Marketing and the American Indian: Grad School Week 1

For the last three hours, I’ve been reading the “Culture Code” for my first graduate course. Already, the mental juices are in overdrive as I set out to understand these concepts and how I can apply them to my work.

However, the book tends to overlook the depth of American culture, continuously noting that the American dream began back before “we” settled and began to use this “undeveloped land.” I’ll grant you that the writer of the book, a native Frenchman, wouldn’t necessarily look to the history beforehand, but it’s still irksome. I feel as though that this book, that is used with such high authority in positions of graduate study, continue to undermine the position of the American Indian in the greater context of American culture. Surely, it has to be positioned to foreigners/immigrants that America is relatively new to the world. However, there was a history long before that and although the people have been left with little to fend for (speaking specifically to land, though it’s not limited to that in today’s context). Surely, they know about us? I’m not speaking specifically to Seneca or Haundenoshaunee culture (there are many others, though, the Haudenoshaunee was a powerhouse in their heyday) but to the entire presence of the “American Indian.”

Beyond my contention for this chief idea that the American culture is so homogeneous (because we’re all so new and shiny!), I began to question something. The drift of the book takes us to what America means in other cultures. What is our “code” when cultures around the world think of us?

My idea is this, “What do the 500+ American-recognized sovereign American Indian nations think of America?”

“Indian Country” as it’s known within the larger community of American Indians, is recognized as an entity within a larger entity. Not a superior entity, but considerably larger. I, for one, would be the first to admit that I recognize myself as a Seneca before I would ever say that I am an American. In terms of National pride, I would be first, “A Member of the Seneca Nation of Indians,” and second “An American.” I have no doubt that many other people within “Indian Country” feel the exact same way.

So, what to do with this in a marketing perspective? Well, that should be a new goal of mine. How would a company market to the American Indian? What are the specific codes in relation to the different Nations across the country? The French code for food differs greatly from the American code. Is this the same for a member of the Cherokee Nation? What about from the Mohawk Nation? What about the difference in code just between the Cherokee and the Mohawk?

I don’t know how many companies are distinctively marketing to American Indians in this country. As such a small contingency relative to the rest of the country, and largely destitute, why specifically send messages to us?

There is something to gain from this, and it will require much more thought that what I’ve been able to assert in this short and spontaneous post.

I don’t know much about it yet. But what I do know, is this.

I have walked miles in just the two days I’ve been in graduate school.

I may not be excited to market cheese, but I am excited to take the methodology in marketing cheese, and finding a way to leverage that in marketing and marketing to the American Indian.

Marketing to the American Indian is not the same as marketing to an American. Though we are close in proximity,  the culture of the various American Indians, continues in different patterns than that of the “typical” American. It’s a unique space to say the least.
(Photo taken by Mark James)

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