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How the Internet Has Shaped Today’s Culture

November 6, 2019

The Internet has been a dominant force in shaping contemporary culture and has contributed to an acceleration of cultural exchange globally. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in today’s youth market. As youth strategists, Cassandra was recently invited to join the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Digital Economy podcast to share our views on the global spread of ideas and culture.

At Cassandra, This is a topic is very close to our hearts. As we partner with our clients to build culturally relevant brands, we spend a lot of time studying youth-driven market shifts global youth culture. Here are a few things that we’ve learned and shared on the EIU podcast.

New Brand Expectations

Today’s youth (and, in fact, everybody) operates in an environment of declining trust in larger institutions. Thanks to the 24/7 news cycle, social media, and online watch dog activity, these institutions expose consumers to more information and content than ever before. The Internet, however, has given consumers the ability to see “behind the curtain” of these institutions and has resulted, in many cases, to a complete erosion of faith in them.

While youth are more critical and less trusting of larger institutions, we see that there is a potential silver lining here for brands. Our research has shown that being your “best self” is really important to youth today, with nine out of 10 youth telling us that is important to continually take steps to progress in life. Additionally, 65% of youth in the US look to brands to help them become their best selves, while two-thirds of Youth Trendsetters—a proprietary group of young people that Cassandra tracks—believe companies, rather than politicians, can make the biggest positive change in the world. With this in mind, brands have the opportunity to fill that void of institutional trust.

Yet, this isn’t an easy, slam dunk opportunity for brands. Today’s youth have higher expectations from brands than ever before. And while these expectations may have originated in the youth market, they have quickly migrated to be expectations of all consumers, regardless of generational cohort. So, while brands are expected to have a crucial role in the cultural conversation, consumers are the ones writing the rules on how. To fill the void of institutional trust, brands must be transparent, have the right values (those aligned with their consumers), and engage with their audience as humans—not consumers.

Culture First, Country Second

The Internet and digital media has accelerated a global cultural exchange. But even if today’s culture is more global in nature, this doesn’t mean it is becoming homogenous in terms of content and perspective. Instead, our work shows the opposite, with a rising trend of “culture first – country second”.

Today, any piece of popular culture (be it music or fashion or art) is more important to a young person than the country from which it comes. With increased global access, culture is now more nuanced, niche, and based upon an individuals’ unique culture diet. Today’s youth are more easily able to pick and choose items based upon their personal interest, rather than geographic location. Each individual can create their own unique blend of culture, drawing upon inputs from around the globe. In fact, 42% of global youth prefer popular culture that is reflective of other countries over that which is reflective of their own. This same percentage even feels more connected to another country’s popular culture than to that of their own country.

It’s never been more important for brands to pay attention to culture—specifically what is happening with youth culture. Trying to force culture and ignoring the consumer conversation will be read as simply marketing. In turn, this will increase youth feelings of mistrust and irrelevance, making it easy to tune out. Today, brands need to work harder as they are no longer in the position to dictate the conversation that wins consumers’ attention. However, when brands earn an invitation into this cultural dialogue, their engagement with consumers can become more meaningful, ultimately helping them to develop lifelong customers across the globe.