If you’re a ‘take things in your stride’, ‘cross that bridge when you come to it’ kind of person, then I have to admire you. Unfortunately (for my sanity), I am a Mystic Meg type whose brain never fails to leave me a little anxious after conjuring up yet another future life plan out of nowhere- some realistic and some not so much…hopefully lonely cat lady is one of the latter. Maybe I just need to take a chill pill. I prefer to think of it as ‘organised’ and ‘forward thinking’. Whatever the case, with an imminently approaching final year, the little crystal ball in my head has been hard at work turning my mind to post- graduation possibilities.
To be honest, at the start of this summer I was really quite anxious about it all… the prospect of having to find a job and be a *dun dun dunnnn* adult. On top of all that, I was thinking about how my- (without being able to think of a less precious term) ‘passion’ for human geography and culture could actually be useful to a company. What does all of my hard work and curiosity actually amount to in the real world?
At face value, the study of culture can appear a somewhat complex and subjective field. By its very nature, culture delineates meaning- the shared beliefs and values associated with and embedded within the world and its civilizations. Some of the most interesting concepts I have learned over the past two years through cultural lectures and readings could appear to a non- cultural geographer a little… obscure. Based on uncovering sometimes highly subconscious, sometimes very subtle yet crucial forces that shape human culture and the world as we know it, culture ultimately underlies our perception of everything. I was worried that this would lack clarity or ‘meatiness’ for an employer.
I was wrong… do not dismay human geographers… there is hope yet!
After completing my placement based dissertation at Truth Consulting this August, I can assuredly say that cultural insight holds exceptional commercial value and translates really well in the workplace. As I quickly learned, and as Truth employee Ella Majava articulates in her most recent Truth blog post:
“Brands that tap into culture develop deep and longer lasting connections…Instead of looking at consumers as passive receivers of messages, we need to think of them as actively involved in the process of creating brands.”
This commercially developing hunger to form an emotional connection with their customers, suggests a shift in the ways that companies are using to approach understanding people. It is now less about the ‘what’ (number crunching and trends), but looking for the ‘why’ behind certain behaviours- the drivers that lead to both conscious and subconscious thinking.
*Enter Human Geographers*
This deeper level of human engagement really resonated with me throughout all the projects I was involved in during my time at Truth. On day 1 alone I knew I was going to find the experience culturally enriching. While familiarising myself with a past project brief on airport space, I came across the term ‘non- place’. The cultural geographer in me did feel a little smug, I have to admit. Following Mark Auge’s work, non- place describes certain qualities of sites such as airports, shopping centres and theme parks- in common they have gatherings of people who temporarily come together, but have no particular bond. The spaces themselves are usually neutral, where people’s individual identity is rarely engaged with (hence lacking any sense of character or meaning which could warrant them a ‘place’). In a commercial context, developers are increasingly trying to shift away from this ‘identity neutral’ characteristic. It is recognised that to and become emotionally in tune with the user- to have an increasingly affectual impact on them, allows for a more memorable experience.
Working on a hair and beauty care project brought to life the readings I have done so far for my dissertation in regards to identity and body image. It was interesting to see how brands are adapting to new cultural perspectives on self- reflection and self- presentation. Embracing individuality and trying something new is ‘in’. Black, afro hair styling and Asian beauty trends for example, have hit western markets by storm, seeing cultural narratives of image intertwine and identities become more complex.
The level of connection between academic theories and real life situations at Truth was astounding. I really couldn’t have asked to be interning in a more amazing company with such a culturally engaged team, who opened my eyes to the value of cultural insight.