The doctor of culture will heal what ails you

I’ve been meaning to pass on a gift to you, or one I hope is a gift, as I’ll share a few reflections on one of the best business books I’ve read in years.

I received “For the Culture” by Dr. Marcus Collins as a gift from the Suzy AI Summit in July where Dr. Collins keynoted – it was a fireside chat with Suzy CEO (and my old boss) Matt Britton where you just had to tune in and be present. I didn’t see anyone looking at their phones during this one.

This is a print book, so I had a lot of notes written on the blank page in the back, and then I revisited it when I was done so I could write it up in my book report journal – a hobby I still keep up, jotting down thoughts on the 50 to 70 books a year I read and listen to. DALL-E 3 hasn’t made me give up pens just yet.

I misread one of my notes – the curse of having the handwriting of a doctor’s son – because I couldn’t find a reference to a “cultural prism” on page 21, and I thought the term was a little bit odd in the context anyway.

But then I found it: “cultural program,” in a reference to cultural scholar Raymond Williams. Dr. Collins wrote:

 “Williams defined culture as a realized signifying system, a system through which we interpret the world and make sense of it. This system, as Williams argued, is a whole way of life for people – a program for everyday living… Culture is a realized meaning-making system. More accurately, it is a system of systems…”

So it’s a program, not a prism, and yet…

What is a prism?

On the surface, it’s a transparent, triangular object that refracts light into its constituent colors. Shine white light into a prism, and you can see what it’s really made of.

The book is indeed a guide to a cultural prism. Shine light into a person, and you can see the tribes and congregations that they’re made of.

After all, even a nomadic hermit, against their will perhaps, becomes part of the nomadic hermit culture. But more commonly, we associate with each other, and we associate into tribes.

One argument Dr. Collins delves into is persuading marketers to stop targeting audiences and demographics and to start targeting congregations:

“Through this lens, segmentation and targeting become very clear. We divide the market into two segments: those who believe and those who do not. We then target the believers, who are more inclined to move, and move on past the nonbelievers. And, oh, by the way, there are probably more believers out there than you are aware of. Remember, multiple tribes combine to create congregations.”

There’s also a great little diagram a bit further on that goes something like this:

Target an audience (start wide and narrow it down):

Target a congregation (start narrow and they’ll evangelize you’re message):

The last page of each chapter gets real with a section called “From Know-Why to Know-How.” The one at the end of Chapter 3 builds on the previous exercise where you get at the soul of the brand with a “we believe” statement.

This one then says, “Once you’ve communicated the soul, then end with the sale. ‘We believe ____, so we created ____ to realize this belief.’” The context from the book is way more helpful, but this is a starting point.

A few other gems that I loved, again without all the proper context, but they’re too good not to share:

  • “We’re not rational human beings; we’re rationalizing human beings.”

  • He looks at the difference between “fast culture” which explains what people do, and “slow culture” which explains why people do it.

  • He makes a great distinction in the end between brands that practice cultural appropriation and those that practice “cultural appreciation.”

That’s a brief prism of the book so you can see some of the light that shines through. Read it to appreciate it in all its color.


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