Culture Shock

The other night I had a very strange dream in which I was driving on an interstate on ramp and kept seeing all these deer carcasses in the road. I soon caught up to a pick up truck from which these people, in Middle Eastern attire, were tossing the carcasses from the back. In the dream, it became clear to me that because they had seen so many dead deer in the road, they thought it was where everyone here put their deer carcasses.

Bizarre, I know. Hey, it was a dream. Don’t psychoanalize, just stay with me, because I want to talk to you about culture shock, which is serious and can cause some serious misunderstandings. You may even experience culture shock without ever leaving your laptop!

I personally experienced culture shock in a big way after I had lived in Mexico for three months. I realized living there was real, that I was a stranger in a strange land, and that everyone else was going about their business, while I was the one (pardon the continued metaphor) standing like a deer caught in the headlights.

The great Mexican food that I had had such an enthusiastic appetite for  lost its intrigue, and I just wanted some tomato soup and a grilled cheese. My Spanish skills limited me to conversations with ninos six and under, but I had a whole grown-up conversation in English inside me. Waking up to yet another bright and sunny day lost its luster. I wanted some rain. Or at least humidity. My eyes were craving green as they looked at a brown, rocky landscape.

And in the midst of trying to sort it all out, there finally came a small shower one afternoon. I stepped out to feel it and smell it, revel in it. Then a wise woman across the plaza, also on her porch, said to me, (in Spanish, of course), “You miss the rain and you miss your mama.” The short conversation (one a six year old could understand) made it clear to me that someone did indeed understand a little, and made me think there was hope yet. While still in culture shock, the culture suddenly seemed a bit more friendly.

Now, fast-forward to 2010 (that was long ago in 2005), and I’m pretty sure I had the weird dream about deer because I had had a conversation with a client the day prior about how social media conversation can go way beyond teaching you about your audience’s demographics, preferences or brand loyalty. Social media conversation teaches you about your audience’s culture.

So, as a brand, you’ve charted your demographics and buying behaviors are tracked and accounted for. You know where your customers live and what they like, according to your data. And then, you find your brand mentioned in social media. You start listening. Should you take part in the conversation? What do you say? What do you do? It’s all very overwhelming. And as the chatter increases and gets louder, you may find yourself in shock. Culture shock.

You always knew that yours was the wine and cheese crowd, but look at what your customers talk about in the social realms – beer and pizza! Working moms are always your best buyers. Or are they? Looks like lots of stay-at-home moms are chiming in here. Is it because they are on home computers more? How can you know? And would you look at that? Your customers are going to indie rock concerts – not Broadway musicals! Shocking!

So moving into the culture, I mean their social media world, you try to create content that others will respond to. Content your audience can relate to at least. Nothing. Are you talking to six year olds when your audience is all adults? It’s lonely and confusing. Then, you do something natural – like walking on the porch and smelling the rain or relating when someone misses their mama – and you find a pocket of understanding, someone who will talk to you. Can you build on that? What did you say or do? Can you look back and find what has led you into your audience’s culture?

Weird dreams and culture shock are not phrases normally heard in “social-media speak.” That’s why I wanted to talk about them here. I think who we are, where we are, and the culture in which we live, work and play, and the desire to communicate with others who are similar is an integral part of social media content creation and conversation. How else can you explain the mass appeal, to both the public and commercial sectors?

So ask yourself, as a brand wanting to engage your customers, are you serving grilled cheese when your audience really likes fish tacos? Are you trying to grow green grass in a land of sun and rocks? Are you sniffing for rain when there hasn’t been one drop for 55 straight days? And even if you find yourself a stranger in a strange land, can you be, of all things, gracious in the midst of culture shock?

See “Be Gracious” which I ungraciously decided to post before this deeper dive into culture shock.


One Response to “Culture Shock”

  1. Tammy Says:

    That was beautiful!

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