The Creative ClassSM -- Reshaping Brands and the World

Part IV: The Growth of a Brand. Karen Post offers branding lessons from a social-networking start-up.

If you've just joined us, Oddpodz is a new online community for creative doers and problem solvers. Founder and branding expert Karen Post, who writes a regular column for FastCompany.com, brings you the play by play of a startup brand. Check out more on FastCompany.com.

I know in my last column I said I would cover strategic partnerships and I will soon, but I had the fortunate opportunity to attend an incredible conference not only relevant to my start up, but to all marketers who keep their eyes on dynamic markets.

The event was promoted as "The Creative ClassSM, reaching those who are reshaping America."

Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO of Gallup opened the event. He recapped the evolution of the world of commerce during the previous century.

Clifton reminded the audience that in the 1900s, economies were driven by the discovering, mining and refining of natural resources. The access to resources gave rise to the industrial movement, the pinnacle of which was during the 1950s for the United States. The 1960s introduced the professional class and an explosion of self-expression and entrepreneurial emergence. The 1980s was spirited by knowledge and service-based enterprises dominating market growth, product innovation and technology.

Today, thanks to brilliant thought leaders like Richard Florida and his dedicated passion to better understand this market, we are able to see the progress and impact of another class: 'The Creative Class'SM a population that has been defined and even service marked by Florida.

Florida's research estimates the Creative ClassSM makes up 1/3 of the US workforce and over 150 million people worldwide.

My interest in Richard’s work started after reading his first best-selling book The Rise of the Creative Class. In fact, his work and writings were the seed and inspiration for my startup, Oddpodz. My new venture focuses on building a 'global nation' -- attempting to emulate a cyber nation by providing a common space for a body of creative thinkers and change agents.

Finding the Event: A Bit of Serendipity

While building a startup, it is always a gift from the higher powers in the entrepreneurial universe when a ground breaking opportunity comes your way.

One day in January, my partner and I received an email from one of our angel investors asking if we'd heard about a conference dedicated to the aforementioned Creative Class. We had not. So he sent along the brochure. It turned out that not only was Richard Florida involved, but international research experts and management consultants The Gallup Organization and the Austin based, creative powerhouse GSD&M had collaborated to conduct a study on the Creative Class and share the results at the conference.

We felt like we'd struck gold. We had stumbled upon a statistical study, quantifiable data, defined segmentations and insight into the market that was the foundation of our company. Not only would these findings help us be more relevant to our audience and utilize the right media, but as a startup, they could be an incredible new tool in our fundraising arsenal.

A few lessons here:

  1. Communicate openly with your angels and investors so they are on the look out for relevant intelligence and opportunities.
  2. Invest in conferences that are related to your business. Although often expensive, they can be priceless when you are a cash poor startup. Not only soak up the learning info, but network your butt off -- the conferences may give you access to people you've always wanted to connect with.
  3. Listen to the other attendees needs and try to figure out how you can help them. This can segue into creating a symbiotic relationship.
  4. Don’t be shy. Tell people your story and exactly what you need.
  5. Rely not only on your own research but also on customer feedback. Bolster your observations with formal, structured methodologies from experts like Gallup.

So what exactly is the 'Creative Class'SM?

To start, let's define the Creative ClassSM, the population that Richard Florida studied, named and continues to follow with great interest.

1Florida defines the core of the Creative Class as people in science and engineering, architecture and design, education, arts, music and entertainment, whose economic function is to create new ideas, new technology and/or new creative content.

Around the core, the Creative Class also includes a broader group of creative professionals in business, finance, law, health care, and related fields. These people engage in complex problem-solving that involves a great deal of independent judgment and requires high levels of education or human capital. Florida also implodes the common misconception that the Creative Class consists primarily of gay & lesbian actors & artists.

The Creative Class Study

Market segmentation studies, particularly those by big research-based consulting firms like Gallup, can be very fruitful based on their methodology. Large companies often commission custom studies, which can be a major investment. Keep an eye out for the syndication of such studies by research firms -- often these are made available for a flat fee and can be a wealth of insight about your product category (in this case a target market and its segments.)

