us. For sure I know the topics will be vast. We who write this blog have in common that we are students in the MACA programme, Master in Applied Cultural Analysis, at Lund and Copenhagen universities. However we come from different backgrounds, both academically and geographically, and have very different interests. I think this diversity is a very good starting point for showing what cultural analysis is about and its potential.

Except here on this blog you can follow what happens with this project on Twitter @culturalanalyst and visually in our Flickr group.

Continue Reading →