I just got done reading 'The Culture Code' by Clotaire Rapaille. Overall, I though the book was really good. Its obvious that he understands the human brain, how it functions and how the subconscious drives most of what we say and do. It's a book about marketing/branding, but it is also a book that is about better understanding human behavior.
The quote at the opening of the book sums it all up:
"We are all puppets, and our best hope for even partial liberation is to try to decipher the logic of the puppeteer"
~ Robert Wright, The Moral Animal
Here is my summary of the book... (I'll skip blockquoting the whole thing, for easier reading - only one comment from me in the summary, denoted by [JMS])
The Culture Code is the unconscious meaning we apply to any given thing - a car, a type of food, a relationship, even a country - via the culture in which we're raised. The American experience with Jeeps is very different from the French and German experience because our cultures evolved differently (we have strong cultural memories of the open frontier; the French and German have strong cultural memories of occupation and war). Therefore, the Codes - the meanings we give to the Jeep at an unconscious level - are different as well. What most people don't realize is that these differences actually lead to our processing the same information in different ways.
Henri Laborit drew a clear connection between learning and emotion, he showed that the latter without the former was impossible. The stronger the emotion, the more clearly an experience is learned. Think of a child told by his parents to avoid a hot pan on a stove. This concept is abstract to a child until he reaches out, touches the pan, and it burns him. In this intensely emotional moment of pain, the child learns what "hot" and "burn" mean and is very unlikely to ever forget it.
The combination of the experience and its accompanying emotion creates something known widely as an imprint, a term first applied by Konrad Lorenz. Once an imprint occurs, it strongly conditions our thought process and shapes our future actions. Each imprint helps make us more of who we are. The combination of imprints define us... every imprint influences us on an unconscious level.
There are five principles for uncovering cultural Codes:
Principle 1: You can't believe what people say
What do Americans look for in a car? I've heard many answers when I've asked this question. The answers include excellent safety ratings, great gas mileage, handling, and corning abilities, among others. I don't believe any of these. That's because the first principle of the Culture Code is that the only effective way to understand what people mean is to ignore what they say. That is not to suggest that people intentionally lie or misrepresent themselves. What it means is that, when asked direct questions about their interests and preferences, people tend to give answers they believe the questioner wants to hear. Again, this is not because they intend to mislead. It is because people respond to these questions with their cortexes, the parts of their brain that control intelligence rather than emotion or instinct. They ponder a question, process the question, and when they deliver an answer, it is the product of deliberation. They believe they are telling the truth. A lie detector would confirm this. In most cases, however, they aren't saying what they mean.
The reason for this is simple: most people don't know why they do the things they do.
In a classic study, the nineteenth-century scientist Jean-Martin Charcot hypnotized a female patient, handed her an umbrella and asked her to open it. After this, he slowly brought her out of the hypnotic state. When she came to, she was surprised by the object in her hand. Charcot then asked her why she was carrying an open umbrella indoors. The woman was utterly confused by the question. She of course had no idea of what she had just been through and no memories of Charcot's instructions. Baffled, she looked at the ceiling and. Then she looked at Charcot and said, "It was raining".
Surely the woman didn't think she had an open umbrella indoors because it was raining. When asked, though, she felt the need to come up with an answer, and this was the only logical one she could devise. Even the most self-examining of us are rarely in close contact with our subconscious. We have little interaction with this powerful force that drives so many of our actions. Therefore, we give answer to questions that sound logical and are even what the questioner expected, but which don't reveal the unconscious forces that precondition our feelings. This is why polls and surveys are so often misleading and useless. They simply reflect what people say, rather than what they mean.
[JMS] - people buy on emotion and justify with logic. The heart has reasons that reason doesn't know about. The peril of introspection problem (The poster test). Etc.
Principle 2: Emotion is the energy required to learn anything
Emotions are the keys to learning, the keys to imprinting. The stronger the emotion, the more clearly the experience is learned. Think again of the child and the hot pan. Emotions create a series of mental connections (I call them mental highways) that are reinforced by repetition. These mental connections condition us to see the world in predictable ways. They are the path from our experience with the world (such as touching a hot pan) to a useful approach to the world (avoiding all hot things in the future).
We do an overwhelming majority of our learning when we are children. By the time we are seven, most of our mental connections have been constructed. But emotion continues to provide us with new imprints throughout our lives.
Principle 3: The structure, not the content, is the message
In the play Cyrano De Bergerac, by Edward Rostand, Cyrano has a dramatic swordfight. The Cyrano story was retold in the 1987 movie Roxanne starring Steve Martin. Martins character, C.D. Bales, has a similar encounter, but he uses a tennis racket. When one is looking for unconscious messages, the difference between swords and tennis rackets is irrelevant. They are merely the content. One can tell the same story with either a sword or a tennis racket, which means that the content isn't essential to meaning. You could say that West Side Story, whose "content" is different from Romeo & Juliet's but which tells the same tale.
What is important is the story's structure, the connection between the different elements. For both Cyrano and C.D., the fight is about defending honor. The need that leads to the fight is the important thing to identify, and it is the same in the two stories, even with different trappings.
One can say the same thing about a melody. You can play the same melody in the morning or in the evening, on a piano or a violin, in the summer or the winter. The performers may be young or old, rich or poor, male or female. Even the notes are largely irrelevant, because a melody played in a different key or at a different octave is still the same melody. All the aforementioned elements are the content. The structure is the space between the notes, the range between each note and its successor, and the rhythm.