This particular study surveyed a group of households that agreed to answer questions about their lifestyles.

The Creative ClassSM Gallup panel included 38,000 US households

  • 25,422 respondents to the survey
  • 14,517 of these provided job classification codes
  • 47 job classification codes aligned with creative occupations (identified as per The Rise of the Creative Class)
  • 6,042 of the 14,517 fell into one of these 47 creative occupations and were included in the analysis

From the respondents, a follow-up study of 4,669 people in creative occupations was conducted to assess psychographics: personality, values, attitudes, interests, and lifestyles.

So what did this study unearth about the Creative ClassSM?

This lucrative market has been found to possess over $618 billion in discretionary purchasing power.

The Class's work orientation is knowledge/idea idea driven. Members' talents/skills are used fully -- they get paid for thoughts/concepts, are motivated by new ideas and solve complex problems. Their jobs require high levels of formal education and their work values can be characterized as creative, problem-solving, cutting-edge, inventing, or exploratory. Their personal values include: tolerance, open-mindedness, meritocracy, work ethic, responsibility and integrity.

Are all Creative Classers created equal?

Not a chance, according to the study.

Independents -1% "I break the rules"
Innovators - 39% "I drive change"
Competitives- 19% "I strive for success"
Pragmatists - 14% "I solve problems"
Compassionates - 27% "I help others"

GSD&M shares some wisdom

Beyond all the rich data provided by the Gallup study, there was a bonus -- a presentation by GSD&M. I have always viewed GSD&M's work as brave, brilliant and truly perceptive about brands; they don't just crank out ad campaigns. As someone who ran a small agency in Houston for over two decades, the firm has been a real inspiration for me and I’m sure many for other small creative boutiques as well.

At the presentation, agency President and advertising icon, Roy Spence, announced his support for this study and for Florida’s work. He reiterated the idea that the marketplace is increasingly transitioning to being more knowledge/idea-based and explained how the process will impact both B2B and B2C marketing and brand building. Then Spence provided some real-life pearls of wisdom: explaining how GSD&M used this very knowledge to not only win, but, to contribute to the success of a major piece of business and their world renowned client BMW.

GSD&M employees, Haley Rushing and Carmen Graf walked the audience through the process of understanding the public's current perception of BMW vs. what was really going on with the product. They explained that an increasingly creative trend is developing amongst contemporary consumers: "People are using their creativity and intellect to make a difference -- they’re drawn to companies that are using their creativity and power to make a difference too." This insight formed the fundamental core of GSD&M's branding strategy for BMW.

Expanding the Circle

So now that it has embraced the ideal of creativity, how does a brand like BMW not kick its driving enthusiasts to the curb, while expanding its audience base to include idea enthusiasts, a significant faction of the Creative Class?

Here are some of their top line recommendations.

  • Have a purpose > make a difference
  • Share remarkable stories in remarkable ways
  • Become a rich storyteller … engage in conversations
  • Support what they love
  • Be Real. Be Relevant

As someone involved in launching a startup, I wake up just about every night sweating and thinking about at least 20 things. Are we on track? Do we really know our market and its segments? What’s the best, most cost effective way to reach them? Will people think what we are doing is as cool as we do?

The Creative Class conference provided me with lots of value. Confirmation that this creative/problem solving market is big and has over $600 billion to spend -- it’s expected to double in population by 2020. Confirmation that even when you are a small potato startup, there are opportunities to build relationships with big companies; you’ve just got to stop thinking about it and get assertive. And finally, hearing Spence recount his early beginnings 35 years ago with four college buds and a dream -- and to see living proof of their climb upwards to reach where they are today -- confirmation that with enough effort, all things are indeed possible!

Dream, focus, stay resilient, have fun, do what you love and make things happen! And of course, Brand On!

1Footnote-i Excerpted from page 8, “Rise of the Creative Class” (2002), Richard Florida, Basic Books, New York, NY

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