Andy Law, author, Huffington Post blogger and chairman of innovation consultancy Fearlessly Frank, explains how other brands can become icons like footballer David Beckham if they use the various forms of capital at their disposal.
How did David Beckham become such a successful global icon?
And why aren’t more British brands as successful as he is?
You have to look to France for the answer and not Paris Saint-Germain.
You have to look deep into the works of the eminent French sociologist, economist, anthropologist, and philosopher, Pierre Bourdieu (left).
That’s not easy to do. His books come out at three inches thick and the type is ten-point. There are few graphs and no pictures.
So stand aside, Bourdieu fans, as I simplify one his most important contributions.
“Bourdieu’s 4 Forms of Capital”.
Bourdieu (left), writing from the ’60s through to 2000, examined what was needed to be commercially successful in a global economy. As you read on, remember that Bourdieu was writing predominantly in a pre- Internet life. I mention this because his observations were often considered wild and wacky in his day, but now seem coherent, useful and exciting.
If you are running a business, starting a business or holding desperately on to a business Bourdieu might have something for you.
Bourdieu stated that for any commercial product – company, brand or individual – to be successful it must hold four forms of capital in equal balance.
You can play along at this point. Draw a circle, dissect it into 4 equal parts and label each part as follows below. At the end ask yourself what your product is missing.
The first form of capital is a no brainer. Economic Capital. Cash is King. No cash gets you nowhere.
The second is Cultural Capital. Today we might call Cultural Capital “Zeitgeist.” Is the product resonant and contemporary? Is it saying or doing things people can talk about? Is it a brand that captures the spirit of today?
The third is Social Capital. To you and me, that’s good old-fashioned networking and a hefty dollop of PR.
Certainly a strong social networking presence is needed, but also the “heavy-lifting” too i.e. being physically seen in the right places, commenting in the right media at the right time and engineering column-inch opportunities.
The fourth is Symbolic Capital. Iconic Status. You need to have the same proportion of iconic status as you do cash, zeitgeist and networking. In fact when any of the four forms of capital slip, your business will slip up.
The first three can certainly create the fourth, but not always.
You have to work hard in today’s modern economy to be iconic; otherwise you will drop out of people’s consciousness.
And you have to work hard to stay iconic. That’s the crunch.
Beckham, the model footballer, has cash. Lots of it.
If you haven’t got cash, work hard to accrue it before you do anything else.
Is your product always saying something surprisingly new? If not, you won’t succeed.
With twenty-seven million facebook likes on his page and column-inches the world over you might say David Beckham is somewhat networked. He has many fan clubs around the world – the sort of Social Capital he shares with a previous Bourdieu success story: The Beatles.
How networked is your product? And don’t rely purely on the Internet just because it’s ‘cheap’. Increasingly the Internet does the opposite of what you think (that’s another story, coming soon). The result of good networking is that you are ‘Being Present’. That needs MUCH more than the Internet, which can have the ability to hide or obfuscate your talents.
Finally Beckham has iconic status. This is created from a number of things. Not least his quality football. That’s the cornerstone. He can also dress like and look like a star. He does and says the right things.
You might be thinking to yourself that not everything can be iconic. That’s true. But surprisingly many things are. Look around you and have a think. The humble Allen Key, for example, ticks every box.
I could list hundreds.
Bourdieu helps define what products aren’t doing enough of.
Products fail because of insufficient up front (early on) thinking about what they need to survive. Survival is as important as Selling.