The key to understanding the true meanings behind our actions is to understand the structure. The anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss studied kinship, saying that he was not interested in people but in the relationships between them, the "space between people". An uncle does not exist if there is no niece, a wife if there is no husband, a mother if there is no child. Kinship is the structure. When looking at why people act in certain ways or do certain things, we need to look past the content and into the structure. In any situation, there are three distinct structures in action. The first is the biological structure, the DNA. Monkeys, human beings, cows and giraffes are made of the same content. However, each species is unique because of the organization of its DNA - its structure - is unique. The next structure is culture. All cultures have a language, an art, a habitat, a history, and so on: the way all these elements, this content is organized creates the unique identity of each culture. The final structure is the individual. Within the DNA that makes us human there is infinite variety. Further, each of us has a unique relationship with our parents, siblings, and family that shapes our individual mental scripts and creates our unique identities.
Principle 4: There is a window in time for imprinting, and the meaning of the imprint varies from one culture to another
I like to say that you never get a second chance to have a first experience. Most of us imprint the meanings of the things most central to our lives by the age of seven. This is because emotion is the central force for children under the age of seven (if you need proof of this, watch how often a young child's emotional state changes in a single hour), while after this, they are guided by logic (again, try arguing with a nine-year old). Most people are exposed to only one culture before the age of seven. They spend most of their time at home or within their local environment. Few young Americans are exposed in any meaningful way to Japanese culture. Few Japanese children are exposed to Irish culture. Therefore, the extremely strong imprints placed in their subconscious at this early age are determined by the culture in which they are raised.
Principle 5: To access the meaning of an imprint within a particular culture, you must learn the code for that imprint
Even our most arbitrary actions are the result of the trips we take down our mental highways. We take these trips hundreds of times a day, making decisions about what to wear, what to eat, where to go, what to do, what to say in conversation, and so on. What most people don't realize, however, is that there is a Code required to make these journeys. Think of the code as a combination that unlocks a door. In this case, we need not only punch in the numbers, but also to punch them in in a specific order, at a specified speed, with a specified rhythm, etc. Every word, action, symbol has a Code. Our brains supply these codes subconsciously, but there is a way to discover them, to understand why we do the things we do. When my staff and I analyze participant responses from the discovery sessions we conduct, common messages emerge. We discover codes when we find these common messages. The messages vary greatly culture to culture, and, therefore, so do the codes.
An (edited, partial) example from the book:
American participants in the discovery sessions spoke repeatedly of the desire for love, the need for love, the belief in something called true love, but they also spoke consistently of being disappointed in this quest. A very large percentage of the "most recent memory" stories spoke of loss, bitterness, and sadness. Americans - regardless of age - view love the way an adolescent view the world: as an exciting dream that rarely reaches fulfillment.
The American Culture Code for Love is FALSE EXPECTATION.
Without question, losing at love is an international experience. Even in cultures where marriages are arranged and courtship is rare, there are tales of forbidden love and of the sad consequences when that love dies. In older cultures, though - ones that passed through adolescence centuries ago - the unconscious message about the expectations for love are very different.
In France, the concepts of love and pleasure are intertwined. The French consider the notions of true love and Mr. Right irrelevant. The refinement of pleasure is paramount, and romance is a highly sophisticated process. Love means helping your partner achieve as much pleasure as possible, even if this requires finding someone else to provide some of this pleasure. French couples can, of course, be devoted to each other, but their definition of devotion differs greatky from the American definition, and their expectations are set accordingly.
The Italians believe that life is a comedy rather than a tragedy and that one should laugh whenever possible. They expect love to contain strong dimensions of pleasure, beauty, and, above all, fun. If love becomes too hard, it is unsatisfying. The Italian culture centers very strongly on family, and Italians put their mothers up on pedestals. To them, true love is maternal love. Therefore, their expectations for romantic love are lower. Men romance women, but seek true love from their mothers. Women believe that they best way to express and experience love is by becoming mothers. A man is Mr. Right as long as he provides a child.
The Japanese offer perhaps the best illustration of the differences in attitudes toward love between an adolescent culture and an older culture. Japanese men and women often ask me to describe how Westerners marry. I tell them that a young man meets a young woman (often one younger than he) and they begin the process of getting to know each other. If he happens to fall deeply in love, the man will ask the woman to marry him, and if she loves him as well, she will say yes (obviously it is more complicated than this in practice, but I get the main point across this way). Stunned expressions always meet this description. "The man is young?" the Japanese questioner will say. "If he is young, how can he possibly have enough experience to make a decision of this type? Only his parents can know what kind of marriage is appropriate him and will allow him to raise the best family. And you say the woman is younger? That means she is even less experienced than he is!" They save their greatest contempt, though, for the notion that Westeners marry for love. "Love is a temporary disease", they tell me. "It is foolish to base something as important as creation of family on something so temporary". This is still the prevalent sensibility in Japan today, even though the "content" of the Japanese culture has changed. While Japanese teens might date more often than their parents did, and might spend more time meeting up at clubs, most marriages are still arranged and few have anything to do with romance. This might sound terribly harsh to American ears, but there is at least some logic in it: while nearly half of all American marriages end in divorce, the Japanese divorce rate is less than 2 percent.
As I mentioned, I really enjoyed the book (link to book on Amazon). It was a quick read, only 200 pages.
If you like this subject matter, you should also check out The Hero and the Outlaw : Harnessing the Power of Archetypes to Create a Winning Brand (h/t to Fouro to turning me on to that book... and countless others that have really changed my understanding of the world. Oh, and be sure to check out Brain, Metaphor Archetype and Brand from Fouro if you haven't read it already!)
What do you think? Are the old ideas about marketing finally giving way to a better understanding of the people being marketed to?