A couple of recent posts on two separate weblogs discuss some cultural blindspots that are holding back fresh thinking: Web 2.0 funding (on BubbleGeneration) and branding (via This Blog Sits At The Intersection Of Anthropology And Economics).
Umair at Bubblegeneration points to the "chasm" between Web 2.0 tools and technology and the relevant audiences that should have access to these tools, beyond the geeks (on sites like Digg, for instance). In particular, VC funding is cited as the source of this chasm:
VCs are great are crafting value propositions for enterprise software
and semiconductors. They understand those industries very, very well.
But they distinctly don't understand media and culture, and so they can't craft value propositions (or build the right relationships, etc) for their portfolio companies - and that's when they invest in the right companies to begin with.
Largely, this is because the things that make VCs good at crafting value props for software and chips - alliances, the stack, efficiency, building out ops, helping slowly win big customers, investing a great deal in a small number of plays, etc - destroy more value than they create for plays at the intersection of media, www, and consumer markets.
Reading this makes it clear that there is a huge need to build bridges between technology and emerging communication tools (along with the communities, and markets connected with these tools) and wider culture and media. VC's don't understand culture in general, so they can't to the things necessary to invest in it. The potential of social media and Web 2.0 should not be contained to the worlds of programming and geekdom (have a look at many of the links of sites like Digg or even Reddit)
In the world of branding, Grant McCracken looks at Kevin Robert's Lovemarks book and concept as pretty much a shallow attempt to move branding beyond the tired, dominant economic model, into a more "nuanced" understanding reflected in the social sciences, anthropology. Indeed, Grant believes that this challenge- forging a path from rational economic models to more "behaviorilist and cultural" models is the "Northwest Passage" of our time (love the metaphor).
If we want to win mystery, sensuality and intimacy for the brand, it's going to take a system, dry, thoughtful, grounded, nuanced, and powerful. It's going to have to be something that the people at McKinsey (or any HBS grad) can look at without sneering. (We can just imagine how they received, "Kick the information addiction.") The corporation has always known the brand is something more than an economic proposition. And finding that "something more" was the ad agency's job. The corporation used the agency to make imagination, creativity and better branding available, without having to endure it inhouse, or allowing it to interfere with the economics model. But, in the last decade or so, branding (and the creativity and innovation it represents) has become too important to be left to the agency alone.