Cultural capital is the new currency that brings new value.

Once economic capital was the key indicator for us to navigate by. But now cultural capital has acquired a new, elevated status. Consumers can now draw upon their own accumulation of knowledge, behaviours and skills to demonstrate their own cultural competence, social status and standing in society.

In an embodied state, cultural capital is the knowledge we acquire over time through our social experiences, which then exists forever within us. It’s what helps us to become experts on our own topics of interests. And it helps us to bond through our shared interests – there are now more than 340m people with a Tumblr blog sharing their topics of expertise freely.

Cultural capital also exists in an objectified state – the stuff we own, how we dress and personalise ourselves, the things we choose to fill our houses with and even the food we choose to place on our table (Sainsbury’s still water, or a drop of Evian on your desk?) The stories of how we come to acquire our home objects add to their value and appeal. (Did I tell you about the time I bought this, trekking over the Inca Trail in Peru?)

Cultural capital also exists in an institutionalised state: Usually this sort of cultural capital is manifested through academic credentials or professional qualifications. The greatest social role for institutionalised cultural capital is when you enter the labour market and set out in pursuit of a new job – it allows you to display your cultural capital as a clear qualitative and quantitative measurement. (As the world of politics well knows, there’s nothing like a bit of Eton or Oxbridge to help you along the way.)

Brands need to find ways to spend less and create more ideas to generate high cultural capital

To brands, targeting consumers according to their cultural capital is really appealing. Whilst cultural capital can create social divide, it can also keep you connected.  And it can be exchanged for economic and social capital. Equally, money (economic capital) can be traded for experiences (cultural capital). See? It’s a nice, new transferable currency.

So how does this apply to marketing?

By leveraging cultural capital, many brands suggest that if we use their products we will be our hippest, coolest, most creative, intelligent, adventurous, socially engaged and admired selves.

As we become less reliant on broadcast for marketing, brands need to find ways to spend less and create more ideas to generate high cultural capital and viral buzz to net high rates of media impressions. While this sounds like a real challenge, here are three simple suggestions, to help get you started…

  1. Collaboration: musicians have long known the value of this. But we’ve seen plenty of brand collaboration go mainstream, from ice cream to internet providers. It’s an easy way to share and transfer your cultural capital.
  2. Causes: The power in rallying people around a socio-economic cause adds strong cultural capital to your brand.
  3. Experiential: Harnessing the power of the unexpected can help brands to create impact and offer, enriching experiences. This adds to a consumers’ own cultural capital, and the stories of how they came to participate in these experiences.

So, use your own cultural capital wisely. Share it, trade it and use it to gain new, enriching experiences and forge stronger connections with people who share your positive aspirations, attitude and outlook on life.

It’s good to see that culture can count more than cash.